Introducing OwnerOf.Art

The Case for NFT Provenance Messages

3 min readMar 19, 2024

How blockchain technology brings value to artwork provenance, and how token owners may now participate with on-chain messages

note: portions of this article use definitions and wording from Wikipedia.

Provenance in Traditional Art

Provenance (from French provenir ‘to come from/forth’) is the chronology of the ownership, custody or location of an historical object. The term is often used in relation to works of art.

Traditionally, the primary purpose of tracing the provenance of an object or entity is to provide contextual and circumstantial evidence for its original production or discovery, by establishing, as far as practicable, its later history, especially the sequences of its formal ownership, custody and places of storage.

Artwork that does not rely on blockchain networks may rely heavily on provenance to help authenticate works of art. Artifacts such as receipts of sale, hand-written letters from owners, and photographs may help provide assurance that a physical artwork is genuine.

Provenance on Blockchains

Blockchains essentially solve the problem of authentication by requiring a token’s address and ID being unique for every NFT in existence. Phishing attacks are still something to figure out, but in general, authenticity is a solved problem.

Blockchains also largely solve the issue of tracking a token’s history of ownership. Transfers between owners are executed on the public network, and remain forever part of a blockchain’s history.

However, other than a list of sales and transfers between 20-byte hexadecimal wallet addresses, blockchains and ERC-721 tokens do not tell much about ownership history or other important context relevant to an artwork. If you are lucky, some of the owner wallets might have an ENS name associated with it to at least help identify owners (at least for now).

The current cryptic list of transfers and sales is far from adequate to be able to describe the context of a work of art. Fifty years, one-hundred years, or five-hundred years from now, any and all context about the art, artist, or owner will almost surely be lost, aside from maybe a handful of cases.

Introducing Owner-Curated Messages

All of this has inspired the creation of a new protocol that enables the owner of a token to post provenance messages about their token to the blockchain. The messaging protocol is simple — an address may post an on-chain message if and only if they own the token.

The protocol enables a collector to participate in the provenance of their token. They can take an active role in providing important context for items their collection. They can control the narrative, story, and context of their digital assets.

Examples of owner messages might include:

  • Describing why a work of art appeals to them, and why it makes them feel a certain way
  • Noting public art shows the token was featured in
  • Describing more context regarding the artist of a token, or the community surrounding a token
  • Telling the story of how the owner came to own the token, for example as a gift between friends

Available Today!

Good news! All of the described functionality is now available to all NFT collectors!

I’ve developed a free, tip-based smart contract protocol that provides a central registry to track owner provenance messages. The website is available at

Website with on-chain owner provenance messages

Input and feedback on the protocol and site is appreciated, and I plan to submit an EIP for the registry sometime soon ❤️

Cheers, and best of luck posting!




Smart Contract Engineer at Art Blocks | Creator of OwnerOf.Art | Generative Artist