There are about as many opinions on NFTs as there are NFTs being bought and sold on various platforms. For some, NFTs represent a complete revolution of how we view ownership, currency and our digital selves. For others, however, NFTs are nothing more than an aggrandized tech-focused Ponzi scheme, which has already financially ruined too many naïve and optimistic people.
One aspect of the discussion has been arguably somewhat neglected – that being the potential benefit which NFTs could have for artists and their livelihoods. While pursuing art has never been a particularly lucrative career, since the digital revolution, it has become even more difficult for artists to make a decent living with their work.
Many artists are now struggling to make ends meet, even if their work is incredibly popular. This is largely because it is so easy to replicate work online without crediting or paying the creator. Musicians have felt this keenly as they are now paid fractions of pennies by platforms such as Spotify for their work.
As a society, we have never consumed more artistic content – or a greater diversity of content – yet our artists and creators have never before been so poorly compensated. It is time for us to all rethink how we consume culture, and NFTs can be a part of that conversation.
New technology, new opportunities
While most of us have been cornered by an NFT fan at a dinner party or night out and had NFTs explained to us with varying degrees of accuracy, there is still some doubt about what they really are and what the world of NFTs entails. NFT is an acronym for ‘non-fungible token’ and NFTs are essentially digital tokens which are themselves linked to digital assets that can be sold, bought and traded.
Although NFT technology was only recently developed and unleashed upon the world, NFTs have already become a booming industry. In 2021 alone, collectors spent over $40bn on various NFTs and spending continues, despite the economic downturn. According to some analysts, collectors have spent $37bn on NFTs thus far in 2023 and it looks like spending will only increase throughout the year.
Some analysts have suggested that the volatility of global markets following the Covid-19 pandemic has frightened off some investors and encouraged them to seek digital alternatives such as NFTs and cryptocurrency trading. Whatever has drawn investors to NFTs is certainly keeping them there, and artists around the world now have the opportunity to take advantage of this new technology in an exciting and lucrative way.
It is no surprise that it can be difficult to make ends meet as an artist. However, new technology has gone a long way towards making it easier for artists to make a living from their work, or at least to supplement their income through their work. Through selling their work as NFTs, artists can reach an audience which may not have previously engaged with their work and they can directly monetize their art.
While social media platforms have mostly served to help spread the word about an artist’s work, platforms such as Patreon are now helping artists to gain financial support and independence. It is not easy to find creativity and energy when you are in between shifts for two different jobs. Options such as NFTs and Patreon help artists to gain more financial stability, independence and freedom to pursue their work.
One benefit of NFTs which is rarely considered is the freedom of expression which selling NFTs of their work gives artists. While there is a lot of questionable NFT art available on selling platforms, there is also an incredible amount of talent displayed on such platforms.
There are many artists whose work is thought-provoking and arresting in a way which challenges the viewer’s thoughts and beliefs, but which means it is also unlikely to be bought and hung above a mantelpiece.
For example, Jordan Wolfson is an artist whose sculpture and puppetry work is often celebrated for its ability to make its audience think and consider the bigotry, misogyny and casual violence of pop culture. This art is important and thought-provoking but cannot be bought and sold in the same way as gentle landscape paintings.
The creation and sale of NFTs gives artists such as Wolfson much more creative freedom as NFT artwork is considered and treated in a very different way from traditional, physical works of art.
Removing the middleman
Another appealing aspect of NFTs is that they effectively remove the middleman in the arts and culture industry. Galleries, auction houses and even online selling platforms have hanging fees, taxes and selling fees, which all reduce the profit the artist or creator can take home. By circumventing the middleman in this way, artists are able to enjoy greater profit margins and avoid fees which only serve to enrich already wealthy corporations.
In addition to removing fees, circumventing art auctions and galleries also means that there is less of an official constraint placed on artists. Just like the publishing industry, art selling platforms and companies play a key role in deciding what is and is not art and what is and is not valuable, thus locking out many artists who may otherwise have found success.
By selling their work on their terms, artists who may never have had their work accepted into large galleries and auctions can find success elsewhere and avoid the gatekeeping and elitism of the industry. New buyers and art enthusiasts who cannot otherwise afford to purchase art pieces are also able to engage in the art market in a new way than ever before. Although the press focuses on the extremely expensive NFTs, there are a range of prices available and many thousands of NFTs are very accessibly priced.
These are just a handful of the many ways in which artists can benefit from engaging with the world of NFTs. The possibilities are nearly limitless and there is much for artists to get excited about in the world of digital technology.