9 NFT Terms Every Art Collector Should Know

art market

Mieke Marple

My love affair with NFTs began at the same time I was reading linguist Amanda Montell’s Cultish: The Language of Fantatism. Her book talks about how words, especially neologisms, can be used towards cultish ends: At best, they can foster community; at worst, they can be used to brainwash. “Oh my god,” I thought, seeing the barrage of NFT acronyms (LFG, WAGMI, GM) and context-specific phrases (degen, probably nothing, diamond hands) on my Twitter feed. “Am I in a cult?”

But being in a cult, Montell notes, is not necessarily a bad thing. Certain kinds of cults, she argues, form the social fabric of our lives, be it a 12-step program, Barre classes, or the traditional art world—affiliations all rooted in their own shared language. Below are 10 NFT market terms that are more solid and less trendy than the aforementioned Twitter slang. They will serve any collector as well as they explore the dynamic—and, yes, sometimes cultish—world of NFTs.

1:1

Pronounced “one of one” and sometimes written as 1/1, a 1:1 is an NFT that has been issued as a single, unique edition. This property is written into the work’s code and is immutable once added to the blockchain. 1:1s are the NFT equivalent of a painting. They are usually owned by a single person and are a format often reserved for works of “high art.” Placing a 1:1 with a notable collector, institution, or fund in the NFT world is as important as it is with works in the traditional art world.

The two most expensive NFT sales to date, Beeple’s Everydays: The First 5000 Days (a mosaic of 5,000 digital drawings that sold at Christie’s for $69.3 million in 2021) and Julian Assange and Pak’s clock (a clock that depicts the number of days Assange has spent in prison that sold for $52.7 million in 2022), are both 1:1s.

airdrop

Airdrops are free NFTs sent to the web3 wallets of NFT collectible (definition below) holders. Airdropped NFTs are less valuable than the original NFT collectible, though they can still be quite valuable. The collectible Bored Ape Yacht Club airdropped a derivative of the original NFT called Mutant Ape Yacht Club to all 10,000 of its holders, and collectors have paid up to $835,000 for a single one. That, however, is still far less than the highest selling Bored Ape, which sold for over $3.5 million.

Sometimes airdrops feature work by emerging artists as a way for them to gain exposure. Other times they might be Valentine’s Day or holiday cards drawn by the collectible’s original artist. Many airdrops are on Layer 2 blockchains like Polygon (Etherium is a Layer 1) since transaction costs on those chains are much cheaper. Artists who make 1:1s, small editions, or generative art (definition below) generally aren’t expected to provide airdrops to their collectors.

alpha

Though the term comes from finance—where it is used to compare portfolio returns in relation to a market index—in the NFT space, the meaning is closer to “intel.” Alpha is information given to or obtained by a select group of people ahead of the majority of the NFT market. Speculative collectors sometimes form alpha groups, trading information about an artist or collectible that might affect its value. While this might seem untoward, alpha can also be less nefarious. For example, an artist might share details on future drops, partnerships, or exhibitions with their most loyal patrons as a reward for their support of her.

Burning

Burning is the equivalent of deleting your NFT. Of course, because everything on the blockchain is meant to be permanent and unalterable, you can’t actually delete an NFT. So burning, in which a collector transfers their NFT to a nonexistent wallet, is the next best thing. Many NFT platforms have a burn function, should it ever be required. Sometimes an artist will give you a wallet address to send your NFT to and will handle the burning themselves.

Burning is usually done to reduce an artist’s supply and increase their demand and, by extension, the price of their work commands. Artists can also make burning a gamified aspect of collecting their art. For example, a might collector need to acquire three NFTs by an artist, then burn them all, to obtain a higher-value NFT by the artist.

Collectible or PFP

Collectibles are large NFT collections, commonly 10,000 in size. They are also called PFPs (short for “profile picture”) because their owners often use their collectible as their profile picture on social media (usually Twitter). Each NFT in a collectible is a unique variation of a single figure. Figures will have different traits (laser-beam eyes, rainbow skin, green mohawks, etc.) with differing rarities. Some features will be extremely rare—for example, only eight of the 10,000 CryptoPunks have beanies—others, less so. Despite their huge edition sizes, collectibles are many of the top selling NFTs in the space. Seven of 10 highest-priced NFT sales are CryptoPunks, the original 10,000 collectible, the most expensive of which sold for $23.7 million.

Collectibles differ from fine art NFTs in that they often double as membership cards, granting their holders access to special websites, opportunities, parties, or future NFT drops. This aspect of an NFT is called its utility. Other forms of utility include licensing rights to an individual NFT holder and the ability to vote on community decisions, such as what art is bought for a collectible’s fund or what nonprofit it gives money to.

Collectibles are usually run by a team of people as opposed to a single artist. Successful collectibles, such as Doodles, Bored Ape Yacht Club, CryptoPunks, Cool Cats, or World of Women, often go on to become big global brands. Yuga Labs, the creator of Bored Ape Yacht Club, is a company that manages and produces collectibles—and the success of Bored Ape Yacht Club actually allowed them to acquire other collectibles (CryptoPunks and Meebits) from Larva Labs, their main competitor.

generative art

Generative art refers to NFTs created using a randomizing algorithm or AI. Predetermined rarities are often built into the algorithm so that certain features are more or less likely to show up than others. Generative art can take the form of moving or dynamic 1:1s or large editions of hundreds or thousands of still-image permutations. Collectibles, such as CryptoPunks or Bored Ape Yacht Club, are technically generative since they are made with a randomizing algorithm. However, they are not usually referred to as generative art since their utility prevents people from seeing them as purely “art.”

ix.shells and Sofia Crespo are well known for making 1:1 generative art. The ArtBlocks platform is renowned for its generative art editions, partnering with artists such as Tyler Hobbs, Dmitri Chernick, and Jen Stark, among many others. The size of these editions tends to be anywhere between 200 and 2,000. Ringers #109 from Chernick’s generative art collection on ArtBlocks sold for $7.1 million, making it the 11th most expensive NFT.

Mint

Minting is adding an artwork to the blockchain, by which it officially becomes an NFT. Artists making 1:1s or small collections will often mint their own work, covering any associated fees. However, when it comes to editions in the hundreds or thousands, it is usually cost prohibitive for the creator to mint all their own NFTs. This is also true for open editions, which have no predetermined size limit but usually cap minting to a period of 24–72 hours. In these cases, the buyers will cover the minting fees.

Minting is especially exciting when it comes to generative art editions or PFPs because the buyer doesn’t know what permutation they will get when they mint. It’s akin to buying a pack of Pokémon cards; inside might be a very rare first-edition Charizard, but you won’t know until you unwrap it.

Metadata

Metadata is the key data that describes an NFT. For many works, this is simply the artist’s name along with the work’s title, date, and description. However, for collectibles and some generative art, metadata is very important because it includes the NFT’s traits along with their rarity. Most collectibles won’t have more than 12 traits listed in their metadata. Bored Ape Yacht Club and CrytoPunks have no more than seven traits per NFT. CryptoPunk #2624, for example, has “Cigarette” (10%), “Earring” (25%), “Wild White Hair” (1%), and “Female” (38%). Metadata is easily viewable on platforms like OpenSea and, for collectibles, is as essential to the NFT and its value as the image itself.

sweeping the floor

Sweeping the floor is the act of buying all the floor-price NFTs in a collection. Floor price is the lowest price an NFT in a collection can be bought. Floor prices are determined by two main factors: the state of the crypto market and an artist’s or collection’s momentum. The former causes floor prices to oscillate pretty wildly. It is not uncommon for a floor price to double over the course of a month or two, and then drop back to its original price or lower. On OpenSea, floor price is posted at the top of the page, alongside total volume, number of NFTs in the collection, and number of current owners.

Sweeping the floor is done by both collectors and by a collection’s creator(s). Collectors will sometimes have alerts that tell them when a floor price has fallen below a certain threshold, as well as sniper bots that sweep the floor at that price. When creators sweep their own floors it is usually a form of market manipulation, meant to inflate their collection’s overall value.

Mieke Marple

Mieke Marple is an artist based in Los Angeles

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