What is an NFT from an artist’s perspective?
I’ve been a professional (but unconventional) artist for over 20 years, dabbling in every kind of art I’ve ever been interested in, including freelance illustration, animation, art direction, film design, apparel design, toy design, fine art, and now, as of a few months ago, Crypto Art and NFTs.
There’s been a lot of excitement (rightfully so) and chatter recently about NFTs for a number of reasons, the main one being “Wait, someone SOLD a jpg for $300,000? How is that possible? Is it a scam? I’m so confused!”
I have always been attracted to new media and have always tried to embrace new outlets for my art whenever I come across them if they excite me. NFTs and Crypto art are still VERY new, but realistically they have been around for a few years. Well over a year ago, my friend and digital mentor FRANKY NINES, who I had developed a few art-based mobile apps with, bugged me to get into the NFT space, but for months it went right over my head. Until it didn’t. There was a moment where I had to tell myself to be OK with not understanding it, as I sat on the sidelines and watched all of these cool creators like BEEPLE , JOHN ORION YOUNG and JAMES WHITE explore this new world of “digital collectibles” and “crypto-art”, I finally got enough inspiration to say “To hell with it, I’m diving in”.
Since then, I have had SOME experience with creating, selling, and trading NFTs (as well as some small success!) and because of my close network of friends, artists, brands and creators all around my same age/generation (I’m 45), I have had A LOT of zoom meetings and group chats over the last couple of weeks as more attention is being given to the world of NFTs. So I wanted to share my LIMITED and CURRENT knowledge of what this new digital realm is, and how it can be utilized for YOU, as either an artist or a collector, using (hopefully) a little more digestible language than reading an article filled with insane phrases like “Etherium nodes” and “digital token mining”. So, here is a little information from MY perspective, and I will try to update this with more information as I continue to research and learn, and please feel free to let me know if any of this information is inaccurate or could be misinterpreted and I will correct it. Thank you!
What does NFT stand for?
It stands for “Non Fungible Token” but seriously don’t worry about that for now. Move on to the next question.
Ok, but what IS an NFT?
An NFT is a type of “digital asset” that is created on the Blockchain.
You already lost me, what’s a digital asset?
A “digital asset” is something you buy that you can’t physically hold. It’s invisible. But I can almost guarantee you have ALREADY bought something similar. Have you ever bought an in-app purchase on your phone, or on your Playstation? Some extra candy in Candy Crush, or some guns in Call of Duty? Those are examples of digital assets. If you are more curious as to the TECHINICAL side of what an NFT is, CRYPTO CASEY has a great video on it HERE (which you should watch after this), but trust me, you don’t HAVE to know the technical side of it, you just have to be open to accepting the idea that NFTs exist on the blockchain. Types of NFTs can be artwork, animations, photos, movies, poetry, music, 3-D Files, etc.
Ok then what’s the BLOCKCHAIN?
Once again, if you WANT to know the technical aspects of the Blockchain, there are a ton of crazy overwhelming videos and articles about it, but in my opinion, it’s just something that you have to accept exists so that you can move forward with more understanding of the benefits of it. For example, I had a friend who worked in fiber-optics and phone lines. He once tried to explain to me how a phone call worked and I almost threw up. Instead, I just accepted that it DOES exist, and I was then able to move past it and use the phone to endlessly make prank phone calls.
Ok, I’m accepting it, I think. Now what’s the difference between extra candy in Candy Crush and an NFT?
The main difference between those digital assets and an NFT is that once you buy an NFT, you OWN that actual digital asset, complete with a digital certificate of authenticity.
OK I’m lost again, why would I care about OWNING a digital asset?
That depends on what side of the business you are on, whether it’s collecting NFTs, or creating NFTs, and it also depends on the unknown FUTURE of this new technology so I will go into more detail of that below on why you may like it, or hate it.
Can you maybe go back a minute, and explain again what an NFT is in terms of ARTWORK?
Sure, in my opinion, and NFT is another word for “stock”, except a stock is just a set of numbers/code, whereas an NFT is a “stock” with numbers and code but ALSO has a visual (or audio) component attached to it.
So it’s a stock with an avatar?
In a way, yes. So, for the first time ever, an artist (or animator, musician, etc) has the ability to create a unique “STOCK” with a certificate of authenticity and sell or trade that stock on their OWN. On the consumer side, the consumer has the ability to buy / invest in that “Stock”, investing in either the artist, or the art piece, or both. So, if you were to buy an NFT from me, in a sense, you are buying STOCK in me because you believe that I (or my art piece) will continue to create more work and add more “value” to that stock over time. Because it’s so new, there’s little information at this time about what would make an NFT go up or down in value, so THIS IS NOT ADVICE THAT YOU SHOULD BUY NFTs RIGHT NOW! I am just creating this FAQ based on my personal interest in the space and because a lot of friends and clients have reached out asking for a little help from an (older) artist’s viewpoint.
It doesn’t seem to make sense, especially since I can already download your art to my phone and share it a million times. What makes this different?
You are correct, but what you’re getting hung up on is the VISUAL AVATAR component, not the “Stock” part of it. The digital “certificate of authenticity” is what you are investing in or buying, the VISUAL part is the bonus so that you can (if you want) look at it and be like “This is cool.”
Let’s take a MEME for example. This is the NYAN Cat.
This image/gif has been shared a million times for over a decade. Now, imagine if that meme had been certified as an NFT and you bought it years ago, you could now and forever PROVE that you are the ONE SOLE OWNER of the ACTUAL NYAN CAT gif. That may not mean shit to you, but to SOMEONE, SOMEWHERE in the world, that “OWNERSHIP” is worth hundreds, if not thousands of dollars. In fact, NYAN CAT just sold for $300,000. For reals.
I’m 40 years old, this all sounds stupid.
Once again, yes, it does sound absurd to some people, and it’s definitely not MADE FOR everyone, and maybe it won’t EVER interest you, which is totally OK, but to a lot of people, me included, it is VERY exciting, because it’s simply a new way of collecting digital art in a world that is becoming more digital every day, whether you like it or hate it. I’m over 40, also, and this is a lot to process, and even at points FRUSTRATING, especially considering that I have had ENTIRE art shows where I have put 5 months of work into those shows and made less than $1000 in profit, only to see that an NFT of a rotating cube can sell for $50,000. But all I can say is that I have accepted that this new space is here and this new way of collecting is here, and that has helped me see the value and creative opportunity that is available in the NFT space.
Ok, I’ll move on. I’m an ARTIST, and I want to sell an NFT. Does that mean that when I sell it, I no longer have RIGHTS to it? Can whoever buys it just go make t-shirts, or sell the IP?
Great question, and the short answer is NO. The CREATOR keeps all creative rights to the original piece. The OWNER / INVESTOR only gets the rights to SELL OR TRADE OWNERSHIP of it via the Certificate Of Authenticity. The NFT space (in reference to artwork) is VERY similar to how ART GALLERIES work. When you go to an art gallery, and you buy an actual big painting, you OWN that painting that has the artist’s signature on it. Because you bought it, you can sell it again, or trade it, or auction it. But if you tried to go make prints of it, or make a movie based on the cool cat painting you bought, you run the risk of getting sued. Same thing here (in theory). The digital certificate of authenticity is recorded at the time that the NFT is created, so in the future, if there are court cases, they will be able to see who created the rights to the image, NOT who currently “owns” the asset.
So, as an artist, let’s say I sold an NFT for $100 and then they go on to sell it for $5000. Do I get any cut of that?
So, here’s the BIG hook for why creating NFTs is a huge breakthrough for creators. In short, it IS POSSIBLE (and common practice) for the creator of the NFT to get a small royalty EVERY TIME the NFT is sold no matter how many times it’s sold, forever. So, in the case you asked about, you sold the NFT for $100, and then after it was sold for $5K, you could get another $500 or so, and if it sells AGAIN, you could get another $500, and so forth. That is currently NOT something that exists in the real physical art world because it SIMPLY CANNOT BE TRACKED. But when an NFT is created on the blockchain, every owner and every purchaser is logged, so royalties can be given. The potential for this is huge because (from my understanding) this embeds rights into creations, so a musician can create a song as an NFT and then keep their own publishing rights, or a writer can publish a script as an NFT, etc. This, however, is a very new idea, and I don’t have PERSONAL experience yet with how this works. But what you should know about as a creator, when creating an NFT is to find out how to implement what is called a “Smart Contract” as that binds the royalties to the NFT. Most marketplaces that sell NFTs (to my knowledge) implement the option to have Smart Contracts attached.
Ok, I think I’m starting to get it. Now, from a COLLECTOR standpoint, what’s cool about it?
Well, aside from the “stock” investment aspect and the ability to trade and sell NFTs all around the world via different marketplaces, I think the cool factor depends on the future of how people will collect things. Although I don’t know if this is how I will personally evolve, I do believe that a LOT of people from generations younger than me will collect things solely digitally, especially when the world is covered in screens like in Ready Player One. Imagine going into a hotel room that has a bunch of empty wall frames with screens in them, and being able to just connect your NFTs to the hotel room walls, now you have a whole art gallery in a hotel room. I don’t know, that’s just one aspect of it. The other aspect is the EXCITEMENT of collecting things. When I was younger, I really wanted a KEN GRIFFEY Jr. Upper Deck baseball card. When I FINALLY got one after buying like 90 packs of cards, I wanted all of my friends to see it. I had 4 friends. They all thought it was cool. I felt cool. With NFTs, you can buy something rare, or cool, and not only will your 4 friends see it, but ANYONE in the world has the ability to see that YOU are the owner of that NFT and maybe they will think you are cool, maybe they will hate you, who knows!
Ok, another ARTIST-related question: Creating NFTs is already giving me some ideas. I have this whole collection of HIPPOS WEARING ANIMAL COSTUMES drawings that I have done over the years but I have never figured out a way to monetize or share them. Could I create like digital CARD PACKS, or BLIND BOXES of NFTs so that some people could get RARE CAT drawings, like packs of baseball cards?
ABSOLUTELY! At the moment, many creators have already done that, the most popular being CRYPTO-KITTIES. Also, large Sportscard companies are doing that also, and a whole new generation of collectors is taking part. While currently I personally don’t know how to do that (working on the tech side of the blockchain, once again, is crazy) as the current marketplaces for creating NFTs (also known as “minting” or “tokenizing”) each have different limitations, as this world of NFTs gets bigger, I imagine that the space will be easier to navigate and more options for building entire new worlds of collectibles will be open to more creators. This is very inspiring to me, as I am already in the works of bringing BUNNYWITH to the NFT world alongside some of my other favorite IP’s of mine.
You mentioned marketplaces. This is where you sell your NFTS? What marketplaces are there?
Not only are marketplaces where creators can SELL NFTs, but these are also where you can BUY and COLLECT NFTs. Each marketplace is unique and has their own styles, collections, and limitations, and each one has great and friendly communities (usually through discord) that are really helpful. I have personally had a gallery on MAKERSPLACE for a few months now, who have been amazing, and I just got set up with a brand new gallery on SUPERRARE as well, where I will be doing some unique NFT art there too! Other popular spaces are Nifty Gateway, Known Origin, OpenSea, Rarible, and tons of others, with even more to come soon I imagine. Just a note to artists, a lot of the marketplaces are CURATED and require an application process to become a seller. Marketplaces that are more open to anyone joining to get started, are Rarible and OpenSea (to my current knowledge).
So, while I was reading all of that, I just got informed that NFTs use a lot of energy to create and may be bad for the environment.
This is something that I, too, just found out about, and I am currently doing more research on the subject, but yes, that is correct. Because of the technical aspects of creating NFTs on the blockchain, a lot of energy is being used. After finding out about this, I reached out to many of the marketplace communities to ask more questions and, although it is still being addressed, awareness of this issues are increasing and there are some very positive solutions being talked about. Currently, many of the sites (if they aren’t already) are in the midst of converting to renewable energy. In the meantime, some sites are working on adding the ability for creators to split royalties with some renewable energy charities, and the option is always open for creators on their own to donate to charities of their choice as well. Like I said, please do your OWN research regarding these issues as I will continue to do mine as well.
So, what about the future of NFTs?
I honestly don’t know, but what I do know, as an independent artist for more than 20 years, I have explored every single aspect of being able to simultaneously share my art with the world while doing the best to monetize it so that I can continue investing in myself to create more art to share, and any time a new space opens, or new technology is built, or a new type of media is introduced, I look at that as an opportunity to utilize that to share my art with an entire new set of impressionable and passionate people that I may not have reached without embracing a new, exciting, and sometimes even uncomfortable world in hopes that it will inspire me to personally keep evolving. Good luck, my fellow Lawnmower Men and Women! And check out my brand new NFT that I just released on MAKERSPLACE up for auction HERE NOW!