Digital Artist Economy

The Artist Promise Of Purchase Potential

Digital art collecting is possible without NFT’s, the blockchain or Ethereum, if you don’t mind that your art…

…isn’t easily saleable
…isn’t easily purchase-able
…isn’t easily prove-able that you ever owned it.

For most people, downloading images they like off the Internet is enough. Go ahead and create a collage of digital images in a folder that you’ve found on Google. There. You’ve created your first digital art collection. However, is it really your collection? And what will you do with it?

🖼 In this article, we will deconstruct the differences and opportunities between collecting Digital Artwork 1.0 and Digital Artwork 2.0.

Digital Artwork 1.0 = save non-unique images to your Mac download folder.

Digital Artwork 2.0 = purchase digital artwork minted on the blockchain.

We’ll also explore the audience and authenticity limitations of purchasing art the traditional way…. and why artists shouldn’t have to attempt to pay their mortgage with likes.

First, let’s explore the way digital art collecting has mostly operated in the Internet age.

Covid 19 Digital Artwork Collecting

Covid 19 created the opportunity for many artists to comment on the once in a century phenomenon. I found 4.9 million images for covid19 artwork on a quick Google search.

My favourite search result is an artwork of a nurse with a face mask with the world map overlaid. The art was designed by Thomas Wimberly for “Global Forefront,” an open call for messages that promote health and public safety in the time of Covid-19 according to the Keep Calm and Draw Together article by the New York Times.

On discovering Thomas Wimberly’s image of the nurse through Google Image search, I then discover Shepard Fairey’s art through the stunning design “Strength in Service. Strength to Overcome.”

Shephards style might seem familiar to you as the artist who produced the iconic Barack Obama ‘Hope’ Poster. In true Digital Art 1.0 collecting form, I add all three of these images into a folder on my Mac called Ryan’s Digital Art Collection.

Anyone can create a folder on their Mac with any images they like.

No need for Ethereum. No need for NFT’s or minting and no need to understand what a Blockchain is.

Of course, there isn’t much more I can do with the digital images I’ve saved, beyond enjoy the art that Thomas Wimberly and Shepard Fairey have brought into the world. Their skill and talent of each artist matches the moment our culture shifted irrevocably.

A recap.

Digital Art 1.0.
Digital Art 1.0 are image files in a folder on your computer.

Before we discuss the potential of Digital Art 2.0, let’s explore purchasing art the traditional way where I might want to go further and gain some real ownership rights over an artwork, as a frame-able printed work.

Purchasing Art The Traditional Way

The Barack Obama ‘Hope’ Poster also by Shepard, isn’t for sale. It’s now part of the collection at the Art Institute Chicago. I do find a Shepard artwork in mixed media paper format on Artnet, including one called “Endless Power.”

Endless Power, 2013 Mixed media HPM on paper 35.5 x 25 in. (90.17 x 63.5 cm.)

Can I trust the provenance claims being made about “Endless Power” artwork?

Yes. We can say that the New York Times is a high trust source for information about the artist. We can probably also say that the Auction House Artnet is a high trust source for information about the artwork.

But how can we trust the history and provenance claims of the seller?

All we know is that the ‘Endless Power’ artwork has come from a Private Collection in Florida.

There isn’t a lot to go on, so we rely on the honesty of the seller, the verifiability of their honesty by the auction house Artnet and our own conclusions based on what we discover. All this searching creates something of a provenance trail and in most cases this trail is enough.

A closeup of Shepard Fairey’s signature in 2013

While I can’t check whether Shepard’s signature is legitimate, I can likely trust the Auction House as a third party trusted source. They make a rock solid guarantee that ‘a buyer may return an item purchase through artnet Online Auctions, if the item received is not as described in its listing, or is found to be not authentic.’

Make a bid. For between USD$5,000 and $USD7,000 you will likely become the owner of “Endless Power.”

Or if you simply want a copy for your digital art collection, you can download it do the folder on your Mac.

The Limitations of Digital Art 1.0

None of the digital art collected from the Internet is owned by me, nor claimed to be owned by me. They’re simply artwork discovered and downloaded on the open Internet without any provenance or authenticity.

Digital art without authenticity isn’t great for artists.

The Limitations of Traditional Art

Artists can decide to stay focussed on produced art this is printed, framed and in a physical form, however in the age of the Internet, you’re missing out on a larger audience for your artwork.

Physical art without a digital audience isn’t great for artists.

The Limitations of Social Art

Artists have been posting photos of their work on platforms like Instagram and building a solid audience with the promise that audience may turn in to sales. It has assisted many many artists that don’t have an auction house or art dealer. However, without adspend, likes don’t pay the bills.

Social art without a digital artwork purchase isn’t great for artists either

Digital Art 2.0. The New Opportunity.

Digital Art 2.0 offers more than an artist signature, certificate authenticity or return guarantee. Digital Art 2.0 is blockchain registered so that details about when the art was minted are available for any art collector, art buyer or potential buyer to verify.

More than that, new art buyers can purchase Digital Art 2.0 as NFT’s (non fungible tokens) to show that they are indeed a verified owner of the digital art.

An example from Shepard Fairey. His inaugural digital work Obey Ideal Power Mural was launched on March 1st 2021.

Sure, I could download the artwork to the same folder I’ve been collecting digital art in for this article but there’s no way that anyone can verify that I own it.

It’s a digital copy not the digital blueprint and that matters more than we might fully comprehend yet.

For the first time, it’s possible to share your style, fashion and taste digitally by displaying your cultural credentials through authentic, verified digital artwork offered for sale by artists in the Digital Artwork 2.0 ecosystem.

Shepard’s work is available for 90 Ethereum or approx $USD178,225.

The rather light provenance claims of traditional printed works are replaced with rigour thanks to the Digital Art 2.0 history of ownership that is verifiable.

The [view tx] reveals the actual data written to the blockchain showing the transaction details including the block, timestamp, who the contract is between and what transaction action was taken.

Digging in a little further into the person who won the digital artwork @batsoupyum2, you can see what other artwork they own.

…and that is where the Digital Art road forks in two as Digital Art 2.0 goes on a different path.

You get to share your collection with the world, saying ‘here, I like this digital art enough to support the artist and pay for it.’

At $USD178,226, that’s a rare person indeed, but luxury involves status and signalling of the subtle and not so subtle kind. After all, who needs a Rolex when a Casio will do?

Deca Art Curation

[this section was added July 2022]
Deca Art is helping free digital art from the confines of the digital marketplace collected by enabling it to be seen in new contexts created by new curators. View select pieces from the Degenerate / Regenerate collection by Shepard Fairey curated by MintFace. Deca is a promising platform for artists who mint, to see their work displayed with care and attention in a way that got lost in Web2.0 in the drive for newsfeed profits.

Digital Audiences With High Intent To Purchase

Digital Art 2.0 like the “Obey Ideal Power” mural are offered in digital galleries such as SuperRare. Unlike casual Instagrammers who might drop a double tap like as they pass your digital windows, the people who search for art in the SuperRare digital gallery are serious. They connect their digital wallet and they’ve got a pass in to the gallery.

The same goes for Rarible where you can both purchase AND display your artwork.

Yes you too can download these and save to a folder on the Digital Art 1.0 collecting fashion without making a purchase but you’re missing out on one thing.


The Digital Art 2.0 community is thriving. There’s buyers, sellers and commentary going on in all sorts of corners through Discord community rooms and artists on Twitter who are discovering the possibilities to mint and sell digital artwork for the first time.

There are barriers. Technical, social and cultural that reminds me of what it was like to explain to people what Web 2.0 was before it was renamed as simply ‘social media’. The same is going to happen here. NFT’s may be the acronym for now, but Digital Art 2.0 or something even more obvious will likely replace it.

What I do know is it’s an exciting time to be an artist and it’s a very exciting time to be browsing a whole new wave of artist creativity unshackled from the algorithmic constraints of the old web. Here’s the digital artwork “Covid 19 Never Again” by the creator Red Pixel. You can view the three dimensional rotating version on Rarible.

You can see who has purchased the digital artwork, when it was purchased and how much was paid. In a few years down the road I’ll be able to look back on this moment the same way many people recall the dotcom crash. It was really the beginning of the first digital era, the same way social media ushered in the second digital era and now…. blockchain and ethereum are welcoming us into the third digital era.

Join The Digital Artist Economy

If you'd like to join a group of artists and learn how to register your Web 3.0 domain name alongside a whole host of topics, register your interest.

In the next cohort we will be covering:

Discover The New Frontier Of Digital Art Shows

Shortlist Artwork For Your First Digital Collection

Mint Your First Artwork Digitally

What Fans Want. Swap Fan Likes For Art Ownership

Integrating Digital Art With Dealer Channels

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