The Covid-19 pandemic gave us the opportunity to imagine the future while living it. This is particularly true of blockchain technology, virtual reality, and non-fungible tokens (NFTs). The convergence of reality and the future has created opportunities to disrupt specific industries, such as the cultural and creative sector.

NFTs are one-of-a-kind digital assets such as photography, music, sports memorabilia, collectibles, virtual land, and digital art. This type of ownership is supported by blockchain technology, which is a decentralised digital ledger of recorded transactions that takes place across a business network.

A buyer will receive a verified digital token indicating the authenticity of the artwork. Because of its sophisticated capabilities, the Ethereum blockchain protocol remains popular, but other protocols are used to mint NFTs, such as Polygon, which offers lower transaction costs and considers its environmental impact by being carbon neutral.

Artists can sell, auction, and trade their NFT on a variety of marketplaces. Momint, Magic Eden, Rarible, SuperRare, and The Tree are among them, with OpenSea being the most popular.

The Tree, a South African marketplace founded by Dan Jordan and Trevor Stuurman, offers artists a curated entry into NFTs.

According to Jordan, it is a “digital storytelling platform for African storytellers to tell and transform their stories into a digital future with a digital legacy behind them.”

The market is also considering creating mixed reality galley experiences for a variety of audiences.

According to Stuurman, while sales are a measure of an artist’s success, this experience has also “been about pioneering a new space and creating new pathways for the consumption and creation of art.”

Globally, the market value of NFTs has risen to more than $3 billion. The Merge by digital artist Pak was auctioned off for $91.8 million in December last year, outbidding Mike Winkelmann’s digital artwork Everydays: The First 5 000 Days, which sold for $69.3 million in March 2021.

International corporations are also providing NFT opportunities. Visa Inc established an NFT creator programme to assist artists in marketing their NFTs. Instagram is developing a gallery experience for NFT owners to display their artworks on their profiles, and Tiffany’s is selling a limited edition of 250 “NFTiffs.”

The process of selling art by connecting artists with audiences rather than through an art gallery has advantages. In the case of NFTs, the benefits are realised through the creation of “smart contracts” with instructions that, each time the NFT is sold, a percentage of the sale is paid to the artist who created the work in the form of royalties.

South Africa’s NFT market is in its early stages, with few opportunities to sell NFTs.

Lodi stated that, while she was unable to sell her NFT artwork, The Gathering, the experience taught her about the potential of NFTs. “It’s a new and exciting platform, and the earlier you start, the better the financial side of it,” Mukheli said. It’s having my work on a platform of the future and having it available to anyone who understands the NFT space.”

However, there are some caveats. Because of the lack of interoperability between blockchain protocols and NFT marketplaces, the convergence of reality and the future has resulted in the creation of physical, legal contracts as a backup if the instructions in the smart contract are not followed.

Furthermore, the current volatility in the NFT space has created opportunistic opportunities for market manipulation, necessitating the development of a progressive regulatory framework for smart contract enforcement, establishing standards and norms, protecting artists’ intellectual property rights, and reducing fraud risks.

Lockdown regulations and social distancing have forced artists to become more intentional in curating their artworks for audience development and potential business on social media platforms such as Instagram, Twitter, and Pinterest. There is a lot of potential in ensuring that artists’ copyright is protected and that the means to profit from art is done in a unique way that was never considered five to ten years ago.

As the NFT market matures, it is critical to recognise that NFT is not art, but rather a potential conduit for democratising the art experience for artists and their audiences. The maturity of NFTs will be determined by the adoption of immersive technologies and enhanced social commentary.

Digital art, as a form of disruptive innovation, and how it is packaged, will fundamentally alter our perceptions and experiences of the arts sector.

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