Blockchain and crypto art for dummies

A quick and easy guide to understand blockchain technology and learn how to leverage it to your advantage as an artist or a collector.

by Shraddha Nair Published on : Feb 04, 2021

So here is the thing - we have heard this word being thrown around a lot. Maybe you have even heard your friend or family rant about it at a party while people flock around them and feign understanding with blank expressions in their eyes. So, what is it, really?

First things first - what does ‘blockchain’ even mean?

Blockchain is an innovation in technology. It is a mathematically complex piece of code embedded into digital assets. A digital asset can be anything from a document to a video file or even currency. Blockchain technology creates a secure, almost un-hackable database of transactions. This means that when you share a blockchain protected file with a friend, the technology records the movement of that file from one user to the other. This way, the history of the file’s movement is forever stored in ‘the blockchain’ for anyone to view and verify. Are you with me so far?

But, how does it work?

A blockchain is essentially a decentralised, distributed ledger. A block is comparable to a single page of a ledger. A blockchain is a series of data blocks which store information. Each block contains three things - data, the hash of the block and the hash of the previous block in the chain.

The data stored in a block depends on its application. For example, in Bitcoin, it stores information about the sender, the receiver and the amount of money being sent.

A hash is a set of numbers and letters, of a fixed length, which is calculated using an algorithm. The hash is the output of the algorithm. The input is a series of numbers and letters of any length. The hash, in this context, is like the compressed identity of the block. Each block comes with a unique hash, making it identifiable and individual like a fingerprint. If something is changed in the block, the hash changes as well. It is then no longer the same block as its fingerprint is now different.

The third piece of information in the block is the hash of the previous block. Say there are five blocks in a chain. The hash of block one is stored in block two, and the hash of block two is stored in block three, and so on. This creates a chain. If someone tampers with the data in block two, the hash of block two will change. As a result, the old hash registered in block three will no longer correspond with the new, tampered hash in block two. This makes the rest of the blocks redundant. This behavior of the technology is what makes blockchain so secure.

Blockchain technology creates a secure, almost un-hackable database of transactions.

Where did this idea come from?

From what we know, blockchain was popularised by Bitcoin, the cryptocurrency invented in 2009 by someone called Satoshi Nakomoto. Nakamoto’s identity is unverified and remains a mystery to this day. They could be a group of people, or an individual. The public’s best guess is that Nakamoto is a Japanese man who is around forty or fifty years old today.

However, history shows us that the concept of blockchain was outlined by a group of researchers in 1999 as a way to timestamp digital documents so that backdating files or tampering with them became difficult. This idea went by largely unnoticed until it was adapted by Nakomoto in 2009 to create one of the earliest cryptocurrencies ever - Bitcoin. Today Bitcoin, cryptocurrency and blockchain are words which go into one bucket in our minds because of their close historical associations.

Bitcoin and other cryptocurrency are a result of blockchain tech | STIRworld
Bitcoin and other cryptocurrency are a result of blockchain tech Image: Courtesy of Unsplash

And what is blockchain technology used for?

Blockchain technology has a wide range of applications. With its strengths in security, the utilitarian values of blockchain include, but are not limited to the following:

  • Secure sharing of medical data
  • Tracking music sharing for royalties
  • Personal identity security
  • Original content creation
  • Cryptocurrency exchange
  • Anti-money laundering tracking system
  • Supply chain and logistics monitoring
  • Ethical diamond mining
  • Provenance certification for fine art and antiquities

But wait, what is crypto art?

Crypto art includes all artworks which are tokenised though blockchain technology. These are digital artworks in the form of images, videos or GIFs which have unique tokens and are limited in editions. This allows for artists and collectors to buy, sell and trade digital goods as though they were physical. Because the files are tokenised, the assurance that there are a limited number of artist-authorised ‘pieces’ of the artwork allows for its value to be tradable. The digital signature on the file itself is indelible and non-fungible as a result of secure blockchain technology.

There are multiple platforms via which crypto art can be bought and sold, namely Nifty Gateway, SuperRare, Vide Atelier and others.

Crypto art presents new ways to view and experience art, compared to traditional museums | STIRworld
Crypto art presents new ways to view and experience art, compared to traditional museums Image: Juliet Furst on Unsplash

But I am an artist - how does this help me?

Of all the stakeholders, artists are possibly the group who have to pay most attention to this newly developing space of crypto art and blockchain tech. Why?

Number one, blockchain technology allows you to create provenance certifications which say ‘This is my work, this is when I made it and this information is authentic and factual’. Through platforms like Blockchain Art Collective and Verisart, any artist can register their artwork and employ blockchain technology to certify their artworks. This applies to digital and non-digital art.

Number two, blockchain certifications allow you to track future sales of your artwork and receive royalties from each transaction. Many artists have lost out on what is deservedly theirs due to the value of their work increasing after it has left their hands. Blockchain tech is pro-artist, enabling you to receive royalties every time your work is re-sold.

Number three, blockchain technology empowers digital artists. Today there is an abundant use of digital tools to create sound and video art. How does the artist protect their work from being illegally shared? Blockchain.

Number four, crypto art is an agnostic space. If you have access to the internet, you can put up your work for sale regardless of your location, age, training, race or gender.

Number five, the whole system is decentralized, which takes away the power from middlemen and gatekeepers in the art world (and oh, how many of those there are!), returning autonomy to artists and collectors.

Blockchain simplifies provenance certifications, while also providing with a safe way to purchase authentic and original artwork.

That is nice, but what can an art collector do with this?

Provenance certification is perhaps the most important piece of data you need when purchasing an artwork. When you have a significant body of art, your certificates of authenticity become difficult to keep track of. Blockchain simplifies all of this, making your certifications secure and easy to maintain. It also provides you with a safe way to purchase authentic and original artwork.

The growing market of crypto art also allows aspiring and experienced collectors to support emerging artists and encourage digital media. It is also a good time to get in on the trend, while it is still affordable to new collectors.

The technology can also be leveraged by art galleries, museums as well as art dealers in similar ways.

So, that is a quick summary of it all! There is a lot to explore, learn and discover about the world of blockchain and crypto art. Sharing knowledge with your art friends and reading as much as possible today is vital to an informed, educated, and empowered tomorrow.

Also read: What is blockchain certification, crypto art, and why should you care?

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