Two stills from Andrew Benson’s Active Gestures 4, 2021, animated GIF recorded from custom software. COURTESY THE ARTIST
Crypto art is an odd moniker. Art tends to be labeled by medium or style. But this new term defines art in relation to the technology of the distributed ledger where it’s tracked and traded. It says this art’s most salient feature is that its uniqueness is established by a record on the blockchain. An individual piece of crypto art is called an NFT, or non-fungible token, distinguished from other, interchangeable crypto assets, including currencies like Bitcoin and Ethereum, by its singularity.
To make an NFT, a digital file—a JPEG, a GIF, an MP4—must be minted, a computational process that registers it on the blockchain. A work of crypto art is therefore a hybrid thing. It’s the record on the blockchain that encodes its provenance, a smart contract that defines the conditions of its transfer.