UnniKrishna M. Damodaran, a native of Kerala, India, graduated in graphic design at the College of Fine Arts in Thiruvananthapuram. While working as a digital specialist for a worldwide financial payment network company, digital artmaking captured his interest. His resulting output combines advertising and communication design experience with native vernacular visual art, bringing about a perfect union of his passions: image, text and typography. Unni’s text-based art with animated letter components includes daily words and phrases that have two dimensions, where the text denotes its ideological meaning and the text itself forms the actual art.
In his work, he challenges the boundaries of conventional typography and image-making—and makes use of the twists and twirls of alphabetical forms to express the meaning and human character of the content, which questions communications in the newly coined metaverse.
Given his immersion, I asked Unni to answer some simple “WTF is NFT” questions.
So, what do you do as a digital content and design specialist?
I was working at American Express Middle East, managing primarily digital communications, facilitating digital campaign infrastructure, and managing AmEx websites. Now I am back home in India exploring visual art, specifically digital art, and actively involved in the NFT space and taking part in local physical art exhibitions too.
Can you explain an NFT in layman’s terms?
In layman’s words, an NFT is a one-of-a-kind digital asset, and can’t be replaced with something else that is stored in a database (blockchain); this guarantees the item’s originality and uniqueness, as well as the right to own it and provide the owner’s provenance digitally.
What kind of “object” can be an NFT?
Anything can be an NFT in a digital format. It might be a bespoke painting, photograph, song, collectible video game, meme, GIF, or even a tweet. An NFT is a one-of-a-kind digital artifact with only one owner at a time. The NFT value is determined by the rarity of the NFT. Make sure you own the intellectual property rights to the object you wish to make into an NFT before proceeding.
How do you conceive, make, produce and distribute NFTs?
Art in all its forms always raises many questions to one’s own approach, and in these times of new media and metaverses, it gets further complex, yet exciting and challenging. Adapting to newness and updating to one’s own knowledge base and technical craft is increasingly important to survive as a digital artist.
However, my approach to conceiving and making art is the same, irrespective of the medium. For me, NFT creation is a natural extension of my visual art-making process. An idea may strike at any time and I just write it down in my Moleskin or in my notes on iPhone or iPad. When I am calm and not agitated with daily physical and digital disruption, I settle down to develop my idea notes into visuals, mostly on my iPad using Adobe Fresco, Procreate and Apple Pencil.
When it comes to the distribution of my NFTs I am exploring various marketplaces. As you are aware, [in] most of the marketplaces, we have to pay gas fees for minting (uploading), listing, etc., and it is a concern for most of the visual artists, those who are not crypto investors. Both minting and listing your artwork costs money, and not being sure about who and when will someone buy your work is a natural progression to stay longer with the NFT space and experience gamification. From my 11 months of NFT experience, it is a time-consuming process to sell, and knowing your hidden buyers is a herculean task, and [there’s] no single process one can follow.
What gives an NFT its value?
Probably this is still a hot topic in Clubhouse’s NFT rooms and also in Twitter’s NFT Spaces. What factors influence the value of art? What distinguishes one work of art from another? First and foremost art must speak to artists for sure, I guess. However, if we are evaluating art as an investment, there are a few common factors to consider. Authenticity, provenance, the reputation of the artist, the historical context of the art and the story behind it, color, and the display power that it influences society, and effects change. The authenticity of an artwork sets it differently. Needless to say, genuine Cezanne will always be worth more than a replica.
The provenance of artwork, or the long track record of who has owned it before, is a primary determinant of its value. And an additional yet exceptional value specifically to NFT is its utility. NFTs with utility means they have a tangible, measurable value. It could be unique access to an event, exclusive in-person memberships, or future use in the digital world such as online games, etc. NFTs with utilities are the future.
Why do people, presumably with money, “buy” or invest in NFTs?
Indeed, there is no single answer to it as far as I know from my experience. I bought one NFT as an artist. Reason? OK, the first reason was I liked the title of that NFT. An NFT named “The Collector”—an animated ape in red spotlight moving its head left to right and vice-versa. There is no utility with that work. I bought it because I liked it. On the other side, there are buyers or collectors of NFTs looking to invest in your art and the artist, too. They see a great value in your work and potential value in the NFT secondary marketplace. Some collectors see social acceptance as a currency in owning particular work. Few NFTs, if you hold you will get paid—that is again a utility with a monetary benefit. It is like stock dividends for holding onto the NFTs. Some exclusive NFTs are very secretive; they don’t really publish the utility. So there is no single reason why people buy or collect NFTs. I even think there may be new reasons that will pop up as it progresses.
What is the long-term vision of NFTs as art and design?
Creative destruction is already in with NFTs. As economist and economist historian Joseph Schumpeter puts it, economic development is the natural result of forces internal to the market and is created by the opportunity to seek profit. How we perceive and register ownership of assets is already making us innovative and looking forward to further groundbreaking disruptions. Art is long. Life is short. Technology and innovation are ever-changing phenomena, and I see everything [is] going to have a place in the blockchain with its own security challenges.
How does it interface with cryptocurrency?
NFTs are residing in the blockchain. Cryptocurrencies too. Blockchain verifies the unique identity and ownership of the digital asset and records all transactions related to a particular NFT and the assets it represents.
What do you think the immediate future will bring?
Brands are already making use of the ever-popularizing market of NFT space. Marketing departments of corporate companies will allocate budget for metaverse marketing activities and develop brand loyalty through creating NFT communities.
NFTs are going to create new business models led by the new generation of technology and innovation disruptors.
Art galleries will have permanent space for NFT artworks. Major art auctioneers already include NFTs for auction. The future is crypto. What I can foresee is no middlemen, transparent workflow of transactions in our daily life—with newly erupting system security threats and fixes.