It’s almost cliche to say NFTs have transformed provenance, but it’s true. Blockchain technology grants artworks a transparent record of origin, ownership, and sales history. It deters forgery. It streamlines valuation. And yet, perhaps more interesting than blockchain’s influence on artwork provenance is on-chain provenance’s influence on artwork value. Provenance has become a social experience in the Web3 space, with its newfound visibility not only recording simple transactions, but bestowing lore, necessitating interaction, and impacting long-term value.

For comparison, look at how provenance and collecting unfold in the trad art world: IRL, if a respected artist or tastemaker publicly collects the work of an unknown creator, that person gets reborn as a rising star, an artist to watch. But the art those collectors buy often gets locked behind closed doors–like a candle suffocating beneath a glass–never to be experienced by the general populace, with no visible record of ownership. These influential collectors add value to public perceptions of an artist and the price they pay affects a piece’s future valuation, but the public often never gets to see those pieces, enjoy them, or decide for themselves how they feel about the art, its quality, or its value. Instead, we’re expected to trust in the discerning eye and baseless promise of a Town Car backseat with a country club membership.

As it’s been for centuries, those determining the value of art have mostly been a small class of obscenely wealthy people who buy, sell, and trade works among themselves to inflate their values and profit without giving artists’ efforts a second thought. Hiding art from those of us on the ground ensures that we don’t have any direct sway in dictating the direction of culture. And if I’ve learned anything from being one of the normals, existing in art spaces dominated by people who have never worked a service industry job, it’s that plenty of old money types, CEOs, celebrities, and trad financiers, have awful (and I cannot emphasize this enough: awful) taste. As it turns out, there’s no real money in fighting the status quo.


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