Art Daily Technology

Art Disappearing into the Ether

A Beginner’s Journey into Crypto Art

Think of crypto art as the end of a long process of human evolution. Prehistoric humans first saw art in their minds, perhaps through dreams or maybe in conscious visions. Eventually, they started crafting what they saw in their minds as small bone, rock, and wood sculptures. Later they transferred mental images onto cave walls with their fingers rubbing rudimentary mixes of colored pigments together in the outlines of animals and such. In that instant, analog painting was invented. Technology improved, and new means of casting images appeared, eventually leading to the master painters of the Renaissance, impressionists, cubists, surrealists, and abstract artists.

Now, crypto art has moved us back into the world of imagination and ether. Digital art is just a set of ones and zeros stored in computer memory. When we properly restore them, we see an image on a screen. When we switch off the screen, the image fades back into the cyber mist. These images are not art in any analog sense, but instead virtual concepts floating in computer space and appearing upon demand for a brief peek.

So, what is the value of an easily reproducible image that may be intriguing but lacks any tangible, extant presence? After all, anyone with a computer could have it on their desktop. The answer is: a lot. Some of these works have sold for tens of millions of dollars, but only when tagged with NFTs.

Non-fungible What?

The same technology that brings us bitcoin also provides NFTs, or non-fungible tokens. Blockchain technology authenticates a bitcoin, allowing you to own and trade it. In the case of art, authentication and verifiable uniqueness are what make a piece of crypto art valuable. The term non-fungible relates to uniqueness. The word fungible is an adjective describing something that is easily replaced by an identical, interchangeable item. Non-fungible means the original item cannot be replaced with another identical item, making the original unique. A non-fungible token is a crypto identifier whose uniqueness is verifiable via blockchain.

An NFT, once permanently associated with another cyber object like a piece of digital art, makes the object unique. Therefore, if you buy a piece of crypto art, you have the assurance that no one else owns the particular sequence of ones and zeros constituting your art. But, someone else could have the same image you own, only theirs is not the one you bought because it lacks the NFT. If the digital art is a derivative of an analog work, like an oil on canvas, you only own the digital version, not the real-world art. Also, copyrights for reproduction are not normally granted with digital ownership.

Admittedly, the optics of what you own are a bit squirrelly since, in theory, many similar images could exist. However, since the value of crypto art is primarily based on its verifiable uniqueness and scarcity adds value, the artist has some motivation to not offer the same image under another NFT. But such arrangements become more a matter of faith than a hard contract. Perhaps the artist doesn’t even display the art elsewhere, or if they do, it only gets displayed as low-resolution copies that don’t scale up in size to the NFT tagged version. Even smart-art can’t eliminate this small element of trust and risk.

Where’s the money

All strategic new ventures require proper funding, and crypto art is no exception. Whether buying or selling, you need a payment method. Unfortunately or fortunately, depending on your point of view, payment is not as easy as a credit card transaction. The most used path for unlocking the secrets of crypto-land is through various blockchain applications. These applications, of course, are holding out their virtual hands for payment before you can move to the inner sanctum. Cryptocurrency is the grease that opens the door. A variety of cryptocurrencies are available, but Ethereum and Bitcoin are two the two most-used currencies, and Ethereum is quite popular with the NFT crowd.

To accumulate proper funding for launching your entry into the world of crypto art, you need to obtain a digital wallet like MetaMask or Coinbase. MetaMask seems to be one of the most popular wallets for generating and managing NFTs, so it was my first port-of-call to prepare for the launch of my own crypto art into cyberspace.

In my mind, the process was straightforward. I would tap into my bank account and trade US dollars for Ethereum cryptocurrency. Three hours later, I was still floundering since Wyre, the transfer agent for MetaMask, refused to perform the exchange. Phone calls to my bank and to Wyre confirmed that “the other one was a fault.” I was frustrated, but I knew from experience there are many paths to the future, so I fell back to Plan B.

I set up a Coinbase account and successfully moved fiat money (US dollars) into Ethereum coin (ETH). When the exchange was confirmed on both ends, I achieved some semblance of satisfaction. The next step seemed simple enough and involved a direct transfer from Coinbase to MetaMask. However, I was again thwarted by the solid analog world around me. Coinbase informed me they would sit on my deposit until the bank issued its final clearance in about five to seven days. I envisioned a Pony Express Rider carrying said confirmation by horseback. After further research, I discovered a debit card transfer to Coinbase was immediately available to send to my MetaMask wallet. Unfortunately, Coinbase would only let me transfer limited funds via a debit card.

I was smiling, though, when I successfully sent funds from Coinbase to MetaMask. With funds in hand, I was ready to launch my first crypto-creation. I selected one of my digital art pieces based on the famous Lone Cypress. This tree is a Monterey cypress located along the coastal drive near Pebble Beach, California.

Lone Cypress
Alone on the California Coast Copyright Archean Enterprises, LLC 2021. All Rights Reserved) Artist: WM House

My artwork places the cypress tree against a fading, horizonless background and emphasizes the granite outcrop’s natural beauty, on which the tree grows. The Lone Cypress looks out over the Pacific Ocean from its perch on a Cretaceous age granite outcrop. These rocks are part of the Salinian block, a geologic terrane that lies west of the main San Andreas Fault.

Running Out of Gas

There is no free lunch, and this adage also applies to the world of cyber art and NFT’s. I decided to market my art through Rarible, one of the many online marketing tools for connecting buyers and sellers in the crypto-collectibles universe.

Once on the Rarible site, I was able to connect it to my MetaMask account. Uploading a high-resolution image of my art, a 14.6 MB PNG file, was a relatively straightforward process, and after a few minutes of providing some background information, I was ready to pull the trigger. I set a price of 0.25 ETH for the item and also elected to receive a 10% royalty on future sales. I punched the “Create Item” button and got down to the serious business of paying for the opportunity of listing my creation on the web.

The next phase was a three-part process with a flat fee to Rarible, then a gas fee for the NFT and smart contract. It would be ludicrous for me to explain gas fees and how they are calculated since I don’t understand the process. Suffice it to say that some work is done when you use the Ethereum blockchain and because nothing is free, you have to pay for the work done. That payment is called a gas fee.

It turns out that gas fees are a bit like the wind — they rise and fall for no observable reason. Evidently, the busier Ethereum is performing their blockchain dance, the higher my gas fee. The good old supply-and-demand equation seemed to be at work.

You will recall, I could only transfer limited funds to my MetaMask account, and by the time I had to pay for the smart contract and token fees, I had run out of gas. We all know that without gas the car stops and you go nowhere. I was SOL, or so it seemed, until the winds of fate started blowing in my direction. Ethereum value was on the rise throughout the day, and evidently, high gas fees discouraged others from working the blockchain game. Less demand equals lower price, and by that evening, the cost of gas had dropped to the point where my existing funds could cover the needed fees. I jumped on the opportunity and spent my last bit of ETH to enter into the hallowed halls of crypto art marketing.

Somehow, I had managed to fumble my way to the status of Crypto-Artist- Extraordinaire. Yes, I am aware that no one has purchased my art, and I spent a fair amount of unrealized revenue while getting my art online. But being an optimist, I opened a cold beer to celebrate my questionable success and left the money worries for tomorrow.

See more art on ArcheanWeb

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Read my recent fictional adventure on the origins of life

Feature Image: Study of Leda — Original Credit: By Leonardo da Vinci -Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

William House
William is an earth scientist and writer with an interest in providing the science "backstory" for breaking environmental, earth science, and climate change news.