Cryptocurrencies, Explained: Why Artists Are Already Leaving Bitcoin Behind for Something Bigger

This piece is the second in a three-part series that explores the potential art-world impact of cryptocurrency. It proceeds as if the reader is already familiar with the core concepts and related terminology covered in Part I. If cryptocurrencies and blockchain technology are new to you, we highly recommend starting from the beginning.

After Francis Bacon’s Three Studies of Lucian Freud (1969) sold at Christie’s New York in 2013 for a then-unprecedented $142 million, New Yorker art critic Peter Schjeldahl penned a blog post simply titled “The Circus.” He didn’t just use it to side-eye the mind-warping prices at the market’s peak. He questioned the entire concept of an art market, period, by acknowledging that Bacon and Freud were both “obviously worth something”—but only “given the spooky assumption that art is worth anything.”

A few years later, the fraught relationship between art and value lies at the molten core of several pieces made using blockchain technology. Part one of this series addressed how, in theory, the blockchain strengthens the markets for new media by introducing the concept of digital scarcity. This innovation means that works as simple as an “original” JPG or GIF could be made as rare as Francis Bacon paintings. (This fact leads to a host of business implications that will be covered in Part III.) However, a handful of forward-looking artists is using the blockchain to do more than reset the market’s perception of supply and demand. The technology, their work proves, is more than new software—it’s also a new medium.