In the early days of art, a painting had value because it was the only image of its kind in the world. If you wanted to replicate an image, you’d have to hire a painter to recreate the original, and even then it wouldn’t be the same. But with the advent of the camera and now digital imaging, copying art has become trivial. A new level of forgery also exists. This makes blockchain art provenance a promising field.
In the digital age, the challenge for art is copying. First, the camera made it possible to reproduce prints of any painting. Now, the internet has taken this to a new level. It’s trivial to do a Google image search and have a high-resolution version of your favorite painting or photograph without paying the artist a dime. Even physical artwork, like a painting, can be painstakingly reproduced from images online.
Blockchain Art Provenance
Provenance refers to the chain of custody for a piece of art. Traditionally, the owner maintains the provenance of the piece or various auction houses keep their own records. The idea is to trace the art, sale after sale, back to the artist.
The problem is this provenance documentation can be forged or counterfeited fairly easily, especially in the absence of a central shared record. When auction houses want to verify the authenticity of a piece of art, they research the provenance documentation. They also usually commission an outside expert appraiser to evaluate the authenticity of the piece. Fake art has fooled appraisers many times.
Blockchain art provenance aims to solve this issue. Today, multiple companies are working on creating a digital database of the world’s art and owners. These owners then have public and private keys to prove ownership of an original work.
Blockchain art provenance could fundamentally change the way the art world operates, making it easier to certify that a piece is the real deal. Moreover, you’d be able to track the ownership history of the piece over time on a transparent public ledger.
Rare Pepes and Cryptokitties have been cited as the first pieces of blockchain art. While some might consider these collectibles far from art, they do bear some of the characteristics of digital artwork. They’re unique, interesting, and therefore valuable.
The same tokenized blockchain technology behind Cryptokitties and Rare Pepes could power similar digital art ownership. An artist could sell one true, certified copy of the artwork to a buyer who can then prove that his/her file is the original. Alternatively, an artist could do a limited run of prints, creating only 100 certified copies, for instance.
This is a game changer for digital art, an industry where it’s notoriously hard to control the dissemination of files and images.