What Distinguishes Rare NFTs from Rare Traditional Art?

Curators and collectors have access to a priceless resource in rarity. People like things that deviate from the norm, whether they be one-of-a-kind oil paintings, vintage baseball cards, or even enormous Cheetos that appear in standard-size consumer bags.

But since supply and demand typically govern the vast world of art, rarity (which is frequently used interchangeably with the term scarcity) is a difficult and ambiguous concept to define precisely. Even though 1/1 works are generally acknowledged as the pinnacle of any single craft, rarity isn’t actually a formal measurement of appraisal but rather one of many factors that determine a piece’s value.

What is rarity, really?

The idea of rarity is evolving as the era of digital art and non-fungible tokens (NFTs) develops. The word “rare” has drifted away from its perceived meaning in the traditional art ecosystem, particularly as it relates to crypto-art.

It’s difficult to compare the longevity of a 1/10,000 generative avatar and, say, a 1/9,000 original painting by Andy Warhol, despite creators and collectors in the NFT space speculating about the rarity of CryptoPunks and the meaning of scarcity as it relates to the future of Web3.

Depending on the industry, rarity can mean different things to different people. Even so, we can define rarity as the quality of something having unusual or unique qualities. Rarity is determined by the answer to the question, “How many others are there?” for both art and collectibles.

In traditional art, supply and demand determine rarity. This means that the quantity (total supply) of a work of art or the number of pieces produced by an artist affects consumers’ desire to buy it. Therefore, a number of factors relating to the scarcity of a work and of an artist must be considered in order to determine rarity.

Consider a scenario where an appraiser is attempting to determine an oil painting’s rarity. How many works did this specific artist create throughout their career, they might inquire? Of those pieces, how many were oil paintings? How many 1/1 or editions are there? How many are still in use or are currently accounted for?

The Sotheby’s video below offers a closer look at how the top art connoisseurs around the world interpret the idea of rarity while also illuminating the pursuit of rarity.