I’ve been making digital art for the better part of 2 decades, and more seriously in the last 8-9 years. People who know me, or my art, have asked if I’ve gotten into NFTs; some have urged me to do so; and some have asked if I got rich yet. No, I haven’t, and no, I haven’t. I looked into it before, and when I saw what the top selling art was, it was obvious that what sold was almost completely relative, subjective, and arbitrary, in which case I had no better chances of selling than anyone else who made digital art, even if they were rank beginners, and in fact less so because I am not well-connected, not popular on social media, not rich, and don’t like spending much time on social media platforms.
However, at least one artist I know in real life — though I have never met her — who is or was perhaps comparably nonplussed by social media, has done quite well selling NFTs, and insisted that I could also do well if I invested myself in it. If I did 10% as well as she did in the last year, that would be outstanding for yours truly.
And so I looked into NFTs a bit more seriously, and these are my initial impressions after a mere few days of exploration. I may be wrong about a lot of it — hopefully I am — and I deliberately qualify these as initial impressions so that I may update them later. If in the future, anyone would ask me, “What was your first impression of NFTs?” I will have already documented my answer.
The Dark Side
Your most valuable asset as an NFT artist is your Twitter followers. If you apply to some of the bigger NFT marketplaces, there are fields where you must include your Instagram and Twitter accounts. If you are not heavily engaged in these social media platforms, and you are not wildly popular on them, you need not apply.
I F’ing suck at Instagram. I’ve been on the platform for 5 years, and my very first post got 31 likes, whereas my most recent one got 41. I have not increased in popularity from the default initial appearance at the time. My second post had 89 views, while my second to last has just 25. If anything, 370 posts later, let’s be honest, I’m sinking.
One of my animations got over 400 views, but only 50 people liked it, and only one commented.
My Twitter is even worse. I joined in 2013. I tried it on and off, and virtually nobody ever liked, commented on, or re-shared anything I posted. Nobody replied to any comments I made. I just don’t get it, at all.
My blog, on the other hand, does modestly well, and so I put my energy here. But a blog is never mentioned in relation to NFTs. It’s gotta’ be Twitter and Instagram. Igadz!
NFT art is like a postage stamp because the value is not based on the quality of art, but rather the art is the visible representation of a quantity of currency. The most important idea of NFT art is not the art, but the T, for “token”. NFT art is a design on a token. What is really of value is that token. If you look at NFT art as token design, it makes really a lot more sense, visually, aesthetically, and in terms of substance (which is minimal and largely undesirable].
The art is a pretext to buy, sell, and trade tokens. The NFT artist is ideally someone, or better yet a team, that makes fresh, flashy, but ephemeral postage stamps for crypto currency. But really, it doesn’t matter at all what the NFTs look like as long as people want to buy them. But just as with a postage stamp, or a tab of acid, it’s better if it looks nice or catchy, and sometimes those things are worth collecting just because you like them, even if you aren’t going to sell them or trip on them. In general, however, the art is of secondary importance.
As an artist, your art has zero value in the NFT marketplace until you “mint” it, as in “minting” coins. Your minted art, which you will have spent roughly $70-100 to mint, is now a coin in the blockchain, and that’s what really matters.
The goal is not to own NFTs, but to flip them for a profit. This has been the case in the blue chip art world for quite some time as well, it’s just more naked when it comes to NFTs. There isn’t even a pretense that it’s about anything other than accruing and circulating currency. Incidentally, I’m not pretending I understand or have any interest whatsoever in economics, let alone how it works with crypto currency. I just get that the art is an excuse for the tokens to exist and that they are unto themselves a form of currency.
The Bright Side
As a side effect of this new marketplace and the new currency of digital art coins or stamps, digital art can now be isolated as a one-of-a-kind item that someone can own, that has scarcity, and can go up in value. Prior to this, digital art was very frequently considered utterly worthless because it is infinitely reproducible. It never mattered how good the art was inherently. If you couldn’t sell it, it was nothing. I’ve been told this personally, and more than a few times. It didn’t even matter that you could sell prints, even if limited prints of digital photographs are a standard practice that is considered completely legitimate.
Now, because of NFTs, that’s changed, and it’s an enormous and unexpected boon for digital artists. Now at least there’s the possibility that you can be taken seriously, and that you can sell your art.
Back to the Dark Side
There may not be a place for you in the marketplace, and you might not be able to sell anything. Quality is purely extrinsic, and so no matter how good your digital art is intrinsically, without the Twitter and Instagram followers, or the blessing of moneyed investors, it may cost you more to mint it and put it out there than you can sell it for. While your digital art now can have scarcity as a one-of-a-kind object, and it can have value in the blockchain, it can be a negative value as regards your own financial worth. Your art can be worth less than zero. At the same time something that everyone would agree appears quite frivolous by traditional standards of art will be valued in the millions.
Back to the Bright Side
It may not be all that bad, and a serious digital artist might be able to make a tiny fraction for their best art relative to what even one NFT of a slapdash series of characters sells for. And that’s better than working at Burger King (or service job of choice. I just chose BK because I’ve worked there, and so it’s more personal].
My gut feeling right now is rather hopeless, and that explains this sort of rant. But one soldiers on. You can’t just hit “escape” and opt out of the game. I may have gone down the wrong rabbit hole, because I was looking at YouTube videos about selling NFT art, and it was all about making money, making money, and making money, and art was a hollow husk of nothing. For some reason I kept seeing collections. But I have also seen some more involved digital art that I like, and at least one that was more or less up my alley.
If I want to break into NFTs, it could be a humiliating waste of time and money, or could pay off, but part of it is doing all that social media networking and hustling stuff that I abhor, and is hard work if you aren’t a social media junky. That’s energy I’d rather spend on art, or most anything else, because I believe social media participation is unhealthy, and I suck at it.
If the title of my article didn’t make sense, the brutality of NFT art is that it is so based in pure buying, selling, and trading art as currency, that a good artist can get crushed by it, all the while some of the worst schlock imaginable heralds millions. You gotta’ leave your soul at home before dipping in.
However I slice it, I probably have to give it a try though. I’d rather say I I struck out every time I went to the plate than that I never bothered to step up to the plate at all. And I think a lot of artists are going to have the same reservations or disinclinations about NFTs that I do.
Alas, these are merely my early impressions.