The days of the starving artist myth may be over soon, as the figure of the blockchain savvy artist-entrepreneur seems to be emerging in recent months. A host of artists, including well-known singers and performers, are jumping on the blockchain bandwagon thanks to the increasingly popular Non-Fungible Tokens (NFTs).
One of them is the singer and digital artist Grimes, who last March made over $6million in one day after she put up some digital artwork for auction on Nifty Gateway, an NFT marketplace. Another digital artist known as Beeple, sold $3.5million on the same platform.
But what is an NFT and why is it important for the art world? Non-Fungible means that it cannot be replaced, just like art. An NFT is a unit of data that certifies a digital asset to be unique and can be traced to help prevent fraud. That’s something appealing to artists, who are always concerned about fakes, copies, and plagiarism. But the main appeal is the end of the galleries as the sole gatekeepers of who gets to access the fame and money of the artists’ Olympus.
“Traditionally you’d take your art to a gallery and they would represent you and bring in clients,” Elissa Waverly, an artist selling her artwork in NFTs told The Fintech Times. “There’s a lot of things happening in the world of art galleries that don’t make sense to me as an artist. They’re not built for the average person to go in and buy art. Artists are also told ‘don’t make a lot of art’, because it would drive down the price for their artwork. So the outcome is there’s less art for the art world and buyers,” she said.
But now, according to Waverly, we can jump over the middleman and buy a piece of the artwork itself thanks to NFTs, which act like assets. “You can codify what would be a traditional contract you sign with the gallery, but this way people represent themselves with this code, this smart contract,” Waverly said. For this artist, the first layer of the digital revolution that allowed creatives to ditch the middleman were places like Instagram and other platforms to showcase and sell artwork, like Etsy. Now, with NFTs buyers can have a stake in the artist’s work, which may increase in value over time and also allow creators to continue selling royalties of their art, in perpetuity.
There are already some popular platforms where artists can sell their art, including songs or poems, like opensea.io and rarible.com, but for most of them, you need to have a digital wallet and cryptocurrency to shop. You can even tokenise yourself on Bitclout and create your own crypto coin, which users can buy, determining its value. “Many artists and famous people are tokenising themselves so when you buy, you’re investing in them, hoping their value will increase,” Waverly said, adding she has her own coin in Bitclout too.
For Dr. John C. Edmunds, an economist who teaches at Babson College, the key is access to a much wider audience without the limits imposed by galleries. “Think of NFTs like you’d think for example, of a lithograph,” Edmunds told The Fintech Times. “You can make 200 copies and sign them, and the gallery pays you let’s say, $500, but sells each one of them for thousands. With NFTs you don’t need to have a limited number and it’s harder to get ripped off,” he said.
Edmunds, who’s written about NFTs and art in one of his books, thinks that it also attracts creators because it makes forgery much more difficult. “With NFTs I can create an image and send you a copy, but I can code it so that you can’t post it anywhere unless I give you a key,” he explained.
But new ways to sell work means new ways to market it and let audiences know about it. And though the gatekeepers may have fallen, this means the brunt of the marketing side is left to the artist, who may not have the savvy or time to bring their creations to the millions of eyeballs hungry for NFTs. The competition is tough, and it’s only getting tougher as NFTs popularity increases, despite the brutal fluctuations of cryptocurrencies.
Of course, some Silicon Valley companies have also jumped on the NFT cryptowagon, though most of them are investing on metaverses. In these metaverses, users and companies can invest in virtual real state and experiences and Silicon Valley heavyweights like Gemini Frontier Fund (funded by the Winklevoss twins), Galaxy Interactive and others, are backing many NFT-based virtual ventures. One of the most famous ones is Sandbox, where gamers, artists and performers can gather to create or contribute to virtual worlds. The expectation with Sandbox is that users will be able to buy and sell their virtual properties and goods using blockchain.