Artist Mike Winkelmann, also known as Beeple, just sold an NFT for a record $ 69.3 million, the third highest price paid by any living artist. The sale of the purely digital work at Christie’s was the strongest indication to date that NFTs or “non-fungible tokens” have taken the art market by storm, making the leap from specialized websites to leading auction houses. Beeple, a newcomer to the art world who first heard about NFTs five months ago, is the best-known artist benefiting from the huge boom in sales of these much-touted but poorly understood goods.

If you’ve heard about them and want to know what they’re all about, here’s an introduction.

An NFT is a verified asset using blockchain technology where a computer network records transactions and provides buyers with proof of authenticity and ownership. The current boom is mostly affecting digital assets, including pictures, GIFs, songs or videos. Most importantly, NFTs make digital artworks unique and therefore salable.

Now artists, musicians, influencers, and sports franchises are using NFTs to monetize digital goods that were previously cheap or free. The technology also meets the art world’s need for authentication and origin in an increasingly digital world, and permanently links a digital file to its creator.

Winkelmann sold the work of art himself through Christie’s.

The technology for NFTs has been around since the mid-2010s, but it became mainstream in late 2017 with CryptoKitties, a website where people could buy and “breed” limited edition digital cats using cryptocurrency.

Now that the value of cryptocurrencies is reaching record highs, some of the same investors who speculate on NFTs are buying and trading, often at staggering prices. Beeple is the most famous artist making a gigantic sale, but there are now many illustrators, video and graphic artists selling work at high prices.

Type of. The purchaser of an NFT does not necessarily acquire copyright or even sole access to a work. (Many will be available to anyone with an internet connection.) But some people are willing to pay well to take ownership of the “proven real thing”.

In fact, the art world is familiar with this genre of sales. For example, anyone could tape a banana to the wall, but it wouldn’t be Maurizio Cattelan’s “Comedian”. Likewise, someone could easily make a digital copy of Beeple’s “Everydays – The First 5000 Days” simply by downloading it through their Internet browser. Although the content would be exactly the same, he wouldn’t own the artwork itself without blockchain verification.

According to the 2020 NFT report published by L’Atelier BNP Paribas and Nonfungible.com, the value of the NFT market rose 299 percent to over $ 250 million in 2020. But even before this auction, amazing sales were achieved in the first months of 2021.

No, it was the first all-digital NFT. The first NFT the auction house sold was a token that authenticated a physical painting, Robert Alice’s “Block 21” from the “Portraits of a Mind” series.

Beeple’s work has been likened to that of KAWS or Banksy, two other artists who bypassed the goalkeepers of the art world for huge selling prices. Ultimately, however, NFTs are a technology used to authenticate a work of art. The decision as to whether a work is art or not is up to the viewer. The technology can also be used to authenticate other types of objects. Jack Dorsey, co-founder and CEO of Twitter, is currently selling his first tweet as an NFT in a timed charity auction. The bid had reached $ 2.5 million by Thursday.

Erin Griffith contributed to the coverage.