NFTs and Provenance

published on 07 July 2022

Provenance… Isn’t that part of France, I hear you ask? No, dear reader, though an easy mistake to make (that’s Provence and it is well worth a visit if you have the chance).  

So what is “provenance” and what does it have to do with NFTs? 

Before we go digital, though, let’s start in the physical world.

The importance of provenance in the world of art

Ever bought a Dalí and wanted proof that it’s the real thing and not some backstreet counterfeit?

Personally, I can’t say I have. (Thank goodness NFTs are helping make art more accessible to those of us who don’t have quite deep enough pockets for such classics, but that’s a topic for another time.)

Well, in this case, the painting’s provenance would help you confirm that it’s real. “Provenance” means “coming from”, so for a piece of artwork, it’s the whole story of the painting, from the first brush stroke to ending up for sale in the present.

This is absolutely 100% the real Mona Lisa, I have the documents to prove it.
This is absolutely 100% the real Mona Lisa, I have the documents to prove it.

What forms can provenance take?

Traditionally, artworks may come with documents. These might include certificates of authenticity signed by the artist themself, a critic or an art historian. They might include details about past ownership and exhibitions, perhaps even with articles from journals and newspapers mentioning where the painting has been (which can be used to assess whether any sellers are telling the truth about how they came into possession of the artwork). 

They may even include photos of the artist in the process of painting, however, even these can be undone by a talented counterfeit artist (or indeed faked themselves in the first place).

Enter NFTs

Imagine if there were a way to prove the provenance of an artwork, a vintage bottle of wine, a baseball card – anything really – that couldn’t be faked…

Well actually, there is. NFTs can permanently record provenance on the blockchain, giving buyers a complete overview of the ownership of either the NFT itself or an accompanying physical item in a way that cannot be counterfeited.

Every NFT tokenized on a blockchain has accompanying metadata, which cannot be changed or altered in any way. When there is a transfer of ownership, IDs specific to each individual transaction are recorded with accompanying metadata.

Just for digital artwork?

Of course, NFTs of digital artworks are inseparable from their metadata and thus provenance data.

However, if we think of an NFT as proof of ownership, they can accompany physical items too. There’s a lot to explore as we move past the hype and consider the provenance of physical and digital assets. 

And as always – if you’ve got ideas about NFTs and provenance for your own businesses and projects, get in touch! We’ll be happy to explore with you!

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