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The Mainstreamification of NFTs
Last Sunday I found myself on stage at Graphika Manila, hosting a fireside chat with Beeple, the most profitable NFT artist (and the third most profitable contemporary artist) in the world. I don’t usually get to speak in non-crypto conferences and as I stood before an audience of designers, artists, and students, I was struck by two things. The first was that everyone there was aware of the metaverse and NFTs. The second was that it didn’t feel like anyone knew or cared about crypto.
It reminded me of the 2016-2018 period, where every tech conference I attended was very pointedly “blockchain, not Bitcoin,” meaning that they cared about the technology, and not the currency. Or even worse, “private blockchains, not public.” Meaning they were interested in building their own blockchains for their own internal corporate uses, without giving visibility to the general public. I used to get into polite arguments about how you didn’t need blockchains if you were just going to use them to store information on a private, exclusive network.
Of course, the real value of private blockchains turned out to be commercial. If you were a software vendor or engineering firm, you could over-charge your corporate clients 10x by saying that you were building them a blockchain platform. Sure, you could’ve accomplished the same thing (in less time) with PostgreSQL and a good security policy, but then your invoice would’ve had one less zero. Blockchains sounded cool and progressive, and thus budgets from multinationals and governments alike flowed freely. In that sense, I guess, blockchains were definitely superior!
Has anything changed since then? Well, here’s the hopeful part of this week’s newsletter. I think that NFTs have become the improbable hook by which the mainstream is finally coming around to crypto and its myriad opportunities. I say “improbable” because, hell, the term “NFT” itself is so obviously not workshopped that I’m surprised anyone can even remember it, let alone explain what it means. But unlike in the “blockchain, not Bitcoin” days, we’re using the technology as a way to open up the market to include more people, instead of just as a way to increase corporate profits.
Let’s take stock of where we’re currently at. This weekend, I’m one of a growing number of NFT artists on display at Art Fair Philippines, care of Galeria Paloma and Samsung The Frame TVs. (BTW, I’m told that if you buy my NFT, you get the 55” Frame TV it’s being displayed on for free!) We also have major AFP sponsor Globe exhibiting their own branded NFTs alongside all the community-made work on that same gallery floor. We have startups like Scarletbox and Artifract bringing traditional artists to the modern age with their respective NFT collections. We have permanent galleries like Meatspace (with the support of Ownly) adorning their facade with massive NFT murals. We have local NFT collections like Aswang generating 200+ ETH in sales. We’ve got the Cryptopop Art Guild generating $50,000 in income for its NFT artists in its first year of operation.
NFTs have now technically been around for 6 years, but it was really in 2020 that the trend became indelible. By last year, its global footprint ($40B) was starting to catch up to the annual sales of traditional art itself ($60B). But as I sat there on stage with Beeple last Sunday, it became obvious to me that local artists were still trying to figure out how NFTs were supposed to work for them. All they knew was that there were a precious handful of early adopters who had somehow made themselves wealthy overnight with NFTs. (I should say that “overnight” is relative though; Beeple himself had thirteen years of work under his belt before he sold his $69M piece. Trevor Jones had been painting for a couple of decades. And Jose Delbo had been drawing comics since the 1970’s.)
Nonetheless, these stories are powerful, especially amongst artists who dream of being able to dedicate their full-time focus to their creative pursuits. To those folks: NFTs aren’t totally going to eliminate the grind from your artistic journey, but it will shorten it by a lot. And to the companies and brands that are looking at this space right now, I hope we see more support for the artists that are out there powering the first wave. Theoretically, NFTs will allow the relationships between the producers, the sponsors, and the consumers to become more equitable. Ultimately, it’s our job to build the future that we want to see, and the future I most want to see is one where everyone gets their fair share.
See you all next week cryptofam! And once again, please do check out Art Fair Philippines and visit our NFT gallery on the 6th floor this weekend.