I’m an Artist. Should I Make an NFT?

You've heard that everyone is buying and selling NFTs. Should you dive in and start selling your work? An artist weighs the pros and cons.

CoinDesk Insights
Feb 25, 2021 at 8:42 p.m. UTC
Updated Sep 14, 2021 at 12:17 p.m. UTC

If you are an artist besieged by the sudden interest in non-fungible tokens, you might be wondering if you should dip your toes in the crypto art pond. Is it difficult to do? Will you find collectors in this new space or succeed in interesting your current collectors? Will it cheapen your brand to participate in this new world, which seems to be populated chiefly by 3D-rendered naked women and trading cards?

Although the hype is counterbalanced by a great deal of hostility and fear, the fact is that putting a work on the blockchain is a winning action for the artist, and others as well. Join me by doing the following: open an account on Coinbase (or another exchange of your choice), link your bank and transfer in at least $100 in funds. Convert it to ethereum. Open a Metamask account, copy the address from it and go back to Coinbase. Transfer your ethereum to your Metamask wallet. You are now ready to create a piece of crypto art. 

Digital mixed-media artist Anne Spalter founded the original digital fine arts programs at Brown University and The Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) in the 1990s. She is known for large-scale installations and recent explorations in AI and crypto art.

I’m enumerating all these steps to show that although it's tedious, it's not as incomprehensible as some would make it sound.

Once you “mint” a piece – the NFT word for adding it to the blockchain – anyone can see the work (imagine Instagram but with purchasing capabilities). But although anyone can see the piece and link to it or even download it, it is only owned by one person at a time. Its blockchain instantiation is an un-misplace-able certificate of authenticity. This ownership, the purchase price and any subsequent owners and acquisition prices are visible and travel with the piece. This contributes to a level of market transparency that has never existed in the traditional art world.  

Now someone buys the work! The person is excited to see quality fine art being offered and you get a good price. Unlike in the traditional art world where you may be paid in a week or a month or not at all, with NFTs you receive the funds instantly into your crypto wallet. Speaking as a long-time artist from that gallery world, it’s hard to convey the relief and excitement this can provide. 

And it gets better. Your initial collector gets an offer on the work (remember it’s always visible) and decides to sell. Boom: 10% or more of the resale value instantly appears in your wallet (with most services). The first time this happened to me I almost cried. 

This new form factor is especially convenient for works that are 3D or motion-based because those are difficult to sell as physical objects and seem happiest in their native digital space online. You also avoid issues of shipping and customs, and the work can be viewed from anywhere.

Is it all non-stop happiness? No, there are some downsides. Your work is tossed into a vast sea of other pieces, so you still need to bring it to the attention of potential collectors. Unlike a commercial bank site that can reset your password with a phone call, if you lose your wallet login information your money and any artworks owned are gone forever. There are strange fees called “gas” associated with every Ethereum transaction and they can rapidly add up. Recent calculations of the electricity used to create and keep track of each piece of crypto art are depressing. (Although companies are working hard on solutions to lessen this impact.)

On balance, I would still recommend trying out this new world. Tokenizing a work (putting it on the blockchain as described above) does not imply a transfer of any intellectual rights. You can still print the work and show it physically. The most you have to lose is some time and a gas fee. And, last but not least, the realm of crypto artists is an unusually friendly community. If you do join, please make an effort to keep it that way.

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