The Artist’s NFT in the New Digital Era - Damien Hirst Burned 1,000 of his Paintings and will Burn more soon


British artist Damien Hirst is among the several giants in the  art-world who set fire to their works; Hirst burned 1,000 of his artworks. He streamed the event live on Instagram and is set to burn thousands more if his artworks.

Before we talk about Damien Hirst burning his paintings for NFTs, let’s get to know about Damien Hirst first a little bit more and then understand why he burned his paintings!

  • Damien Steven Hirst is an English artist, entrepreneur, and art collector. He is one of the Young British Artists (YBAs) who dominated the art scene in the UK during the 1990s and is still famous
  • He is reportedly the United Kingdom's richest living artist, with his wealth estimated at US$384 million in the 2020 Sunday Times Rich List
  • Death is one of the central themes in Hirst's works
  • The best-known of these was The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living, a 14-foot (4.3 m) tiger shark immersed in formaldehyde in a clear display case

Now, let’s get back to why did he burn 1000 of his paintings and what has it got to do with NFT?

  • The burning of Hirst’s paintings is an important part of his project -  "The Currency
  • It comprises a collection of 10,000 NFTs. Each non-fungible token represents a physical painting featuring his signature multicolored dots and made from enamel paint on handmade paper
  • The pieces were initially available for $2,000, which were affordable in comparison to what Hirst's work has been worth for

Confused what NFTs exactly are?

  • A non-fungible token (NFT) is a unique digital identifier that cannot be copied, substituted, or subdivided. 
  • It is recorded in a blockchain and is used to certify authenticity and ownership
  • The ownership of an NFT is recorded in the blockchain and can be transferred by the owner to the buyer, thus allowing NFTs to be sold and traded
  • NFTs can be created by anybody, and need few or no coding skills for the creation process
  • NFTs typically contain references to digital files such as photos, videos, and audio
  • Because NFTs are uniquely identifiable assets, they are different from cryptocurrencies; which are fungible
  • Proponents of NFTs claim that NFTs provide a public certificate of authenticity or proof of ownership, but the legal rights conveyed by an NFT can be uncertain
  • The ownership of an NFT as defined by the blockchain, has no inherent legal meaning, and does not necessarily grant copyright, intellectual property rights, or other legal rights over its associated digital file
  • An NFT does not restrict the sharing or copying of its related digital file, and does not prevent the creation of NFTs are identical 

Dilemmas Regarding Hirst

  • After just a year of buying a piece from "The Currency," collectors had to make a difficult choice. They could either take the painting, thus meaning that they would lose the NFT, or hold onto the NFT and let the painting be burned
  • "'The Currency' pitted Hirst's raid into the new world of digital art against old-school practice, asking the art market to decide which was more “valuable," as reported by Artnet News' Caroline Goldstein
  • The buyers were almost evenly split in their decisions, with 5,149 going for trading their NFT for the original painting and 4,851 choosing the NFT against the original painting 
  • The art pieces were shown at the Newport Street Gallery in London and were burned during the art fair - Frieze London, which runs from October 12 to October 16

Hirst’s Take

"A lot of people think I'm burning millions of dollars of art but I'm not, I'm completing the transformation of these physical artworks into NFTs by burning the physical versions," Hirst wrote in an Instagram caption. 

"The value of art, digital or physical, which is hard to define at the best of times will not be lost, it will be transferred to the NFT as soon as they are burnt."

A Little More Digging into the NFT Market

  • The NFT market rose exponentially from 2020–2021: the trading of NFTs in 2021 increased to more than $17 billion, up by 21,000% over 2020's total of $82 million
  • NFTs have been used as conjectural investments and have drawn criticism for the energy cost and carbon footprint associated with ratify blockchain transactions as well as their frequent use in art scams
  • The NFT market has also been compared to an economic bubble or a Ponzi scheme (a form of financial fraud that lures investors and pays profits to earlier investors with funds from more recent investors)

In the contemporary international art market, art is traded like an asset and portrayed as a financial instrument. 

NFTs are the newest type of asset that can be commodified; Hirst is just cashing into the new digital realm and trying his luck. 

Is the burning of original art really worth NFTs?

Is the digital currency world changing the art world?

There are many questions and there are answers we need to search by digging deeper than we already have.

Posted in Articles, News, Updates on Oct 22, 2022

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