For the uninitiated — a group that we belonged to until recently — NFTs, or non-fungible tokens, refer to pieces of digital content linked to the blockchain, the digital ledger system underpinning cryptocurrencies such as bitcoin and ethereum (ETH). While those cryptocurrencies are fungible, meaning you can trade one bitcoin (or in the IRL world, one dollar) for another identical one, each NFT is unique. NFTs can take different forms, such as virtual trading cards and other collectibles, tweets and even physical objects.
Most commonly, though, NFTs are being used to buy and sell digital artwork
. It’s not a new phenomenon, but in recent weeks NFTs have sold for seven or even eight figures, mirroring a broader market euphoria currently propping up stocks, sports trading cards and cryptocurrencies. Twitter founder Jack Dorsey
, musician Grimes and Super Bowl champion Rob Gronkowski
are among the big names who have jumped on the bandwagon. Earlier this week, digital artist Mike Winkelmann, better known as Beeple, sold a compilation of 5,000 images at the auction house Christie’s for a staggering $69.3 million
And on the evening of March 4, we became the latest to click purchase on a piece of digital art — very, very affordable art, so as not to have our corporate expense accounts confiscated. In the process, we joined not just the growing list of buyers and sellers in this burgeoning marketplace but also a much smaller community of co-owners for this specific art piece. A new digital family.
The perfect piece of digital art
After much deliberation, we chose a piece by Moscow-based digital artist Alexander Shelupinin called “Little Alien
” — a shapeshifting, color-changing portrait of a hairless Sphynx cat. This spoke to us because the CNN Business team has a long and colorful history with hairless cats, but that’s a story for another time. We bought it from Known Origin, one of the many NFT marketplaces rapidly gaining traction, where it was listed by the artist for 0.01 ETH, or $15 at the time. Thanks to a slight jump in ethereum prices since, it’s now worth a princely sum of $17.
Shelupinin, who sells his art under the name “Alex Shell
,” told CNN Business he started making crypto art around three years ago, after building his own “mining rig” for ethereum, which creates new cryptocurrency by using computers to solve complex math problems. But it’s a time and resource-intensive process that uses a lot of electricity and computing power, so when the price of ethereum crashed in mid-2018 he began looking for other uses for that rig.
He started creating “lots of funny images” — a lot of abstract art
, a gorilla gazing at a banana
and even an animated Covid-19 particle
— by coding them into existence using the programming language Python. Then he discovered Known Origin and applied to sell his images there.
“They approved me, so I officially became an artist,” he said.
Since joining the platform in early 2019, Shelupinin has sold 226 different pieces on it (261 if you count the multiple copies of some of them) for a total of around 15 ETH — currently worth $27,000. He’s also made money buying and selling NFT artwork on other popular…
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