The Creative Artistic and Non-Artistic Utilization of NFT Although NFTs have been around since 2014, it's only recently that creatives from many fields have started tapping into its potential

By Shishir Jajoo

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With apologies to Hamlet's existential crisis, to be fungible or to be non-fungible, that is the option now provided in the world of blockchain. Just as mainstream consumers were getting a handle on cryptocurrencies that record transactions on a secure, networked database called a blockchain, non-fungible tokens (NFT) are the new crypto darlings because of what you cannot do with them.

When it comes to currencies, for example, most are designed to be fungible by their interchangeability. In US government currency, a $100 bill is equal to five $20s, which is equal to ten $10s. Cryptocurrency, which uses tokens as opposed to paper bills, essentially follows the same model: they can be traded and used as a standard for commercial transactions.

An NFT is meant to represent a cryptographic asset on a blockchain with unique identification codes and metadata that distinguish them from each other, so they cannot be traded or exchanged at equivalency. Think of the NFT as a digital collectible—something rare or one-of-a-kind like a photo, song, book poem, or any other digital file—that is published on the blockchain so it can be bought, a process called minting. Because NFTs are tracked on blockchains, it provides proof of ownership, a digital provenance, if you will. That enables revenue not just from sales, but royalties on future sales.

Although NFTs have been around since 2014, it's only recently that creatives from many fields have started tapping into its potential. For award-winning poet Ana Marie Cabellero, whose work has received Colombia's Jose Miguel Arango National Poetry Prize and the Beverly International Prize for Literature, it's a matter of value.

A longtime believer that poems should be valued as works of art, Caballero didn't understand much about NFT's underlying technology, but she instantly recognized it as a new way to transact and exchange digital artworks with limited—or any—third-party involvement. If NFTs worked for artwork, why not poetry, which has a short publishing life and notoriously minimal financial gain, even for distinguished poets like Caballero, a prior finalist for the Academy of American Poets Prize.

To extend the reach and life of her poetry, she had started turning her verses into spoken-word video presentations shared on social media. Those video presentations seemed a perfect NFT fit. And not just for her work, but for the network of talented but underpaid poets she knew who could gain exposure and perhaps some extra income by adapting their work to digital audiences.

During her deep dive to learn about the NFT space, she was asked to participate in a poetry event called Etherpoems, which minted verse directly onto the Ethereum blockchain. The first edition had launched in June 2021 and sold out overnight. Etherpoems 2: Spoken Word is a closed, curated crypto-anthology featuring 160 new-media poems by twenty-one internationally-based Etherpoets that are one-of-a-kind collectible tokens.

That experience led to Caballero co-founding a poetry gallery, theVERSEverse, with two other writers she met through Etherpoets. Today, thanks to NFTs, both the gallery and Ana are considered to be leading proponents of the NFT poetry movement.

While the technology may be twenty-first century, the NFT space isn't just for millennials and gen-Zers. Classically trained artist Lawrence W Lee has been a professional artist for more than forty years, born just a few years after the end of World War II. Best known for his iconic shamanistic images, his work is featured in thousands of private collections around the world as well as in the permanent collections, proving even artists in traditional media can adapt to new platforms, even one crowded by the young and techy.

To date Lee has sold more than two hundred NFTs, many reflecting both traditional art and modern gaming influences, giving his NFTs multi-generational appeal.

That appeal is reflected in recent statistics provided by Openweb, which reports that the NFT trading volume reached almost $11 billion in Q3 of 2021, and that the majority of NFTs sell for less than $200, meaning the volume of transactions has exploded exponentially.

And it's not just artists who see the NFT opportunity. Entrepreneurs and companies outside the art world are getting on the NFT train. California real estate agent Robert Vinson has become the first known broker in Los Angeles offering to record a property sale as an NFT. And Taco Bell became the first fast-food restaurant to sell NFTs, offering twenty-five pieces of digital art. The items sold out in less than a half-hour for as much as $3,500, indicating the line between art and commerce may soon become indistinguishable.

The versatility of NFTs—from preventing fraud and creating new artistic revenue streams to enhance company branding or even safeguarding the confidentiality of health records—NFTs ability to revolutionize industries of all kinds have only begun to be tapped and are only limited by the next generation of disruptors' imaginations.

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