Beyond the public consciousness and in a realm that few people show any interest in, apart from occasional headlines; Shredded Banksy Now 10X or Munch Stolen! etc. there’s an earthquake in progress. The Art World’s very own ‘Seventies Punk Rock” moment, out with the old guard in sweeps the new. This wake up call in the guise of the 21st century ‘Art Brut’ of Digital & ‘NFT’ artworks. The challenge from this overwhelming low cost guerilla movement has already caused the most illustrious auction houses to accommodate the genre, with dealers scrambling to keep up and artists weighing up their new options appertaining to promotion, copyright, income share & future commission to name a few.
Wartime is known to accelerate technology. Compare a B17 and a Vulcan a decade apart. In a similar way the global pandemic has accelerated technology acceptance, restrictive lockdown, artists deprived of income, investment in crypto currency, the development of Blockchain technology, tokenised investments and easily available low cost digital infrastructure has coalesced around this new art form. The democratising genie is out the bottle.
Before the global Covid 19 Pandemic, Instagram was a free to use space enabling artists to market images directly to consumer mobile phones, bypassing established dealers and galleries along with their contracts & commissions. The mid Seventies DIY Punk & New Wave revolution similarly disposed of larger artist labels in favour of a tight network of independents, management and artists with closer aligned philosophy, studio down time, logistics, the use of guerrilla marketing with small ads, flyer posters and fanzines to spread the message. Fast forward and emerging artists, open to the idea of marketing physical products on Social Media could now consider ‘Why create physical artwork at all?’
So, wrist watches are for telling the time and wearing? Mostly, but they’re also an asset and a collectible where wealthy people also buy rare editions to lock away and sell at a profit, or even a loss. Regularly only they know they own the watch and nobody else will ever see it. As an asset class, the limited availability of high end brands leads to inflation of the price and desirability.
You see then that it’s possible to own something tangible that is also invisible to the everyday person. Therefore a so-called Non Fungible Token (NFT) occupies similar conceptual space, except such an item does not have to be physical and can live exclusively in the virtual world (aka The Metaverse) where it may be owned, stored, bought, sold, traded, used as collateral, and associated with a ‘Smart Contract’ whereby specific terms may be applied to the NFT. Who is entitled to earn from future sales, what else could be included with the artwork (videos, animations or music clips may also be minted as NFTs) this could be exclusive membership rights to new editions, releases, conferences etc.
Existing in the digital world, NFT art is minted on computers (costing ‘Gas Fees’) and existence recorded on the Blockchain. This mechanism enables definitive information to be stored, for example; the date of creation, artist, sales info, values and dates. It’s an immutable record and perfect for definitive copyright & ownership details through time. Crypto Currency creation and movement is also recorded on the Blockchain so there’s a symbiotic relationship between the two. As values of Crypto such as Bitcoin and Etherium have increased this has created a group of Crypto-wealthy people who wish to buy assets that remain in a virtual world, hence the popularity of NFT works of art. Of course there are outliers of sales valued in millions but the vast majority of this is affordable and is usually purchased with the Etherium Crypto Currency, the coin of choice. As this currency has increased in value thus artwork is priced as decimals of Etherium. Affordable NFT at (say) 0.01 Eth would be around $30 at today’s price. You can do the maths: should the currency or the artwork increase in value in line with money markets or artist recognition. Presently 99.9% of NFT are transacted with Crypto, but it’s not impossible to see a world where NFT are bought with regular currencies in the high street or from online portals like Amazon. PayPal is introducing a short cut to the convoluted requirements around Digital Wallets that are used to pay for and store NFTs.
As the Metaverse develops the demand for NFT will increase and as the demand moves closer to the mainstream the supply should expand to fill the void. Limited Editions of the very best artists’ work will increase in value as it becomes more sought after. Platforms such as Opensea and Nifty (NFT) Gateway are already established online portals where this art is offered and traded. Alternative currencies like Tezos are employed on platforms like Hicetnunc (Latin for Here and Now) to provide emerging artists a space to offer NFT with lower cost Gas Fees.
What does a typical NFT look like? Scroll through portals and you would be forgiven if you thought that much was generic and retrograde. That adds to the charm for now. Bright 8Bit graphics the like not seen since Space Invaders but reconfigured as Crypto Punks, Crypto Mutts, Apes, Aliens, SpaceShips. Similarly sketched out on digital tablets on Procreate with coloured-in translucent backgrounds and eyes that animate as flame throwers, some with music. On one platform animated spaceships in a picture of a birthday cake with candles reminded me of someone I chatted to on a flight who told me they took LSD until one night a giant fluorescent lobster climbed out of their wardrobe. Literally anything goes. Spirograph style graphics and fractal type images. Who saw an animated .GIF Renaissance coming? The majority are small editions. Some are minted in the hundreds or thousands and are part of a published ‘Roadmap’ for the artist, a formal plan detailing which drops are released when and how the price will incrementally increase as each edition sells along with details of any attached utility value and so-called traits that are uncommon and therefore make the NFT more valuable. Bored Apes anyone? My own 8Bit portraits of punks included safety pin traits that I had to explain to Generation Z. To be fair I’ve done good trade in 8Bit NFT portraits to use as avatars by forum contributors. It’s a buzz seeing them as it is when you sell any art.
Like all phenomenon there are individuals already establishing a name for themselves in the space as innovators, influencers & narrators. Globe trotting art provocateur New Yorker, Kenny Schachter the ‘Malcolm McLaren’ of the new scene, already long established as a dealer, collector, writer and educator has fully embraced NFT and has been creating art and writing about the space for at least two years. The releases (Drops), collections and projects gathering pace described in his Artnet journalism. As has the ‘kicking in the door’ nature of the community and output permeated this narrative.
Fiona Ryder a Los Angeles’ based traditional artist has made the jump to minting NFT and now sells both physical and virtual art either as one off editions or affordable editions of (say) 30 where each item (converted from crypto) sells for around $60 thus the total per artwork lands around $1800 which is a reasonable amount for an artist to sell an individual piece at a gallery. Not to mention future sale repeat commission share detailed in the Smart Contract. Cannily, her work is offered across multiple NFT platforms manipulating the cost of production and ultimately saving the buyer money too. On the Clubhouse Social Audio platform she created the Art & NFTs Club which garnered 1000 members in only two weeks. The Show & Tell Forums hosted near exclusively by herself one lasting a marathon twelve hours. Many (mainly) NFT and traditional artists join the stage to describe their work and influences and market (Shill) their new drops. Therefore Fiona is an artist but also an influencer in the space. For anyone interested in trends, NFT Art is one of the growth discussions on the platform, with other niches also catered for. For example the burgeoning cannabis space is as closely associated with NFT as Reggae was to Punk Rock in 1977. Look out for Blazed Punks, NFT Tips, BOPS Only, Chill Volcano to name a few, all with creative artist communicators. A couple of months ago, young unsigned recording artist Joe Nix became the first person in the U.K. to have his NFT-only music track played on the radio. Ch ch changes.
The major galleries and auction houses have jumped on the bandwagon with exclusive NFT sales and events. The business influencer and serial early adopter Gary Vaynerchuk (aka Gary Vee) created the Vee Friends Community simultaneously with his own artistic creations of doodled animals with gratitude and aspirational names such as Passionate Parrot and Empathetic Elephant selling for an average of around $250K each with commission at a recent Christies Auction Sale in New York. He’s not a recognized artist, but has leveraged his celebrity and visibility on social media to achieve these results. He is also fully behind the Vee Friends Community declaring he would rather see his $300M Media Empire go down before he let down individual private NFT investors and supporters. The Vee Friends Discord Channel is a place of Gary Vee reverence and a place of deep foundation for him to develop the space and utility further. Vee Friends Tokens & Discord Membership will include exclusive access to future drops and tickets to a forthcoming US conference in May 2022 and the future.
The fact is, that for every Bob Diamond (ex-Barclays Bank PLC CEO) declaring it a fad, there’s hundreds of thousands of people becoming involved in Crypto currency trading and now taking the steps involved to buy, own and sell NFT assets. Even if it collapsed in value tomorrow, the assets would remain and could reflate in value.
Nobody should gamble with money they cannot afford to lose, but anyone prepared to learn and understand the pain points required to overcome and become involved are truly the innovators and early adopters in an industry that’s guaranteed to tip into the mainstream in the not too distant future. It’s also a part of a movement that’s shifting the dynamic of artist – dealer – auction or musician – label enabling them to take more control of their art and income both now and in the future.
Next time, ‘What’s a Bored Ape Yacht Club?’
Postscript. Fiona Ryder NFT Launch on Opensea.io is on 12th November 2012. Instagram @itsfionaryder. Etherium is also 20% higher than when I write this article three weeks ago. Kenny Schachter has an NFTism tattoo. It’s a fast moving time.