For more than a year now, not a day has gone by without the tech and art world media reporting on the NFT phenomenon, always with great fanfare of course. It seems that this new acronym is the source of both wild hopes and unreasonable fears. As the founder of KAZoART, an online art gallery, I was immersed in the world if NFTs in early 2021 and must confess that I am utterly fascinated by the polarizing digital construct of NFT artworks.

Morgan Paslier, Flower  (Artiste KAZoART)
Morgan Paslier, Flower (Artist on KAZoART)

The technical possibilities of the so-called “Web3” allow us to imagine a “disruption” of tomorrow’s digital uses, and beyond that, a profound mutation of our society.

But before looking ahead 5 to 10 years, let’s go back to the basics of NFTs: what are we talking about? why is there such an outburst of passion around this concept? who creates, who buys, who really enjoys NFTs and especially NFT artworks today?

And more specifically, in what way will NFTs and more broadly, the Web3, constitute a unique opportunity for creators and artists as NFT artworks begin to dominate the scene?

Through NFTs, the art world and its creations are going to be turned upside down, but will it be for better or for worse?

NFTs: What Are They?

NFT KAZoART

This acronym, which stands for “Non fungible token”, designates a token, and more precisely a “smart contract”, whose clauses are unique and untouchable (“non fungible”) since they are registered to a secure network – the famous Blockchain. The Blockchain recognizes these rights in a sure and verifiable way by all, with a permanent traceability that can never be erased.

It has been said that an NFT is a simple jpeg. But this is not the case. The jpeg is only a visual manifestation and within the smart contract, it is stated that I am the sole owner of that jpeg. This is done by a code that is “burned” into the blockchain. The jpeg is infinitely reproducible but the NFT linked to it is unique and belongs only to me. If I own the NFT then I own crypto art.

NFTs give us the rights to own digital objects such as jpegs, gifs, videos, music, etc. But we can actually imagine everything in the form of an NFT, everything is “tokenized” (property deeds, right to vote, financial assets, citizenship, etc.) Imagine a society where not just crypto art but everything becomes tokenized? It can be scary or just very abstract!

NFTs & Crypto Art: Quite the Story

It’s quite amusing and even pleasing for me to watch the artistic sector be impacted by the arrival of NFTs and more specifically, NFT crypto art. For the longest time, I have been trying to shift the mentality of this industry that is considered to be dusty and not very open to change and innovation. Finally, innovation, novelty, and tech become the movers and shakers of the art world!

NFT Art KAZoART
By Diverse Stock Photos, Flickr – (CC BY-NC 2.0)

One might ask why art was one of the first areas of NFT development. I think that one of the reasons is the very early appearance of a movement of crypto artists, who had been making digital creations for years, and who saw in the blockchain a possibility to authenticate their digital works, which until now, were infinitely reproducible by a simple click. They were pioneers and I think it is only fair that these artists see the prices of their NFT artwork skyrocket.

A sort of “first mover advantage”, but rather than associating it with an economic mechanism, I would like to compare it to the mechanisms of art history, and to the Picassos and Monets of this world, who also cleared the way and explored new lands of creation. This was not done for the sake of money or to please the public, but by intuition and creative genius.

NFT Art KAZoART
PAK
Pak, “Fungible Open Editions”.
Sotheby’s
Numero Magazine

Artists like Beeple, Pak, Xcopy, Fewocious, Hackatao, were there, very early on and developed a real universe of NFT crypto art and paved the way for others. It’s for this reason they are called the “OGs”, or “Original Gangstas”, of the NFT world. Their avant-gardism is unanimously recognized and praised in the crypto community and amongst NFT artwork collectors.

To all the naysayers: there are not only opportunists eager for gains and speculation in the world of NFT and crypto art, but a real artistic movement, real artists, a real aesthetic approach, or at least conceptual, which deserves to be praised. And not all NFT pioneers have become millionaires either!

Nevertheless, I observe, like everyone else, rapid shifts in the use of NFTs, linked in large part to the immaturity of this market and its uses.

Opening the Door to Excess

The advent of NFTs has also opened the door to all kinds of excesses and to certain abuses that could be condemned. I am the first to deplore certain uses and practices that do not necessarily serve the cause, neither of art, nor of crypto art, nor of NFTs.

Transaction amounts, for starters, have reached insane sums in a matter of weeks in 2021. We all remember when Christie’s sold an NFT artwork by Beeple in March 2021, which reached $69 million and made its way into headlines all over the world.

Beeple, Everydays: the First 5000 Days
Beeple, Everydays: the First 5000 Days

This is colossal amount exceeds that of paintings by great masters like Picasso and Monet. Coming from an artist that nobody had heard of. In both the art and NFT world, there is clearly a before and after to the “Beeple Sale”. In one day, everyone wanted to know what NFTs and crypto art are all about.

Beeple, Everydays: the First 5000 Days
Extracted image from Everydays: the First 5000 Days by Beeple (CC BY 4.0)

It didn’t stop there. Other record sales followed one after the other throughout 2021, orchestrated by major auction houses, but also by NFT’s sales platforms.

This all cumulated in nearly $22 billion in NFT transactions in 2021! This is almost half the size of the art market as a whole!

Even if I want to re-establish a perception that some people may have: the vast majority of NFTs that were sold in 2021 did not concern art, but “collectibles”, these famous new collector cards, digitized, which are collected and sold at a high price for some: Crypto Kitties, Crypto Punks, Bored Apes Yacht Club, just to name a few. They even have their own acronym now, the PFP: the “Profile for Picture“, equivalent to the Avatars that you can display as a profile picture on your social network pages, or collect in a more discreet way in your “Wallet” (digital wallet in which you store your NFTs).

Here, we touch on uses that are far from the artistic approach of the new Picassos or Monets of crypto art.

But the spirit, and even the fever of collecting, has always existed. Auction houses know this better than anyone. We are therefore in a digitalized, accelerated and totally transparent version of practices that already existed and appeal to the deepest desires of human beings – the pleasure of collecting and owning rare goods.

I agree that these are not the only laudable impulses, but they are also part of human nature, and the NFTs also stimulate these desires.

Mur à Williamsburg représentant les personnages de la collection NFT Bored Ape Yacht Club créée par Yuga Labs en 2011
Wall in Williamsburg representing the characters of the NFT Bored Ape Yacht Club collection created by Yuga Labs in 2011. By Scott Beale, Flicker (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Because everything is accelerated with NFTs and NFT crypto art transactions are instantly validated, goods can be bought and resold in a few seconds and this can bring about gambling-like tendencies. NFTs stimulate this lure of gain, which unfortunately obscures the virtuous aspects of this innovation, because media loves to cover these excesses, when it’s in fact far from the everyday reality of NFT crypto art commerce.

I clearly deplore these excesses and bumps in the road but it is part of the immaturity of a major technological innovation, whose users, still few in number, are testing its limits. It should also be noted that this universe has very few regulations which leaves the door open to many opportunities, whether they be considered moral or not.

Nevertheless, I am convinced that this phase will soon be over. We must give users time to appropriate these innovations and concentrate on the advances and potentials that NFTs have in store for us.

Crypto Art: A Unique Opportunity for Artists

The virtues of NFTs, the Blockchain, and “Web3”, is to decentralize the processes and therefore to democratize these commodities, or in any case, change the rules.

Cécile Mirande-Broucas, Shibatown (Artiste KAZoART)
Cécile Mirande-Broucas, Shibatown (Artist on KAZoART)
Cécile Mirande-Broucas, La Grande Motte
Cécile Mirande-Broucas, La Grande Motte (Artist on KAZoART)

All of a sudden, creators who didn’t manage to break through in the “real world”, benefit from the digital power to create and distribute their NFT artworks, whether or not they remain anonymous.

Since the blockchain allows to us trace all the steps of the transactions of an NFT, artists can then follow the ownership status of their creation and gain royalties on successive sales, since the principle of royalties is now commonly established on the majority of NFT platforms. Creators earn 10% of each resale of their NFT artwork. This “right of continuation” is basically engraved in stone and allows them to know who owns their work and if its value has increased.

Morgan Paslier, Extrusion (Artiste KAZoART)
Morgan Paslier, Extrusion (Artist on KAZoART)

For many artists, and in particular artists living in regions or countries where the art market is not very structured, NFTs and crypto art grant a more equal access to a captive audience. We have already witnessed the rise of African or South American artists, in particular, who have understood the mechanisms of the NFTs and who would never have broken through otherwise.

I’m not saying that it’s magic and the market is already crowded but it no longer answers to the same rules. The cards have been reshuffled and give visibility to whoever understands the rules of this new game.

RamZ, Ignorance is the greatest poverty (Artiste KAZoART)
RamZ, Ignorance is the Greatest Poverty (Artist on KAZoART)

A New Role for the Middlemen

Some have predicted NFTs will mark the end of intermediaries in the art world. This is because NFTs allow everyone to “mine” their NFTs for small fees and benefit from immediate online exposure.

I am the first to welcome this democratic nature of NFT artwork but the fact remains that this world is still a jungle!

The first barrier is that of usage, although it will fade with time. It’s not that easy to get familiar with all the workings of Web3 and the blockchain. Creating a wallet, scoping out the right platform, buying cryptocurrencies to pay for “gas” (a fee charged when you mint your NFTs), setting a price, it’s not insurmountable but it’s still a lot!

Alex Saman, The ghost shack near Malibu  (Artiste KAZoART)
Alex Saman, The Ghost Shack Near Malibu (Artist on KAZoART)

The second barrier is that of visibility. Of course, as I said, anyone can have a page on the OpenSea platform, the leader of NFT marketplaces. But how to be seen among the millions of NFTs that the platform presents? Furthermore, how does one become visible to users who are actually in the market for crypto art or NFT artwork?

There are many ways to do this but as we know, the rules of NFTs are unique and they have their own codes, functions, expectations, and jargon.

It is likely that this community, still small and difficult to understand, will grow, and its usage will become more democratic. Its uses will change, and evolve, transform, regularly.

I am therefore convinced that artists have unprecedented opportunities for creation and dissemination for tomorrow, and I invite them to get informed, follow the movement, and get involved!