The art world isn’t exactly known for being at the forefront when it comes to embracing new technologies. Given its late-adopting habits, you might assume our industry would largely dodge the culture-consuming chatter about Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies—and maybe this would even be a blessing in disguise, since just yesterday the price of Bitcoin dove by more than 20 percent.

But almost no space is safe forever, and a slew of recent news items proved that even the art mainstream is wading into the deep end of cryptocurrencies, however tentatively.

In the past two weeks alone, we saw the unwinding of a minor controversy around a supposed Richard Prince “ready-made” cryptocurrency (spoiler alert: THAT Richard Prince was never involved), the New York Times arts section delved into the digital-collectible crazes known as CryptoKitties and CryptoPunks, and Kodak even launched its own Bitcoin alternative called, you guessed it, KodakCoin.

Despite the avalanche of conversation and investment dollars plowing into cryptocurrencies, though, most people inside and outside the arts still find the technology confounding. Buzzwords like “mining” and “decentralization” get tossed around with the same reckless abandon as casual lies on a hookup app, but the actual meaning beneath the jargon remains elusive to most people (and understandably so!).

Since it looks like cryptocurrencies will remain a part of the art-industry debate for some time, I saturated myself in the minutiae so you don’t have to. And after coming up for air, I can say this: While there are still many, many questions about their adoption, implementation, and value, cryptocurrencies have the potential to transform multiple facets of the art world, from the authentication of digital works to the protection of transactions to the creation of new forms of cultural exchange.

Here’s my attempt at a highly approachable beginner’s guide to the technology. To begin, we have to take a step back from cryptocurrencies to wrestle with an even more foundational innovation called the blockchain. Read more