A Brief History of the NFT

Michael Sullivan Smith
5 min readMar 31, 2021

https://link.medium.com/XhHhiMBWDeb went up on Medium on Sunday, March 14, 2021, after the March 10 close of the auction at Christie’s. When the gavel came down $69.3 million dollars was the largest price ever paid for a purely digital art work.

The narrative of being a first is what likely rocketed the price up. NFTs and Bitcoin had been hitting incredible highs during the previous two months, making investors recognize the value in having a distinction of being unique in a Crypto marketplace. The whole idea is being unique with scarce and rare collectibles.

It all stems from Bitcoin in a decentralized crypto space as a currency. Art and artifacts have a very different approach to being assets. They literally represent the property of a value to this space.

Bitcoin arrived as a product of the Great Recession, as a decentralized reaction to institutional finance. It first gained popularity from YouTubers messaging about it being behind a life style that permitted young creators to work as cyber nomads, making a living doing digital work on the Internet.

Within a half decade of this identity, Crypto communities of young artists discovered smart contracts on the Ethereum blockchain; and the idea of a token; was a way to earn Bitcoin. It was also a way to advocate for decentralization by championing cryptocurrency as a libertarian ideal.

Crypto’s fit in that socio/political climate was especially favored by the art scene and, more than anything else, this connection supplied the latitude for keeping alive the ERC-20 Smart Contract after a bubble in speculation on its alt coins burst. A paralysis in the larger decentralization movement is what cemented digital art’s part in the Crypto space, where fringe groups of programmers and artists found each other through meetups and the “deep dive” into blockchain technology became an initiation ordeal.

Then, in early 2017, when a TED talk went viral on the topic of Blockchain, and later that same year a White Paper came out on Cryptokitties, the small base of artists that understood most the connection between value, provenance and scarcity, became intent on making Crypto the future of digital art.

From these ideas for markets came the Smart Contracts that record digital art, identify art with tokens, and, in a Bitcoin-like way, give value to the minted blocks on a blockchain that represents the digital artwork. However, it wouldn’t be until early 2018 that digital representations recognized by cryptographic codes would have value. That came suddenly after transactions on platforms began shaking down the ERC-721 standard — most notably in the Cryptokitties craze where the non-fungible token had the mystique of “breeding” to go through to make a unique token.

What Cryptokitties succeeded in doing was to define digital uniqueness as something that is non-fungibile (it invented the term Non-fungible Token). A token of something that is non-fungible is a digital representation verified by a Smart Contract as a one-of-a-kind rare and scarce identity that is recorded as a cryptographic identifier on a blockchain. That identifying code is actually a line of 256 characters minted as a block on the blockchain, but calling it a token of ownership and having a representation of that accessible fom the Smart Contract that mints the block is what made its value real.

What has been here on Patreon since early in 2019 is a foundation of incentives that a Distributed Autonomous Organization (DAO) uses to build an autonomous community where all share the same narrative behind their NFTs. In it digital collectibles are built into one Smart Contract that is designed to have a blockchain leverage the community’s common identity as the basis of the value of individual NFTs.

This concept is built on a coincidence in 2018, of a digital art market centered on the use of Smart Contracts overlapped experiments where Artificial Intelligence applied a plethora of digital imagery it scraped from the Internet to use in generative networks (GANS) that transform them into unique creations.

A concept of generative change at the center of a narrative from over a quarter century ago, analogous to what was happening in both digital imagery and the digital art marketplace this highlighted, already had a large distribution spread out among thousands of individually unique narratives. simply using printing to substitute for minting, and tag for token, NFTs made from these products could cover all the benchmarks of these new digital collectibles.

A physical item that is made to be visually identifiable as unique has a fit to a digital market in its digital image. Such NFTs would be, in a way, a reverse application for generative networks in AI Image Recognition, as matches to cryptography used in a blockchain. That idea would make the NFT market a means of preserving resources when original material is a plethora of open sourced tokens.

This perspective on “analogues to digital” was developed in a series of a dozen articles on Medium in 2019. They put it in the context of a larger concern, of art in general, looking into the mechanisms that harness interrelationships between centralized and decentralized systems — for NFTs, akin to exchange proxies between cryptocurrency and its valuation set to USD.

With the entry of NFT-creating services in 2019, it has been a simple matter of waiting for the right approach to a smart contract that matched this perspective — covering finding, grading and establishing the metadata and authenticated image — that the holder of the original can benefit from with every transfer of the NFT; and the holder of the NFT, the service, and the collection, all benefit from in having the data open sourced.

During this wait the products of this original decades-old iteration have been fully documented in a way that preserves their provenance as an origin story. That narrative has incorporated everything, down to the devices that provided the generative process of their product concept.

The next move that will take place gives this narrative a system that transitions it into the digital world of NFTs. This works by finding one holder for each of 112 individual animations, each made to guide the grading process used to certify any images resembling that animation’s, as being generatively unique, to qualify it to be an NFT.

Populating that function will draw in those that have a level of experience in crypto space that fits them into a governance scheme. This is essential to the prime objective of aiming for a startup made up of a knowledgeable base, intent on keeping up with the innovations happening in the Crypto space.

Initial operations are already set up in the centralized and decentralized Internet, and Patreon is used as a platform for organizing governance over their use. Patreon is also where links to data are made available. Before the minting process begins all discourse is channeled through Patreon.

This has summarized all the influences that have affected the current direction in the activities of this concept. Going to the links found in other content on this page will satisfy those willing to take a deeper dive into the ideas that were found in this post.



Michael Sullivan Smith

writes imaginings, history, has a few patents; invented mechanisms and their products; still thinks like a calligrapher while building stone land art knots