Digital art is defined as artwork that utilizes digital technology as part of the creative or presentation process.
Although the lines blur between digital art and other types of experiential art, for the sake of this guide, we’ll be regarding digital art as anything that primarily lives in the digital realm.
If you’re reading this article, you may be wondering how digital art is different from “crypto” art. The technology of crypto art cuts through any latent subjectivity surrounding digital art.
Crypto art utilizes the blockchain as a means to acknowledge and authenticate ownership, prove the propriety of a specific art piece, as well as to facilitate the instantaneous transactions between buyers and sellers. It largely accomplishes this through the use of NFTs, or Non-Fungible Tokens; these blockchain tokens represent unique, one-of-a-kind assets.
The following article will explore the top 6 types of digital art, but it comes with a caveat– “top” is merely a handy way to categorize what excites us about the digital and crypto art industry in 2021.
We acknowledge beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and our opinions below aren’t meant to “rank” artists against one another. If our writing here can inspire other artists around the world to explore creating art on the blockchain, we’d call this one a success.
Let’s get into the best types of digital art in 2021.
1. Everydays: the First 5000 Days
Charleston, South Carolina artist Beeple's 'The First 5,000 Days' crypto art piece shocked the world, selling for a record $69,346,250 on March 11, 2021.
The piece is a collage of artist Mike Winkelmann’s daily releases since he challenged himself to make a picture from start to finish every day starting on May 1st, 2007. His digital designs portray dark, comical phantasmagoric worlds, often using pop culture figures as focal points and references. Many pieces make some subtle, or not-so-subtle, rather, political or social commentary.
Although the lofty price tag has been a controversial subject for a good majority of 2021, and for good reason, we view Everydays: the First 5000 Days as a testament to Winkelmann’s commitment to his creative journey. It’s also a reflection of his early advocacy of blockchain technology.
2. Nyan Cat
Nyan Cat sold on February 19th, 2021 for 300 ETH, which was worth about $580,000 at the time of the sale.
Artist Chris Torres created Nyan Cat about a decade ago, publishing a video of the poptart-body flying cat in April 2011. The video grew to over 185 million views, becoming a viral sensation.
In February 2021, a 1/1 NFT of Nyan Cat sold in an exciting auction with three bidders competing down to the last few minutes.
Nyan Cat makes our list because its sale will pave the way for future creators of viral sensations to directly interact with their audience, rather than having a third-party intermediary platform, YouTube in this case, determine the engagement and monetization.
CryptoPunks are early blockchain-based collectibles that regularly attract price tags from between a few thousand to topping over $7.5 million.
There are 10,000 CryptoPunks, each with uniquely generated characteristics. Each is one-of-a-kind, and can only be owned by a single owner on the Ethereum blockchain. When they first launched, anyone with an Ethereum wallet could claim one for free (all were claimed very quickly.)
We like these 8-bit digital portraits are the closest we have to cryptocurrency antiques– they were the first “NFT” on Ethereum, and were an inspiration for the NFT ERC-721 token standard.
4. Pascal Boyart's Murals (and NFTs)
Inspired by an early 19th-century painting by Eugène Delacroix called La Liberté guidant le peuple (Liberty leading the people), a Parisian street artist Pascal Boyart painted a mural homage, but with one interesting spin.
The mural contains $1,000 of BTC that can be claimed, provided visitors can crack the code the Boyart’s puzzle; the bitcoin has yet to be claimed.
Boyart also began selling NFTs of the mural’s digital version. The pieces are selling for 15 ETH+, or about $32,000 a pop.
#StreetArt treasure hunt in Paris with a #Bitcoin puzzle
For the 10th birthday of the genesis block, I painted this frescoe in Paris with a 0,26btc ($1000) puzzle in it.
Here's the public key: 1NqPwPp7hEXZ3Atj77Ue11xAEMmXqAXwrQ Thanks to @alistairmilne for sponsoring this ? pic.twitter.com/F7aIkxmp6t
— Pascal Boyart (@pascalboyart) January 7, 2019
We like Boyart’s murals because they bridge the real and digital world in such a unique way; for example, he frequently adds a QR code for donations in BTC, and has generated thousands of dollars for his work by admiring passers-by.
5. Hashmask #9939 sex
Hashmasks are unique because they’re the product of a community, rather than a product made to be sold to a specific community. There are 16,000 unique pieces, created by over 70 artists.
The Hashmask initiative belongs to the Zurich-based Suum Cuique Labs, and the Hashmask creators are anonymous.
Hashmask #9939 sold for 420 ETH, or about $840,000.
“We are the exact target audience. We just build what we would like. We didn’t have to do any analysis on people’s preferences because it’s just us,” said one of the anonymous founders. “We hang in the same Discords.”
We like Hashmasks because they demonstrate the efficacy of creative anonymity on the blockchain, as well as the mainstream success that comes about when cultivating a unique relationship with an audience. Being the decentralized world the cryptocurrency industry is, this is particularly important.
6. THE COMPLETE MF COLLECTION
Beeple again, this time with THE COMPLETE MF COLLECTION, a 1/1 collection of all of Beeple’s artwork in video format.
This NFT sale is awesome because it actually comes with a physical, interface-free, always-on, physical artifact that constantly streams the NFT. The device comes with a signed, numbered titanium backplate with, according to the description, hidden authentication markers.
It also comes with an “Authentic Beeple hair sample*,” which the creator further qualifies by saying “totes promise it's not pubes.”
THE COMPLETE MF COLLECTION sold for $777,777.77 on Nifty Gateway.
We love this one because it not only broadens the category of “digital art” to film, but it comes with a physical, presentable object that makes for a visually stimulating discussion piece.
Final Thoughts: Digital Art History is Being Written
With Bitcoin’s 500% growth in price over a few months between 2020 and 2021, a newly minted batch of affluent cryptocurrency millionaires has entered the art collector space.
The Internet’s newest millionaires and billionaires are showing a warmness to something they’re uniquely familiar with– value stored on the blockchain.
For one, NFTs don’t come with the trappings and concerns of owning physical art pieces, like security costs, transportation, and physical deterioration. While NFTs do come with their unique set of risks (and digital deterioration, or “bit rot” is still a real thing), they provide an ownership and authentication framework like never before.
Crypto art backed by NFTs already has some significant success stories, with CryptoPunks, Beeple, and Hashmask as strong examples in their own right.
Our list of the top digital art is by no means exhaustive, and that’s so motivating to us as creators. There are already dozens of examples of NFT-backed music, videos, and trading card games selling for millions of dollars; the shiny selling prices are less important than the enthusiasm and democracy of investment created in the new era of art.