The blockchain discussion

Historical art is created through the respective time and society, thus always in the present.  Today, new technologies open up new possibilities of artistic potential. Currently, art production influenced by new technologies is reacting very strongly to the changing times. Works of art are being created that react to digitalisation, even if they do not necessarily reflect the digital format.

Formally pure digital art is ephemeral and based on transient technology. The constant development of technology requires permanent improvements. 

Even if digital art is still in its infancy and flourishes unexploited, the public meets it with curiosity.

Rethinking is needed
The global technical networks are creating new atmospheres or infospheres, as media theorist Peter Weibel calls them. In the art world, they force a reassessment of previous art historical considerations. Conventional theories and practices must be questioned. New art forms in the realm of the immaterial digital require a general rethinking of the preservation, presentation and acquisition of art. And the reception of digital art is also different.

Will the art market change because of this? According to the Hiscox study, there is still a strong preference for original works in both real and online trading. Authenticity and intrinsic value continue to be important decision-making criteria for the purchase of art. In the long term, transparency will be a basic prerequisite for creating trust.

Most purchases of digital art take place conventionally through galleries. If a collector acquires a website, for example, the gallery owner sells him a domain or a unique piece and also conveys a licence agreement. This is material. The “network” remains virtual, but keeps all the attributes of an artwork open in the source code: the artist’s signature, the title, the year of creation, the technique, details of the programmer or collector.

The collector can enjoy the work without regard to location or time. At the same time, he is responsible for its preservation. Preservation is a guarantee of continuity over time.

Net art is generally dependent on software, but above all on hardware (computers, hard disks, interfaces, sensors, monitors, projectors, etc.). But how long will we have hardware left in interactive culture? Forward-thinking collectors are buying a range of equipment in addition to the contract that will arm the works for the future. 

Big Data Age
The ability to learn about new approaches to fast-moving culture happens naturally and rapidly.  The art market is an extremely opaque market – based on the right networks and contacts. Will this change so quickly? What will freedom of action look like in the future in the Big Data age? 

Art history proves it: Artists are ahead of their time, they anticipate what is coming. And so you only have to look around the scene to come across new thoughts and technological marketing methods in the art world. 

The Blockchain
The German artist Stephan Vogler has already done it and released intelligent synergies in cooperation with a German law firm. He himself produces digital files. Intangible goods, as he calls them, which are of course also intended to pass into the art market in the long term. Preferably as unique specimens that can be purchased – according to his system – via Bitcoin. Much more interesting than the Bitcoin acquisition, however, seems to be the Bitcoin technology behind it.

Stephan Vogler has developed a licence with art law experts that transforms digital artworks into technically and legally limited and independently tradable virtual goods. The system is based on a licence agreement using Bitcoin technology. All works are provided with an electronic signature which, according to the law, is also recognised as an original signature and also provides proof that the file existed at the specified time. Its authenticity can be mathematically proven. The right of resale is exclusive. Virtual ownership is technically and legally limited for the respective owner.  The owner of the rights of use is registered in a decentralised Bitcoin blockchain. The rights of the work are allocated through a Bitcoin transaction. Digital artworks thus become collectors’ and trade objects without materialising them. Purchase and transaction take place simultaneously. The function of the trustee is eliminated.

The acquisition structures are thus extremely transparent.

Status Quo Blockchain
Artists like Stephan Vogler want to revolutionise the market for digital art with a new technology. Independently of this, the art world is not sleeping either.

Collectors, institutions and art market platforms are already taking note. 

Austria’s Museum für Moderne Kunst (MAK) has already bought a work of art with Bitcoins.

Cointemporary.com, a curated online platform, offers ephemeral artworks at a fixed Bitcoin (BTC) price – regardless of the current exchange rate.

The Winklevoss twins are known as big supporters of the digital currency. Rumours about investments for art are circulating.

The Berlin-based company ascribe.io also develops systems within the blockchain technology and offers services for art professionals to professionally manage their digital files, i.e.: register, archive, transfer ownership, etc.

For Vogler, the blockchain is the first decentralised trustworthy database that can track the ownership of virtual objects in a reliable way. This is certainly true.

Acquiring artworks via Bitcoin sounds future-oriented and simple, but it should be done with great caution. Reason: Bitcoins are not controlled by a state and its central bank, but are generated by internet users in complicated arithmetic operations. So what would be the advantage of buying Bitcoins?

If you ask the collectors of the digital, such as the Belgian Alain Servais or the Swede Hampus Lindwall, they are sceptical about buying the risky Bitcoin currency. 

It is still too early to actually assess the impact of these developments. And ultimately, the whole discussion is less about the currency system and more about the technology, which can also be used for other purposes. 

The experiments will only really bear fruit with a high degree of expertise, the courage to accept legal consequences and simple decisions in DESIGN.

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