The Digital Art Dilemma

The Dilemma

Question: What is the difference between the two pieces of amazing digital art created by artist Hackatao below? Look very closely.

Art Piece #1:

Artist credit:

Art Piece #2:

Artist credit:

Answer: The difference is that Art Piece #1 is a rare 1-of-1 edition non-fungible token (“NFT”) on Ethereum blockchain owned by a well known digital art collector, while Art Piece #2 is an exact copy of that digital art piece.

So now I ask: Which piece is more beautiful, or more special? Which piece gives you more pleasure? Which piece do you think is more valuable?

Some will say Art Piece #1 is move valuable and special because it is truly scarce and is provably and cryptographically owned by one Ethereum wallet, and only this wallet has the ability to prove ownership and only this wallet has the ability to sell or transfer this art piece.

Do you agree with this statement?

Most likely, we all believe that it is quite powerful that the world now has the ability to truly own unique digital assets, something that was impossible prior to blockchain. Still… WOW!

However, what does this mean with regards to digital art? To help figure this out, let’s compare it to physical art.

If you are lucky enough to own a rare, one-of-a-kind piece of physical art created by Pablo Picasso, you inherently have a certain power associated with this ownership. You have the ability to control who in the world can see this art piece and who can receive pleasure from this experience. If you so choose, you have the ability to remove the presence of the art piece from the rest of the world. If you desire, you have the ability to create an environment where you can charge people to see this art piece, or you have the ability to loan this piece of art to a museum, for a certain limited period of time. These are some of the powerful features that are derived from true ownership of physical art.

How does this experience compare to ownership of digital art?

SURPRISE, I tricked you — Art Piece #2 is actually the rare 1-of-1 edition owned by a well-known digital art collector, and Art Piece #1 is the exact copy. Do you now value Art Piece #1 less, or think it is less special?

I know this is just a fun example, but how does this make you feel?

With digital art, once it has been exposed to the world, typically via the internet, the exact piece of art is now available for everyone to see and to receive pleasure from. Once exposed, this can never be taken away from the world. I would argue that this is currently what happens with most digital art in the world today.

Does this take value away from this digital art piece compared to a physical art piece? Generally today, I would argue that the value of ownership of a rare physical art piece is more powerful and more valuable than the value of ownership of a rare digital art piece.

Do you agree? Do we care if this is the case?

Solving the Dilemma

What can we do with digital art to increase the value of true ownership?

I believe this is where the power of technology comes in.

Can we provide some unique “features” that allow true ownership of digital art to become more valuable?

There are some “features” that exist today that move in this direction. Some of these include:

  1. One example is in the Metaverse world. In Cryptovoxels, when a true owner displays a piece of digital art in-world it receives a special sparkly frame around it (see above picture). Copies of this digital art do not receive this ownership frame.
  2. Another interesting ownership “feature” has been implemented by Async Art, which currently specializes in what some call programmable art, or what I call dynamic art. With the Async platform, a single piece of art has one Master and that Master is made up of a certain number of layers.
    Because the Master art piece is a dynamic display of all the layers, it can be constantly changing, sometimes activated by owners of the Layers. Now, true ownership of the Master and deciding where to display it becomes more special. Someone that is showing a copy of the Master has a more difficult time trying to show the true current piece of digital art as it can change at any time.
    Plus ownership of the Layers, which allow control within the Master is a clear benefit of true ownership.
  3. Another interesting idea revolves around unique experiences that only the true owner of the digital art piece can experience. This could be a digital experience or in-real-life (“IRL”) physical experience. In this case, the ownership of the digital art piece acts similarly to owning an access token. This access token allows the owner to a special experience. This special experience could be a unique way to see the art, or it could be something unrelated to the actual digital art piece. (I’ve heard Matt Kane is doing some interesting things around this)

These features allow for additional benefit (and I’d argue additional value) due to true ownership.

Still, does this make true ownership of digital art something that is equal to or more powerful that true ownership of physical art?

The Limitless Future of Digital Art

I believe there are endless possibilities to imagine when it comes to digital art. But today, I would argue that true ownership of physical art is still more powerful than true ownership of digital art, but I see this difference closing.

What am I excited about? Here are some additional ideas that are happening or to be explored in this space:

  1. Embedding digital value into the digital art piece. This can be digital currency, interest bearing digital currency, or other types of digital value. (see Charged Particles for some interesting work going on)
  2. Scenarios where owning a piece of digital art grants you access to a DAO — this DAO could do many different things, related to the art or something else.
  3. Owning a social token that is “backed” by digital art, digital real estate and other digital assets. (see WhaleShark’s $Whale token)
  4. Digital art lego blocks ( has been doing collaboration art for long time now). If you compare to Decentralized Finance (“DeFi”), this space has a wide open future.
  5. Interoperability — We see this more with gaming NFTs, but wide open within the digital art NFT space too!
  6. Every idea that we haven’t yet thought of yet!

What else is possible?!


In conclusion, is most current ownership of digital art less valuable/powerful than ownership of physical art today? Some will say “No”, some will say “Yes”.

Either way you answer, the really intriguing thing about true ownership of digital art is that it can adapt. You could argue that most of the interesting features that become possible in the future can still be implemented around currently existing digital art.

So the upside is potentially unlimited.

One way to think about it:

Ownership of Bitcoin today is a call option on Bitcoin becoming a global store of value in the future.

Ownership of unique digital art today is a call option on the future value of the digital art space, and everything that is possible.

If you haven’t already, I would suggest experiencing it today!

The community is slowly pushing these things forwards and I am very excited to see where we are even one year from now!


Note: This article is for thought purposes only. I didn’t get into the legalities of art ownership because it gets very complex very quickly!

Feel free to leave any comments below.
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