The aim here is not to try and explain the super complex phenomena underlying the functioning of the traditional art market. We all know it is unsoud and broken. Some of us feel stuck. Now that we all agree, I would like to adopt a solution driven mindset, spark a conversation and see how the nascent Web 3.0 could pave the way for a better and fairer art ecosystem.
Whether you like it or not, whether you understand it or not, whether you are excited or scared of it, Web 3.0 is here.
I am not a fan of hegemonic statements around how Web 3.0 will liberate us all. This is not a highway to some kind of utopia. Most of these technologies are fairly new and need to be experimented with. However there is something about incremental changes that is soooo worth being explored by artists worldwide.
This write-up is primarily geared towards my fellow artists and curators that have not yet taken a deep dive into Web 3.0 and the crypto art world. Overall, I am addressing all the curious people out there. I felt like this was a good place to start.
Here we go :
Sure, art and economy have always been intertwined. But in the art ecosystem, it has come to the point that creativity is subject to commodification. Economic power is shaping artistic outcomes. Artists have to stay productive, as if they were machines in an assembly line. It is undeniable that the art market follows the logic of capital. However, please let us not forget, production is not an end in itself.
In the current status quo, artists compete for fewer and fewer resources. They do not own the decision-making power, nor their economic fates. The art world operates simultaneously as a dream of liberation and as a structure of exclusion. Additionally, we have told artists that they need to only be ‘artists’, when they would benefit from learning other skills, like marketing, coding, branding, and building a business model, for example. This is all perpetuated by the ‘lonely artist’ myth that is rewarded by the current dynamics.
As far as making art accessible to audiences, ‘white cube’ exhibitions aren’t going anywhere, except for a few examples.
(Sidebar to the Web 3.0 galleries and curators : why are we still displaying NFTs on screen in IRL galleries with a little card on the side? Don’t they deserve a better set up? Can’t we find something else? Let’s talk.)
It is precisely because of the power that exhibitions have in assigning or opening up meaning, in creating contexts and situating viewers, that standardized exhibition methods and formats as well as display conventions need to be critically rethought and potentially subverted. (Julie Ault)
As Joseph Beuys brilliantly pointed out, Art is the Science of Freedom. As artists, we need to find room for solid experimentation, might that be artistically or in any other field linked to our practices, to find better ways of creating our future. Above all, we need viable and long-term ways to own our art, and live from it.
Now I understand that Blockchain, Web 3.0, Crypto art, NFTs and all that good stuff sounds scary. This huge nebula of information and words that we mostly do not understand can be very daunting to approach. We’ll try and start to demystifying it bit by bit.
I like to think of Web 3.0 as an aggregation of multiple worlds or planets : DeFi, DAOs, NFTs, Governance, with the technical side as a horizontal between all these worlds.
I'll start here with a quick vocab 101. I’ll explain after that why I believe Web 3.0 is a door worth opening for artists. Finally, I have compiled a list of some great resources that helped me get started in this space.
Web 3.0 or Web3 is basically what comes after Web 2.0 (the version we are in right now). This third generation uses artificial intelligence and blockchain technology to be more decentralized and open while focusing on ownership and greater utility. It gives users the power to create and execute tools and software, rather than depending on other people or centralized entities (like central banks or Facebook, for example) for software. So when we talk about Web3, we are touching upon the universe of fungible tokens like Cryptocurrencies (Ethereum, Solana, Cardano, Tezos…), non-fungible tokens (NFTs), Decentralized Finance (DeSci), Decentralized Apps, Decentralized Autonomous Organizations, Decentralized Science applications (DeSci), smart contracts, and so on.
One simple way to look at it :
Go to this link to read more
Blockchain technology is a decentralized, distributed ledger that records the provenance of a digital asset. This ledger consists of encrypted blocks that are used to store data. Different types of information can be stored on a blockchain (namely the chain composed of these ‘blocks’), but the most common use so far has been transactions. Decentralized blockchains are immutable, which means that the data entered is mostly irreversible.
The blockchain existed before its most famous application : the cryptocurrency named Bitcoin. No single person or group has control over Bitcoin transactions. All users collectively retain control, and miners verify the transactions made. Transactions are permanently recorded and viewable to anyone and as long as there are more honest people than hackers/attackers, the system works.
Since the inception of Bitcoin in 2009, the use of blockchains has exploded via the multiple applications it has found within Web3.
Non Fungible Tokens are a special kind of crypto based asset. Each token is unique — as opposed to “fungible” assets like the ones of a given cryptocurrency which are all worth exactly the same amount. Because every NFT is unique, they can be used to authenticate ownership of digital assets like artworks, videos, music or virtual real estate.
And please don’t let your mind automatically go to projects like Bored Ape Yacht Club (the monkeys selling for a fortune) when you think of NFTs. Although it is a huge financial success based on a strong-knit community with interesting mechanisms, hype projects are not the only side of NFTs.
A smart contract is a self-executing contract using blockchain technology stipulating the terms of the agreement between buyer and seller. It is self-executing because it is directly written into lines of code. Transactions are trackable and irreversible with no human interaction as a third party. Smart contracts can be carried out between anonymous parties without the need for a central authority, legal system, or any external enforcement mechanism.
As an artist, you will come across smart contracts when selling or buying NFTs. You can also encounter them if you join a Decentralized Autonomous Organization (or DAO, which I touch upon later). You can either build your smart contract through non-coding tools or use the ones provided by the well known NFT marketplaces.
Minting an NFT is the process of converting your digital file (your artwork for example) to a digital asset stored on the blockchain. To uniquely publish your token on the blockchain and make it purchasable, you have to create your digital wallet (well-known wallets include Coinbase, MetaMask, and Rainbow). Then you can purchase enough cryptocurrency to cover the cost of minting the NFT (known as gas fees). Finally, you link your wallet to an online marketplace or create your smart contract to sell your NFT.
Beyond the hype and the speculation, let’s look at some very real ways blockchain technology has potential for artists :
We’ve all heard the pitch : Non Fungible Token (NFTs) is a blockchain-based certificate of authenticity. Ownership is managed through a unique ID that no other token can replicate. NFTs are minted through smart contracts that assign ownership and manage the transferability of the NFT's. Blablabla. If you already know all that, great. If you don’t I would advise you look into this as I will not go into the intricacies of NFTs here.
What I find fascinating, as an artist, is that every sale of the NFT is traceable, meaning that you can know when and to whom your artwork has been sold. Smart contracts can now be created by artists directly using tools from Manifold or Nifty Kit, as opposed to artists having to use ready made contracts by platforms like OpenSea, Rarible or Super Rare. Also, one of the coolest features of smart contracts that I am aware of is that you can dictate what the NFT will look like over time. For example, you could sell one digital artwork of the different phases of a flower blooming. One artist that uses this is Matt Kane. The fluidity of all this is mind-boggling.
Moreover, unlike in Web 2.0 where we post content on our social media (Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Tik Tok etc) just to gain ‘exposure’, in Web 3.0 you can now be paid for any content you create and share by minting them as NFTs on various platforms (Mirror for text, for example). Building a strong community and following is still important and inevitable, but the sole fact that content is thought of as a value driving asset is exciting.
The business model enabled by NFTs is better for every stakeholder involved: creators, their audiences, and developers can all make more money in a marketplace built around true digital ownership.
Typically, payday comes when artists first sell an artwork, and that is it. You paint the painting, you sell the painting, and… that’s it. Now with NFTs, artists can have 5%, 10% or 20% on all future sales of the same artwork. This is directly coded into the smart contract that lists all the rules around the use and transferability of the NFT. One of the most exciting things about this entire web3 is how much agency people have from the start to consider royalties down the line.
The secondary markets in the crypto art world are much easier to navigate than in the traditional art world, and artists benefit from royalties as long as the artwork keeps being sold and resold.
For most NFT projects, there is always an application in the ‘real world’ (In Real Life or IRL). This is called utility. For example, buying an NFT can grant you access to a community of like minded people that organize events. Some artists also offer signed prints of the photographs they sell as NFTs. Buying an NFT can unlock ownership of a poem along with the digital art bought. The sky's the limit with utility, and artists need to think about this as creatively as they can to truly bond with their supporters.
The emergence of crypto economics and the Web3 ecosystem are significantly lowering the entry barrier of experimentation with new business models for artists. We can now collectively experiment with the conception and production of value.
There’s no passive viewer: the legitimation of the artwork fully depends on community participation. And with little or no intermediation from galleries and other institutions, which are used to collect up to 50% (!!!) of the artists profits. Art and economics are now more transparently intertwined, offering agency to artists instead of being subjected to financial markets. No more galleries to please, and the artist can decide on the scarcity of their work.
Because NFTs are part of the cryptocurrency ecosystem, it is much easier to move around funds than using bank transfers.
On the buyer side, buying NFT art on platforms or directly from artists is way less intimidating than having to deal with a gallery. The barrier to entry to new collectors is lower here as well, and artists can now more easily collect art that they love.
Blockchain technology has allowed the creation of Decentralized Autonomous Organizations (DAO), which are tokenized communities organized towards shared values that agree on a set of coded rules to vote on decisions within the DAO.
Some examples of DAOs that are disrupting traditional art systems
This autonomous ideology is part of the fabric of Web3. I believe they can foster a more localist approach to the art ecosystem. I think that now more than ever, building networks of care and sharing information is key for artists. Co-creation is the way to go and mutual growth can be directly incentivized in DAOs. Community is crucial in Web3 and this is something that is aligned with values that a lot of artists hold dearly.
In Web3 like in Web 2.0, you can remain anonymous. However people in the Web3 space are way more used to anonymity. On Instagram, we all know that artists tend to get a lot more traction when they show their faces. Whether you are an artist with a profile picture of some NFT you bought or someone building in the metaverses using an avatar, anonymity is easier in Web3. For me, this touches upon the issue of inclusivity. People have the choice to be more comfortable showing up in these spaces stripped from all the tags that society has put on them. If you don’t want to disclose certain pieces of information about your identity, no one cares. Your information is yours.
Although creativity is so important, I put this bit at the end because it isn’t intrinsically linked with blockchain technology, but goes hand in hand with it. I wasn’t versed in the whole Artificial intelligence and generative art formats before being interested in the crypto art world, but the possibilities these tools allow really blew my mind. AI generated art is definitely an art form in itself and a powerful storytelling medium. I think that visual artists that are used to painting or sculpting for example could really get inspired with a little research on these topics. Some amazing examples : Ivona Tau, Michael Hansmeyer, Robbie Barat.
I am urging any newcomer to Web3 and the Crypto Art World to thoroughly get educated on the safety and security concerns that come with owning a crypto wallet, buying cryptocurrencies/tokens, minting NFTs and signing smart contracts. Also, please don’t spend money that you don’t have. Finally, know that nothing happens over night. Like with everything else, consistent and intelligent effort pays off.
This is the first instalment of a series of write-ups I would like to share with other artists. This comes from a place of deep love for art and its power throughout society.
I am still learning myself, but I would just like for most of us artists to adopt a shift in perspective here: away from the cynical sensation of ‘everything is backwards’ and instead towards how to ‘better create our future together’. Let’s find solutions.
If you have any feedback, questions or advice on this piece or the upcoming ones please don’t hesitate to reach out. Like really just write me.