prompted by Chris Coleman
Over the last year, there has been significant press coverage about NFTs, suggesting that they are scams and new ways for rich people to waste money. Images of cartoon apes, shiny 3D renderings, and classic memes, all sold for crazy amounts of money. This new piece of the economy is built on the structures and fluidity of cryptocurrency, which promises to be the future of money because of its trustless blockchain technology and international reach. Starting just under 10 years ago with Bitcoin, the blockchain economy evolved with the introduction of Ethereum and its ability to contain “smart contracts” – enabling people to sell goods and track ownership. In the world of the digital, where everything can be “right click and saved” and there are an infinite number of copies, these digital contracts create an automated way to limit and authenticate ownership. On top of this, owners can resell this ownership for a profit. The result is an economy where ownership is bought and sold, but the digital goods are still available for everyone to enjoy and even save copies. This has changed the digital arts economy significantly, with new relationships forming between artists and collectors, artists and institutions, and even artists and artists.
While the blockbuster NFTs are being sold on Ethereum, there are corners of this new economy where the stakes are lower and the relationships span continents. The Tezos blockchain, in particular, is hosting some interesting art market platforms and encouraging vibrant communities. With transaction costs of just a few cents (as opposed to the $50-$200 on Ethereum) a creative person from anywhere can share their art and sell it for a few dollars. In the same vein, for only a few dollars you can collect art from a person in Argentina, Indonesia, or Zimbabwe. Platforms on Tezos cost almost nothing to start and run, meaning there is a real grassroots source of places to gather and build communities, in stark contrast to the high stakes and VC funded Ethereum spaces. The Tezos platforms are also more closely tied to the artists on them, because the markets are driven more by the artwork than financial speculation and art as commodity. All of this has created a moment of change and spaces for new possibilities for sustaining artists around the globe.
It is worth pinpointing the specific changes happening because of blockchains, crypto currencies, and NFTs: artists can sell directly to collectors, artworks can be cost-accessible to a much broader group of people, artists are getting a percentage of secondary sales via royalties, and new digital organizational structures are being created by communities. There are also many negative effects happening around crypto and NFTs, but this discussion is focusing on the new models coming to the surface while remaining critical of the issues (environmental effects/energy usage, pyramid schemes, commoditization of art, the libertarian values of cryptocurrency and more…).
As we continue to balance our lives between existing in the physical and digital, how do these new economies change the way we value digital goods? How might we convey value to the artists who pour creative content onto our social media channels for little to no reward? Where do galleries and curators fit into this direct market puzzle? Where do other arts fit into the NFT space? Can this moment of disruption suggest other models for supporting and sustaining artists in our capitalist economy? What is even wrong with the ways things were/are, in terms of supporting the arts?
Suggested Background Readings
NFTs, Art Markets, and Community Making: Informative Resources
“on crypto art and NFTs” by Matt Deslaurs –https://mirror.xyz/mattdesl.eth/eUrK8MrRfKFJYVKTwi5F4mCIBJEBOYkZ1qaAiDNblIs
“Token Gesture” by Tina Rivers Ryan
“Will the Artworld’s NFT Wars End in Utopia or Dystopia?” by Tina Rivers Ryan –https://artreview.com/will-the-artworld-nft-wars-end-in-utopia-or-dystopia/
“NFTs Aren’t Just for Crypto Bros: Meet the Artists Resisting the Hype” –https://artreview.com/nfts-not-just-crypto-bros-artists-resist-hype-auriea-harvey-norma-xelda-jara-sarah-friend-botto/
About the Prompter:
Chris Coleman was born in West Virginia and he received his MFA from SUNY Buffalo in New York. His work includes sculptures, videos, creative coding and interactive installations. Coleman has had his work in exhibitions and festivals in more than 25 countries including Brazil, Argentina, Singapore, Finland, the U.A.E., Italy, Germany, France, China, the UK, Latvia, and across North America. He currently resides in Denver, CO and is a Professor of Emergent Digital Practices and the Director of the Clinic for Open Source Arts at the University of Denver.