Given the precarious nature of centralized crypto exchanges, Right Click Save and ClubNFT are keen to support collectors in taking custody of their NFTs. In order to follow best practices, we recommend using decentralized storage via IPFS (InterPlanetary File System). By pinning NFTs to IPFS, collectors can take control of their NFTs. It is a useful feature for anyone who wants to make sure that their art is always accessible and never disappears. Unfortunately, because pinning is a technical subject, it is easily dismissed, which never ends well. Just ask Artnome how it feels to lose access to a priceless collection of crypto art. That would never have happened had his works been stored in a decentralized manner and pinned.
Thanks to ClubNFT’s new pinning solution, if you currently own or purchase a piece by one of our participating artists then your entire account will be pinned automatically (for wallets on both Ethereum and Tezos). To coincide, Fanny Lakoubay asked four of these artists what makes IPFS a safe haven for NFT collectors. They had some great insights to share, so be sure to check out their thoughts and join the conversation. Together, we can make the world of NFT collecting safer, more secure, and more accessible to all.
Fanny Lakoubay: Do you think people understand how most NFTs are stored and, by extension, how “decentralized storage” works?
Marcelo Soria-Rodriguez: Most newcomers to the vast NFT universe are, in my opinion, unaware of the location of the NFT’s actual content. Some believe that everything is safely on-chain, or at least they believe they have no reason to worry. While others believe that NFTs are poorly designed, with the content stored on web servers. Decentralized storage is not very well understood. And while it is not strictly necessary to know the intricacies of a distributed file system, it is useful to understand in broad and clear terms which storage practices are secure from the standpoint of NFT content and preservation.
Luluxxx: I’m technically minded, so I understand how it works. But most people won’t understand or just don’t care. Also there is a large amount of laziness. There are so many complicated things going on. I really started to care when I realized that I had thousands of NFTs on Ethereum and wanted to have a local copy of all of them just to be able to browse them easily. So I spent time learning different APIs and started building scripts to try to download all of them. It was much more complicated than I had imagined.
I also discovered that some works, mainly those on OpenSea, were stored on private servers. That horrified me.
Downloading them was also difficult as I have a lot of incomplete files and had to retry numerous times to get it right. This was critical when it came to Tezos, where I have collected more than 5,000 NFTs. I rely on the great ClubNFT for my backups. It’s a no-brainer.
Iskra Velitchkova: I think we are all far from understanding what “decentralized” actually means. There are those who are more intuitive, who understand the bigger picture, but we all need to embrace the real meaning of this new paradigm. With decentralization, the whole structure of relationships between ourselves and our context changes. Property is such a strong concept, and if we talk about it in terms of information, and specifically how we store and share our own information, it begins to define us. For me, this is exciting but also difficult to process.
Regarding the decentralized storage of NFTs, I feel that there is a good understanding by people who are seriously committed to crypto art. I personally know several collectors who are mindful of the need to secure their artworks as well as creators who are concerned about it. However, I feel that many people interpret blockchain as a guardian in and of itself.
Chris Coleman: We need to understand how to prolong the life of artworks from any platform. This is knowledge worth spreading but it’s more about collective action than asking brands and platforms to take responsibility.
For me, pinning NFTs is part of taking care of a digital artwork, similar to a comic book collector who keeps the comic in a plastic bag.
FL: How do you personally explain the importance of IPFS and NFT pinning to fellow artists and collectors?
L: Well, by retweeting Artnome’s posts I guess :)
MS: I don’t, usually! But when I am asked, I stress the importance of properly stored NFTs, either on-chain or on a truly decentralized infrastructure. To explain what a decentralized file system is, I typically remind people of the days of peer-to-peer file sharing services like Napster and Edonkey2000 that were, in a way, precursors to the current distributed file systems. Some people know what I’m talking about, others don’t.
CC: Pinning is an interesting dynamic. It’s not about filling out a hard drive. IPFS has a lot of stuff and some of it falls off.
By pinning, we send a message that a specific file needs to be kept for the long term, that it is worth taking care of.
I’ve always been careful with the files of the NFTs I create and collect: keeping backup files in folders. But they are prone to being hacked or lost. Also, backups are only reactive — they can be used if something bad happens to re-upload the file, but it’s technically challenging. Pinning is a more proactive way of making the work more persistent and available.
FL: Have you ever used a pinning service, such as Pinata, for your own NFTs?
MS: I started using Pinata over a year ago, and recently upgraded the service to make sure the content is always available at a decent speed. But the services are not super easy to use. An artist who is not technically savvy would probably have problems navigating the terminology. While I believe it’s proper practice to know your tools, it’s unrealistic to expect everyone to dedicate time to learning about their work’s dependencies.
It is desirable to ease the process so that artists can concentrate on creation. If you are a successful artist who is able to make a living from your work, the price of the services can be easily considered one of the operational costs of your activity, and may be reasonable. But if your art practice is not your main source of income, or if you are not seeing success in the market, the cost is yet another hurdle.
L: No, I’ve never used a pinning service. I guess I’m too lazy for that. I considered running an IPFS node myself but I didn’t get very far. I have so much to do :(
IV: Even if I have used pinned services, I still feel that I am lacking the best way to store my work. I still need help. I understand the principles of NFT security from a theoretical perspective but we still need clear and common guidelines to reach consensus.
CC: I was excited when I first heard of Pinata, and I was able to use a script written by a Tezos community member, NFTBiker, who builds tools for Tezos marketplaces. The script made it easy for me to pin my collection. However, I remember a frustrating moment last year when Pinata changed their service rate from $8 per month to $100 per month for around 5,000 works. When I contacted them to find a solution, they responded that they could not do anything and that these small collections were not their primary targets. Since then, I’ve been waiting for a new service centered around artists and collectors that offers long-term solutions.
But if we have a new NFT pinning tool today, what is going to happen in five or ten years time when the company changes direction or shuts down?
FL: Do you have any NFTs that are stored on centralized servers? If yes, have you thought about what to do with them?
L: Yes, mainly on Opensea. Maybe I should try to resell them quickly but I don't have so many so it’s not dramatic.
MS: I’ve not created nor collected works stored on centralized servers. It makes no sense to me to do that, and the pieces I am interested in are either on-chain or on IPFS.
FL: Is Leonardo responsible for maintaining the Mona Lisa? Who, in your opinion, should be responsible for maintaining crypto artworks?
IV: I like the Leonardo parallel, although I feel that we are in a very different place for better or worse. The physical world has its pros and cons but we can all agree on its physicality. Leonardo would create an artwork that would end up in the hands of another person or institution. In that context, the guardians of his work become responsible for its maintenance. The scheme there is quite clear.
In today’s decentralized context, we need to recognize that the freedoms available also come with obligations. Right now, creators can navigate the system by themselves, which adds to their capacity for creative expression but also reduces their protection. On this basis, I think that creators are responsible for securing their work.
Art is based on art, but the market is sustained by trust. This helps artists but it also offers a guarantee to collectors, who need to be protected as well.
CC: Artists are expected to safeguard their works in their lifetime. That’s our job. But as a prolific collector myself, I would encourage other collectors to support artists and offer their patronage for pinning the NFTs they collect. The best way to achieve this dynamic is by direct communication between artists and collectors. This should form part of the terms and conditions of sale when collecting a work.
L: I did a series of 2,000 generative artworks where I did everything myself — the contract, the minting site, etc. — and I studied the different alternatives for content storage. In the end, I chose Arweave permanent storage. It cost me a few hundred dollars but it worked perfectly well. Of course I don’t know if Arweave will still be there in a few years but their narrative seems credible. Manifold uses it and the tools and support available are really great.
MS: Leonardo should have included instructions! But joking aside, with certain forms of digital art there are a number of software issues to do with preservation. If the work is a static image or a video or audio file in a standard format, then I believe it’s right for artists to expect someone else to take care of the artwork after it has been sold.
If I buy a table, I cannot expect the artisan to take care of it for me. I am handed some instructions, then I take care of the table. It’s the same with many other possessions.
If a work of digital art is yet to be sold, the artist can take care of its maintenance by making sure it’s pinned to IPFS. The artist could offer this service after sales too, but it’s a lot of work that distracts from one’s artistic practice. There is space here for specialist conservators for private digital art collections in the manner of museum institutions and national libraries.
FL: What do you think would help people pay more attention to the issue of NFT security?
L: A platform failure :(
MS: Losing their works! Other than that, it’s really hard to communicate risks of an abstract nature to an audience that already has enough problems to deal with. A community-wide strategy is needed here.
CC: What brought my attention to the problem of NFT security was the fact that I collected works from the Tezos-based platform, Hic et Nunc (HEN). When the platform shut down, they transitioned to community-based governance and a new platform called Teia. They did not lose anything as the platform was decentralized and made the transition correctly. However it served as a warning that it can happen with other platforms, which might decide to close shop and stop paying IPFS for storage, or worse, host the files on private servers and delete them all. It only takes one person to make it all go away.
Chris Coleman was born in West Virginia and received his MFA from SUNY Buffalo in New York. His work includes sculptures, videos, creative coding, and interactive installations. He is a Professor of Emergent Digital Practices and the Director of the Clinic for Open Source Arts at the University of Denver. Coleman has exhibited globally including in Argentina, Brazil, China, Finland, France, Germany, Italy, Latvia, Singapore, United Arab Emirates, United Kingdom, and across North America. He currently resides in Denver, Colorado.
Luluxxx is a generative artist who bridges the divide between art, music, and technology. A CGI and VFX artist based in Paris, luluxxx weaves AI and digital experimentation into thought-provoking statements on beauty and feminine iconography. Her work has been exhibited globally including at MOCA, Museum of Crypto Art, Women’s Museum, The NonNFT Summit, and Next World Forum.
Marcelo Soria-Rodríguez is an artist and strategist. His artistic practice is centered on the whole span of possibilities of a given system and how it can engage with human emotions, as well as the potential emergence of a machine version of the same phenomenon. He has released critically acclaimed generative art collections on fxhash and Art Blocks Curated. He also co-founded a global data practice at BBVA, a global financial firm, and Databeers, an informal data literacy movement active in ten countries. He writes occasionally on his personal website about art and strategy.
Iskra Velitchkova is a computational artist who explores technology through generative systems. She is inspired by every kind of interaction between humans and machines in both digital and physical expressions. With a background in data visualization, she has held strategy roles in different scientific teams and, in 2014 and 2015, was selected by Google Brain and IBM to present a poster at the IEEE VIS Conference. She has exhibited globally, including at Art Basel, Galerie Kate Vass, Unit London, and on Feral File. Her work has also been auctioned at Sotheby’s. She is currently preparing her next exhibition at Bright Moments Mexico City.
Fanny Lakoubay is a French-born digital art collector, advisor, and curator with experience in art, technology, and finance, who has spent most of her career in New York. Since 2018, she has advised many NFT projects, crypto artists, and collectors via LAL ART. She is also involved in many Web3 initiatives, including GreenNFTs, RadicalxChange Foundation, WAC (Web3 for Arts and Culture) Fellowship, CADAF (Crypto And Digital Art Fair), and B.A.D (The Blockchain Art Directory), among others. She lives with her family between France, Argentina, and the US.