What makes an artwork valuable?
Everydays: The First 5000 Days, Beeple
Traditionally, a combination of factors seems to make an artwork valuable, like, who owned the artwork before, the thrill of the auction, its historical significance, social status, love, passion and authenticity. The medium of the artwork also contributes to its value. Canvas works are typically worth more than those on paper and paintings are often sold at higher values than sketches or prints. This week though, Christie’s had its first online digital auction of a purely digital artwork, a collage by the artist Beeple (real name Mike Winkelmann) called Everydays: The First 5000 Days. Beeple started making this piece on 1 May 2007, drawing a new work and posting it on Instagram every day for the next thirteen and a half years. The auction at Christie’s brings a level of validation in that the art world is finally starting to recognise digital artists.
But who would pay a fortune for something intangible like a meme, a piece of video art or a digital rendering of a print when you can just as easily see it free online? Well the news is lots of people, a record 22 million people watched the final moments of the auction's livestream and Christie's netted $69m for the artist Beeple setting a new world record for digital art using NFT (non-fungible token) technology to sell this artwork. The art does not have a physical presence the same way a painting or sculpture does as the token represents ownership, but not the work itself, it’s a type of digital certificate of authenticity. The token is recorded on a digital ledger, and can be re sold. However the value of the artwork can go up or down in value, but the owner of the token never possesses the original digital file.
Sales of these types of assets may well be a rising trend, but then could this kind of asset end up being worth nothing? We better get out crystal balls out.