The House of Medici is Back, and They Love Cryptoart
Issue 29: What excites and terrifies me about the potential of cryptoart
I haven’t made art in years since graduating from a state college, earning a BFA in Drawing and Painting. Spending more time in the desert has allowed me to have the physical space to get back in the craft. While I’ve been rekindling an old flame, the topic of cryptoart is making headlines, and it feels like the Medici family resurrected on the blockchain. If you’re not familiar, the Medici were a family of Italian bankers who commissioned much of the art in the 15th century that sparked the Italian Renaissance. They were the wealthy elite and the tech billionaires of their time.
Cryptoart is essentially digital artwork that has authenticity verified on the blockchain and purchased with a Non-Fungible Token (NFT). An NFT is a special type of cryptographic token which represents something unique; non-fungible tokens are thus not mutually interchangeable.
Credibility to digital art
Digital art has existed for decades though hasn’t found the same credibility as physical art. It might be viewed as “lesser art” compared to analog art, such as paintings. The two main reasons are the tangibility of a physical object vs. a digital object and the perceived value of physical art that has through verification of authenticity. If you asked someone if which art is worth more between an original Salvador Dali painting and a print of the original, which do you think they would pick? The core premise of cryptoart is allowing creators to create scarcity and value to their work.
I believe crypoart and NFTs can legitimatize digital art, increase the valuation due to the ability to validate originality, and give it a larger platform for creators to make a living and be rewarded for their art. I recommend reading Karen Frances Eng article “What the Heck is Crypoart?” for an excellent overview of the medium. Keep in mind that cryptoart uses NFTs and there are various other forms of NFT.
Though I’m excited about what cryptoart and NFTs can usher in, I’m also concerned about the doors it might close for people.
How privilege can negatively impact creator economies
On August 5, 2008, a developer named Armin Heinrich created an app called "I Am Rich." The app was described as a work of art and had no functionality aside from an image of a red ruby on your 320x480 pixel phone. Heinrich charged $999.99 for it. Eight people ended up buying the application. The app stirred controversy as people questioned charging for an app that does nothing for nearly a thousand dollars. Heinrich, later on, would admit that he made the app as a joke, though it raises a lot of opinions. The majority of reactions were how ridiculous it was for someone to charge so much for an app that did nothing, however, some developers also defended the app with the rationale of creators being able to name their price. Apple ultimately ended up removing the app. Nearly a decade after I Am Rich, Kim Kardashian, notable rich and famous person, created an app and raked in millions of dollars on a now thriving iOS app store platform.
Last summer, actress(?) Bella Thorne made headlines making $2m on the creator platform OnlyFans. The star I never heard of prior to this said she was on the platform for research she was working on, charging $20 a month for her content—resulting in $2m in revenue. Thorne then went on to promise thirsty patrons nudes for $200 a pop. The impact of this is due to the demand of revenue coming in for Thorne, they had to change payouts to 30 days, capping the max for upcharge to $50 per post and maxed out tipping to $100. Not all creators have the same social influence as someone like Bella Thorne and rely on that income to make a living, so you can imagine how angry they were as a result of these changes. Thorne is reportedly has a net worth of over $12 million and basically ruined a platform for so many creators without even realizing what she did.
The wealthy and famous will always dominate emerging markets due to their fandom and influence. YouTuber star Logan Paul made $3,540,456 in one day as he started minting crypoart—the rich get richer. Art and Tech are two of the most elite and gating communities in the world, but it doesn’t have to be that way. I don’t think I’d continue to work in tech if I didn’t believe it can be used for good. Early adoption often starts niche and I think there is an opportunity to accelerate it to a larger audience.
The opportunity for cryptoart
Despite some of the major concerns I have, I am excited about this emerging space. As a collector of art and angel investor, I’m supportive of initiatives that allow people to make a living on their art. I see two major opportunities:
Make cryptoart more accessible to people
I’m all in favor of eating the rich though not at the expense of marginalized groups not being able to indulge. cryptoart isn’t very accessible at the moment. As someone who has dabbled in crypto for the last 7 years (yes, I mined Bitcoin, Litecoin, and Dogecoin), I at times confused on how to interact with the technologies. How is a non-tech person even supposed to know this? There’s a great opportunity to educate artists and creators on how to monetize cryptoart.
Amplify experiencing cryptoart
Much of the focus on cryptoart has been on buying and selling as the platform is maturing. Though I have no problem with people simply buying art for their ownership and personal enjoyment, I think there is a large opportunity for public art similar to non-profit galleries and co-ops. Imagine a physical or digital gallery where people can experience cryptoart that is on loan. In college, I’d go to many co-op art galleries where the artist would share and show their work or display collections of art they owned. It was a way to share with the community what you owned and without a doubt was a big influence as I developed as an artist. I’m doing some research on how an experience like this is possible. Perhaps a web experience, app, augmented reality experience, or in a physical environment. The possibilities are endless.
Ensuring cryptoart thrives in an equitable way
Cryptoart is in the 2008 iOS App Store stage and people are making the equivalent of lighter and fart apps to contribute to the platform. Art and monetization is a very complicated topic. There are many different perspectives that all hold some form of validity. I could make a snap judgment of someone in tech with a high salary making art and selling it to someone who makes an even high salary, but nobody ever knows what someone’s financial situation is and what motivates them to sell the work.
The valuation of art has always been subjective and will remain that way. My hope is we learn from the systems we're trying to break down, that cryptoart doesn't become an exclusive economy where those in tech are funding each other's side hustle as an artist but rather introducing new people to a platform they didn't know existed.
I believe in art and supporting the creators who make a living off it, and that's why I’m investing in cryptoart and NFT.
We must continually ask the hard questions to hold ourselves accountable. Who gets to create this art? Who gets to enjoy it? How do we protect it from being accessible only to the wealthy establishment?