What is the blockchain and why use it for Fine Art?
The first part of this question is one we get very often. The answer to the second is obvious when the power of the blockchain is appreciated.
Ever since works of Fine Art have been recognized for the beauty and value they hold, verifying title, authenticity and originality of the work of art, whether it be a unique piece, a multiple or print, has presented its challenges.
Selling and buying works of Fine Art involves a complex and unregulated network of relationships and measure of trust. Artists rely on galleries and dealers to proactively and responsibly promote their works. Galleries and dealers rely on artists for exclusivity and uniqueness in the works on offer. Buyers rely on galleries and dealers to validate the authenticity and uniqueness of the works they are buying.
Often we find that an unscrupulous or un-intending dealer parts with a work of Fine Art that is not the work of the offered artist. Disputes as to authenticity of works of art have raged in the courts for centuries, with judges, who may not necessarily have exposure to Fine Art themselves, deciding on the balance of competing expert Fine Art evidence whether a work is a masterpiece or worth nothing.
Tracking authenticity over the centuries has largely relied on Fine Art provenance being safeguarded by galleries and dealers. Sometimes, this involves painstakingly piecing together the history of a piece and potentially multiple owners over generations. Where this cannot be verified, art appraisers and other experts work to opine on a work of Fine Art's authenticity.
Different, and some times more complex problems arise with multiples. For the most part, the value of print and other limited edition multiples rests on the limited nature and uniqueness of the edition. Editions or series not properly curated, managed or recorded lead to a loss of uniqueness and value. Fine Art collectors need to be secure in the knowledge that the series they buy into will not simply be re-run or enlarged.
All of this record keeping has traditionally been maintained, in the commercial Fine Art space, by galleries and dealers, and the artists themselves. Properly categorizing and recording print editions and sales has moved from handwritten entries on folders holding originals or digital negatives and manually entered lists curated and managed by galleries and dealers, to electronic ledgers. While this has progressed from handwritten entries to digital records, the ledger or list of title, provenance and uniqueness of works of Fine Art has not really changed. After all, these lists are maintained and controlled by individuals or companies. The veracity of these lists and registers are therefore entirely dependent on the credibility of the list's custodian. It isn't therefore hard to imagine the circumstance in which an unscrupulous custodian or employee could duplicate or resell multiples or pass off other works as authentic.
Blockchain promises to solve this. After all it is simply, in its basic form, a digital 'list' or 'register' which is 'distributed'. In other words it is authenticated by more than one person with the information encrypted in the blockchain not susceptible to manipulation by one person alone. It relies on multiple, unaffiliated and independent people to verify updates in what is essentially a decentralized register.
This provides incredible opportunities for Fine Art and promises to solve age old Fine Art problems, previously reliant for the most part solely on trust.
By having a decentralized register of title, which cannot be changed by one person alone, ownership and authenticity of a work of Fine Art becomes clearly and undeniably preserved. It is the Fine Art equivalent of Real Property title deed registers which have been used for hundreds of years to confirm and validate ownership of land or other real property.
Since this list is controlled by a vast number of unaffiliated parties who are active participants in updating information on the blockchain, a buyer of Fine Art would be able to rely on the information on the blockchain as to title and authenticity of a work of Fine Art and know, by simple reference to the information immutably stored on the blockchain, that the work is authentic and that her seller is the true owner.
And once sold, the seller can transfer title to her buyer, whose title is then immutably entered into the blockchain, so providing a verifiable chain of title for buyers down the chain to verify provenance.
The Fine Art Ledger is working to provide The distributed ledger for Fine Art. We are carefully incubating and curating our Fine Art blockchain platform to efficiently and productively bring the Blockchain and its benefits to Fine Art.
The Fine Art Ledger Team