Ejo #152 – The Case For NFTs: Masterclass

OK, so can we all please just take a big breath in, and a big breath out.  We’re here.  We made it.  We got through the hard bit, and now we can finally start talking about the good stuff.  Art.  And I’mma jump straight in and tell you that there is no such thing as NFT art and there is no such thing as an NFT artist.  There are artists, and there is art.  And that is all.  And because you’ve done my NFT Foundation Course, you already know that to be true, so let’s kick on.  

More than 700,000 years ago someone drew an outline of their hand onto a cave wall in Indonesia, creating the very first known work of art.  The artist, our ancestor, was attempting to capture the moment (and nailed it).  Since then, humans have continued to express themselves in a myriad of ways, including etchings, pottery, sculptures, paintings, screenprints, photographs and more.  Today, our lives are predominantly online.  Everything is digital, from maps to music to healthcare to entertainment to relationships to work.  Is it such a huge leap to accept that art too, must evolve into the digital realm?  And by the way, digital art itself is not something that’s new.  People have been creating it since the 1960s.  The difference now, with the advent of NFTs, is that digital artists can finally be as recognised, rewarded and acclaimed for the work that they create on their computers as their traditional artist counterparts are for the work that they create on canvas, wood, paper and clay.  Which is fantastic, right?  Who wouldn’t want that for them?  Another difference is that when an artist mints their NFT, they can program a percentage of future sales for themselves into the smart contract code, theoretically guaranteeing that they receive royalties for secondary sales of that artwork in perpetuity, even after their death.  How awesome!  Why shouldn’t artists benefit from future interest in the work that they’ve created?  Hell yeah, I’m all for it!  And let’s not forget that NFTs make art more accessible, making it available to anyone who is interested, and not just to a small group of privileged and connected few.  NFTs are the most modern and most efficient tool for the creation, certification and distribution of art in 700,000 years. 

Sure, I understand that it can be hard to wrap your head around the concept of “owning” a piece of digital art, for instance something as simple as a jpeg.  We’ve all right-click-saved pictures from the internet before.  So why would anyone choose to pay any amount of money, let alone millions of dollars for a picture they could just copy online?  The simple answer to that is the voracious human appetite for scarcity.  The blockchain has finally made it possible to prove ownership and provenance of digital art.  You can right-click-save as much as you like, but the owner of the original file can now verify that an image is theirs, and theirs alone; which makes it scarce.  And scarcity drives demand.  The same concept applies to all art.  Why else would an unsigned screenprint of Banksy’s Girl With Balloon be worth $200K?  I’ll tell you why, there are only 600 of them in the whole world.  And human beings will always want what no-one else can have. 

Pictures of the Mona Lisa don’t dilute the value of the Mona Lisa.  And having a picture of the Mona Lisa on your computer doesn’t mean that you own her.  Just like saving a picture of my NFT to your camera roll doesn’t give you my NFT.  You’re not stealing it from me by right-click-saving it, because when I buy an NFT, I’m not buying the jpeg.  So go ahead, and right-click-save all you like.  I own my NFT, and the blockchain can prove that.  And I’m the only one who can sell it and make money from it.  All you’ve got is a pretty little screenshot on your phone, so have fun with that.

You know, some folks are perfectly happy to buy counterfeit Louis Vuitton handbags, knowing that what they’re carrying on their arm is a fake.  And some people pay good money for replica artworks, knowing that what they hang up on their wall is a forgery.  But those facsimiles will never reduce the value of the real thing.  Because people will always want the real thing.  They need to have it.  It’s imperative to the human condition.  It’s the reason why people buy Rolexes and Ferraris and Louis Vuitton handbags. And really expensive art. 

I once saw a photo of a well-known artist’s limited edition screenprint in a magazine, and instantly fell in love with it.  Head over heels in love.  I tapped into google and found a high resolution jpeg of that particular work of art, which I right-click-saved, and then printed, framed and hung up on my wall.  And it made me happy.  A few years later I had the good fortune to actually buy one of those limited edition prints.  Which one do you think I enjoyed more?  The photocopy of the jpeg I copied online, or the original screenprint signed by the artist himself?  I think you know the answer. 

So OK, there’s nothing intrinsically valuable about NFTs.  But is there anything intrinsically valuable about anything?  What’s intrinsically valuable about Picasso’s Guernica?  It’s literally a piece of canvas with some paint splattered on it (albeit artfully splattered paint), but the market has decided that it’s worth $200 million.  We seem to inherently understand, and accept, that value can be assigned to traditional art.  But we aren’t used to it with digital art.  Not yet.  We’re in a massive growth and learning period where cryptoart is concerned, with the blockchain finally affording digital art the same framework, respectability, value and marketability as traditional art.  And it’s about fucking time.  It’s time digital artists got theirs.  And it’s time that access to global art markets opened up to everyone.  It’s definitely time. 

I’ve loved and collected art for years.  I bought my first piece when I was 27 years old, working as an au pair in Connecticut, earning just $137 a week.  One day I was at the local high school to donate blood (cool story so far, yeah?) and as I slowly inched forward in the line, I found myself eye to eye with a canvas painted black but for a whorl of midnight blue bleeding from the middle of the painting.  The piece was titled Sadness, and as I was reluctantly propelled away from it towards the nurse’s station, I couldn’t get it out of my mind.  A few days later the principal hooked me up with the kid who made the painting.  The little fucker figured me for a mark and demanded $400 for it.  I laughed in his pimply face and offered him one week’s salary, no more no less.  He made a show of umming and ahhing about it, but his mum impressed upon him that no-one else on earth, in a million years was going to offer him cash for any of his art projects, ever again.  And that’s how the deal went down.  Since then my salary has increased steadily, and I still spend every spare penny I earn on art.  It’s not just a passion, it’s almost an obsession (just ask my long-suffering husband, whom I often wrangle into buying art with me, and sometimes, if I’m lucky, for me).  I’ve been buying art for the last 23 years, and the transition from traditional art to cryptoart actually feels really natural to me.  It feels like a step in the right direction.

The reason I love NFTs is because I love art.  And I’m not the only one.  In fact, there are lots of us out there, if the money flowing into the space is anything to go by.  OpenSea, the largest NFT marketplace, posted $5 billion in trades in the first month of this year.  And they did a record breaking $476 million worth of NFT trades in one single day on 1st May.  In a bear market!  NFTs are not going away.  Weirdos like me are more than happy to stump up a fair sum for beautiful artwork.  Sure, some people are in it for the short term gain, hoping to sell a piece for more than they paid for it.  But others are in it for the long haul, seeing it as an investment and a safe store of value.  Some collectors buy art simply for the flex, and some of us do it for the pure enjoyment of owning something beautiful.  Of course collecting art is different to investing in it.  But despite some of my NFTs already increasing in value, I don’t view them as an investment vehicle, just as I don’t view the art on my wall as an investment vehicle, but rather as something to admire and enjoy.

Art historian, writer, tech guru and NFT doyen Jason Bailey (@artnome) is a passionate and vocal advocate for art, and he’s someone that I look up to and consider to be a mentor in the labyrinthine maze of the NFT galaxy.  He’s not only a cheerleader for NFTs, he’s also an educator and has recently set up ClubNFT, a company that assists collectors to protect their NFT investments.  His excellent advice to people interested in buying NFTs is:

You can’t go wrong.

And that’s been my credo in the NFT space from the beginning.  Well, since February anyway, which is when I bought my first non-fungible token.  Since then I’ve purchased dozens more, and I haven’t sold a single one.  I don’t ever plan to.  Because I’m not in it to speculate, or flip, or make shitloads of money.  I’m in it because I love them and because they bring me joy.  I’m in it because I think NFTs are a spectacularly exciting development in the art world and I’m thrilled to be a part of it.  And I’m in it because I really get off on the feeling of knowing that I’m supporting an artist in a new arena.  Artists I never would have discovered if it wasn’t for NFTs. 

Even if you don’t know much about NFTs, you may have heard about the one that was sold by Christie’s auction house in March, 2021.  And if not, you’re in for a treat.  Digital artist Beeple’s piece, titled “Everydays: the First 5000 Days” opened with a bid of just one hundred bucks, before the hammer went down on the astronomical sum of $69.3 million.  I’m not here to make a judgement about whether the piece is worth that amount, but I do want to take a closer look at it.  In May 2007 Beeple committed to creating one digital artwork a day, and he did so every single day for thirteen years and eight months (i.e. 5000 days), including the day he got married.  I can’t think of anything (including eating, shitting or sleeping) that I’ve done every single day for 5000 days.  Everydays, the artwork, is a digital composite of each of those 5000 images (which you can inspect individually on his website).  Whether you like his artworks or not, I believe that the sheer magnitude of the piece is truly astounding.  And it absolutely tickles me pink that it’s shaken up the stolid, dusty, old art scene and challenged the status quo.  Sotheby’s and Phillips’ are also getting in on the NFT auction action.  That these historic and revered auction houses are so readily accepting NFTs as a valid artform is a big stamp of approval.

Look familiar? The formidable “Everydays”.

Wikipedia, however, could not disagree more.  They recently removed the sales of two NFTs from their list of most expensive artworks, deeming NFTs “not art”.  One of those works was Beeple’s Everydays.  Personally, I think that’s an egregious error, based on a dismal lack of understanding and appreciation of what NFTs are.  As justification, one of the editors pooh-poohed, “This list is for paintings, sculptures, and closely related works, not whatever these NFT things are”.  As you and I both know, the NFT is not the art.  The art is the art.  And who the hell gets to decide what art is anyway?  People said that Marcel Duchamp’s Fountain wasn’t art.  They said that Andy Warhol’s Campbell’s Soup Can wasn’t art.  They said that Jackson Pollock’s Blue Poles wasn’t art.  And they said that Mark Rothko’s Orange, Red, Yellow wasn’t art.  And they were all wrong.  Every single time.  And they’re wrong now.  These art “experts” simply don’t have the vision to understand that art evolves.  Art doesn’t sit still.  It breaks boundaries and it leaps beyond horizons.  It’s dynamic.  It shape-shifts, it challenges and it defies. 

Duchamp’s Fountain, which he called a “readymade sculpture” also referred to as found object art. It was last sold in 1999 for $1,762,500 to a buyer who said it represented ‘the origin of contemporary art’.
Several versions of Soup Can exist, and the highest price ever paid for one was $11.8 million in 2006.
There was an uproar when the National Gallery of Australia bought this painting in 1973. In 2016 it was valued at $350M.
Mark Rothko’s Orange, Red, Yellow is known as a colour field painting and was sold in 2012 for $86.9 million.

NFTs democratise art by removing the gatekeeper mentality that galleries and art dealers (and online encyclopaedias) have enjoyed for far too long.  The rarified world of traditional art is competitive and exclusionary.  It is a zero sum game, which fosters unhealthy competition and limits the number of artists that can succeed.  If you win, I necessarily lose.  NFTs on the other hand, thrive within a beautiful and truly global art community, with everyone involved uplifting and supporting each other.  The difference between the two realms is vast.  Traditional art is an opaque world by design, with galleries and dealers dictating from behind closed doors, not only which artists make it and which don’t, but also which collectors can purchase art and which can’t.  They control the market with an iron fist, creating unfair and insurmountable barriers to entry, for artists and collectors alike.  NFTs smash that barrier. 

Which is not to say that it’s easy.  There are still plenty of hoops to jump through.  Even just the process of buying cryptocurrency on an exchange and then getting it to a crypto wallet is burdensome and awkward.  But it’s not impossible.  I’m the least technically proficient person I know, and I managed to do it.  Which means that you can too.  Your only barrier to entry now, as a collector or as an artist, is your own willingness to learn.  The best way to enter the space is to arm yourself with information.  Do the research.  Ten hours is great, a hundred hours is better.  Spend time watching videos, enroll in online courses, read articles, listen to podcasts, follow NFT pundits on Twitter (I’ve linked to all my favourites) and you will be richly rewarded with what Kurt Vonnegut called the most valuable commodity on earth, knowledge. 

A quiet aside to the artists out there.  I don’t want to paint a false, rosé-coloured impression that you can just quit your day job and roll around in mountains of cash by turning your art into NFTs.  Just because Beeple became an overnight millionaire doesn’t mean that you will too.  Sure, one advantage of removing the gallerists and dealers from the equation is that they’re no longer squeezing you for 50% on sales.  But the big disadvantage is that now you have to do all the work.  You have to do the networking, you have to promote yourself, you have to create the online community, and you have to sell your own art.  Which is really tough to do in a saturated market.  The majority of NFT primary sales are for less than $200, and that’s before fees.  It’s still a very tough industry to crack, and NFTs do not guarantee you success.  They do, however, significantly open up the market.  And they do make it easier to potentially earn a living from your passion, if you’re prepared to put in the hard yards.  I mean jesus fucking christ, in the last 12 months alone, $44 billion was spent on NFTs.  And they’ve only been around for five years.  To put that into perspective, the entire traditional art industry in 2021 was worth around $65 billion.  There’s money out there for the taking, my beautiful artist friends.  You just have to go out there and get it. 

Crunch the numbers my artist babes.

It might feel scary and intimidating for traditional artists to take the leap from physical art to digital, but turning your artwork into an NFT takes it from being a picture that can have a million exact copies taken of it, and turns it into the one copy that you can verify as being the original.  It gives the power of ownership back to you, the artist, and aligns digital art ownership and provenance with that of the traditional art world.  And because I like to practice what I preach, I minted my very own collection of NFTs to make sure that it is actually as easy and painless as I’ve been making it out to be.  And yes, it is.  It was relatively cheap too, costing me less than $150 to mint seven photographs (feel free to make me an offer 😉 ). 

I call this one “Airport Road”, coz it’s the road I drive on my way to work. At the airport.
This one’s titled “It’s Alright, Baby It’s Alright” because those are the lyrics to the song, “Road To Nowhere” by Talking Heads, and I have no idea where these roads are going. But also because I took this photo from my beloved therapist, Zimmy’s, apartment building before one of our sessions, and she always makes me feel alright. ♥

For the would-be collectors out there, the only advice I have is that there’s no need to rush into buying.  Dive in and check out what’s being created.  Get involved on Twitter and start trawling the marketplaces.  There’s so much out there, it can actually feel really overwhelming at first, but eventually you’ll figure out what you like, you’ll find your niche, and then you can start buying it.  I didn’t get there right away, it took me a while, but for me, now, the holy grail of NFTs is generative art, and in particular generative art that uses the blockchain as part of its creation.  This is some next level shit, producing some of the most beautiful, expansive and creative artwork I’ve ever seen. 

You may not have heard of Art Blocks, but it is the most influential platform in the generative art world.  And you may not recognise the names of blue-chip generative artists Dmitri Cherniak, Erick Calderon (the founder of Art Blocks), or Tyler Hobbs yet, but one day I think you will, just as you recognise the names Picasso, Monet and Warhol.  These guys are virtuosos of the generative art form, producing artworks of breathtaking scope.  Generative art is a glorious marriage of order and chaos, and I understand that on first glance the genius might not be apparent.  It wasn’t immediately obvious to me either.  But the more you learn about generative art, and the more you study it, the more you will come to appreciate it. 

Tyler Hobbs’ Fidenzas
Dmitri Cherniak’s Ringers
Generative art is sometimes criticised for being dry and soulless, but Erick Calderon’s Chromie Squiggles prove that generative art can be fun and whimsical. Aren’t they pretty???

Unlike PFPs, the prices of blue chip NFTs like Tyler Hobbs’ Fidenza are not driven by speculation, but rather by an appreciation of the artworks themselves.  There isn’t a lot of liquidity in these markets and that’s because collectors are buying, and holding onto them. People don’t spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to buy a Fidenza so that they can flip it three days later.  They’re buying it because it’s a long term investment, just like a Banksy, just like a David Hockney and just like a Tracey Emin. 

My heart skips a beat whenever I see Fidenza #313.

Fidenza #313 is a work of staggering beauty.  It is arguably the most extraordinary NFT ever created.  The Tulip Mania bubble may have popped nearly 600 years ago, but ever since Bitcoin was invented, naysayers have been comparing cryptocurrencies (and more recently, NFTs) to tulips, claiming that they are a Ponzi scheme and a speculative bubble with no inherent value, which will one day be worth nothing.  Sceptics mock those of us who have conviction in the future of Bitcoin, Ethereum and NFTs.  This particular artwork, part of an archetypal collection of 999 pieces by Tyler Hobbs, is especially impactful because it actually resembles a tulip.  It stands alone as a work of art, but as part of the Fidenza collection, I think it’s one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen.  The mind-blowing thing about it is that the artist didn’t even program the algorithm to output a tulip.  As I mentioned earlier, it was the randomness coded into Hobbs’ algorithm which resulted in #313 being created and minted as a tulip.  Even he didn’t know that that would happen.  Which is absolutely incredible.  It makes the imagery and symbolism that much more powerful.  This gorgeous piece of art was recently bought by my favourite collector and Twitter NFT guru, the anonymous Punk6529 (more on him soon), for 1000ETH (worth $3.3 million at the time of the sale).   He says he has no plans to ever sell it. 

While most of us have missed the boat on blue-chip Fidenzas, Ringers and Chromie Squiggles there are lots more artists working in the genre whose art is affordable right now.  If you’re keen to start collecting I’d highly recommend buying from marketplaces that run on the Tezos blockchain (such as objkt and fx(hash) and Versum).  First of all, being an open source proof-of-stake network, Tezos is environmentally cleaner than Ethereum but it also hosts some of the most exciting artwork at super reasonable prices.  Because Tezos isn’t as well known as Ethereum, the market has a kind of village feel about it.  It’s very welcoming, and a lot of the people know, and respect, each other. It’s proof that there really is art out there for everyone, and for all budgets.  For instance, yesterday I bought a piece called Golden Glow by one of my favourite artists, Zancan, for 103 Tezos (USD170).  I also bought a work from Nick Dima last week for just 1.9 Tezos (USD3.11).  I mean c’mon, at that price I almost felt like I was ripping him off. 

I also own this Zancan generative drawing titled “Skyscraper”. I absolutely love it.
Nick Dima’s BLEND #507

On the other end of the scale, if you want to be inspired by some truly gorgeous, prestigious artworks, check out this exquisite exhibition of the NFT collection owned by another guy I follow on Twitter, Aftab Hossain (@iamDCinvestor).  I mean seriously, check out how many Fidenzas this guy owns!!!  

As I mentioned earlier, NFTs are the perfect segue into the metaverse.  As we speak, online galleries and museums are being built to facilitate a viewer’s experience of walking through a space and seeing art up on a wall, in an augmented reality kind of way.  These experiences will only become more realistic as the technology advances. 

The inimitable Punk6529.

And as we come to the end of our NFT Masterclass I’d like to introduce you to Punk6529 (@punk6529), who, as you can see, has taken his CryptoPunk PFP and built an entire goddamn philanthropic empire around that identity, leading as always by example.  When I first got into NFTs, I found myself a little bit adrift (there is an almost incomprehensible amount of information out there) and then I discovered Punk6529.  He was the one person consistently putting out thoroughly researched, accurate and super interesting information in a really thoughtful way, with absolutely no hidden agenda, and shitloads of skin in the game.  He helped guide me in my NFT journey, and he’s articulate, worldly and freakishly intelligent.  And in case you can’t tell, I have a massive nerd-girl crush on him. For me, he’s the biggest player in the NFT game, and that’s because he goes beyond NFTs.  He’s not only a visionary, an authority, a father-figure, a philosopher and a big-picture thinker, the dude actually walks the walk. 

The preeminent online NFT art museum 6529 Museum of Art is his brainchild, and hands down the best online art gallery in the world.  And the museum precinct is only the beginning.  It’s just the first phase of a much larger, ongoing project to bring us all a community focussed, decentralised Open Metaverse.  This guy really knows his shit and is putting his considerable fortune where his punk mouth is. 

The precinct is gated by an absolutely stunning Fidenza.  The Tulip, natch.  Being inside one of the many curated museums, each displaying a different genre of digital art, is not only an exhilarating experience, it’s also just a shitload of fun.  You can run around the precinct, chat to other people (if you want to), and if you press the space bar you can even fly!!!  Well, not really, but you can jump really high and get a birds-eye view of the entire city.  It’s fucking awesome.  And in some ways, it’s almost better than being inside a real museum.  You can take your goddamn sweet time in front of each piece, you can eat whatever you want and drink milkshakes while you peruse sublime artworks, there are no lines to wait in, and no other people to dodge (because you’re even given the option to enter the public version or go in solo).  You don’t have to pay anything or buy a membership or check your bag in a locker.  You don’t have to view the artworks from behind a velvet rope, and there are no attendants to yell at you if you feel like taking a picture.  You can appreciate a huge range of multi-million dollar artworks in your underwear from the comfort of your own home.  I’m telling you, real museums don’t even compare!!! 

Pressing the space bar gives you a bird’s eye view of Genesis City, the first metropolis of what will be dozens of cities in Punk6529’s vision for the Open Metaverse.

Ponzi schemes don’t usually feature charlatans buying millions of dollars worth of NFTs, everything from blue-chip generative art to PFPs to $20 photographs, and committing over 2000 pieces of art to a permanent collection displayed in a world-class museum for everyone to enjoy.  Not normally.  So why has Punk6529 put together the largest and most valuable collection of NFTs for people to freely peruse?  He, and the likes of Jason Bailey, are putting their money where their mouths are, ensuring that Web3 framework is being built solidly and securely for the future, and for the people.  They are keen to educate, for no other reason than they are passionate about NFTs and wish to share their knowledge.  They’ll never tell you what to buy, but they will help you build foundational understanding so that you can figure out for yourself which artworks appeal to you.  They’ll teach you how to safely enter the space and how to protect yourself and your digital assets against the many nefarious players that lurk in the shadows trying to steal your money and your art.  

And when you’re armed with information, you can navigate the space safely and avoid the bandits and the highway robbers.  Because while there is danger out there right now, the actual foundation is stable.  And that foundation is blockchain.  It’s the backbone of Web3 and while you’ve been going about your life blissfully unaware of its existence, it’s been working as it was designed to work, for almost 13 years.  So while it might seem scary right now, I do believe in its longevity.  Eventually, everyone will know more about it.  Everyone will interact with it.  Everyone, even you.

I’m hoping that by now you have a relatively comprehensive understanding of what NFTs are, and why they’re such an important technology in the art space.  If you do, congratulations, you’re part of a very small and select group of people.  There are nearly eight billion humans beings on earth and, by some estimates, only one million of them get this shit.  My goal in writing this is to help more and more people understand it, and I really hope that I’ve helped you with that today.  Because I truly believe that it is a revolutionary and transformative technology that will be around, after you and I are long, long gone. 

Gallery 6529 PHOTO A , just one of several museums and galleries you can visit.

Read these very simple instructions before entering the Open Metaverse.

Go ahead and check out Punk6529’s Open Metaverse Museum Precinct. I’d love to know what you think.

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