Sales of non-fungible tokens (NFTs) have exploded over the past year, from $94.9 million in 2020 to $24.9 billion in 2021. Emerging technology, powered by data stored on a blockchain to identify digital assets, sparked early adopter interest in even mainstream media, with Marvel Comics and DC Comics releasing NFT versions of classic comic book covers.
NFT art sales have been a big driver of this growth, with some digital pieces selling for tens of millions of dollars.
So what’s all the hype about? We spoke with artists featured at the new NFT Museum, a traditional brick-and-mortar museum meant to showcase the work of artists who create NFT artwork, to learn more.
The museum, which opens Friday evening, is currently displaying works by Neon Saltwater, Charles Peterson and Robbie Trevino. Artwork from the collection of Aaron Bird, a Seattle entrepreneur, and artist representation company H+Creative will also be on display. The opening headliner is Los Angeles resident Blake Kathryn.
Unfortunately, if you’re looking to attend the museum on its opening weekend, as of this writing, nearly all tickets (priced at $175-$200) are sold out.
“We are overwhelmed with community awareness and support and of course thrilled to have two sold-out events to help with the start-up costs of the museum,” said Peter Hamilton, Seattle’s longtime technical director who has helped to launch the museum with leading start-up Jennifer. Wang.
Read on for more from Kathryn, Peterson and Saltwater on the current and future status of NFT art; what made them interested in NFTs; and the environmental impact of the technology behind NFTs. Responses have been edited for clarity and conciseness.
GeekWire: Why are you interested in NFTs?
BlakeCatherine: This area first caught my attention when I saw other artists I admired selling work in an almost gallery-like sense. I was no stranger to commissions or merch/brand collaborations, but I had been through an emotional and financial roller coaster in past projects like these, and many never saw the light of day. When I realized that my work, especially my animation work, could be sold as an artist in a very rare way, I thought it wouldn’t hurt to give it a try. I have had the privilege of experiencing success and developing a patronage relationship with several collectors since. It has also allowed me to give back to both more independent artists and a range of non-profit organizations, which I intend to continue to do.
Charles Peterson: Because it’s yet another way to spread my work and sell it. It’s also a way to have my work archived on the blockchain and available to everyone, despite only one person owning the NFT. Outside of museums, this is rarely the case in the realm of traditional art.
Neon Salt Water: I see an opportunity for digital artists to be recognized and make a living from their practice, and to keep their content in the digital realm where it was meant to exist when it was created. Digital prints are really only available for still images, and can sometimes deviate from the original media if colors are not correct etc. Now video and moving images can exist and have a platform that elevates them.
GeekWire: How do NFTs help your artistic endeavors?
BlakeCatherine: I would like to say that it allowed me total independence; alas, I am apparently a workaholic and again full of client-related projects (laughs).
That being said, it gave me the power to control who I work with. When I’m in calmer waves throughout the year, I’m able to fully dedicate working hours to improving my craft both technically and conceptually. This balance has absolutely led to more effective growth as an artist.
Additionally, I was able to fund several longer-term projects and pay colleagues of different skill sets their fair rates, which led to healthy collaborative relationships and the transmission of financial security organically. On a final note, I feel very fortunate to have been largely freed from the constant reliance on social media to get my work “seen”; instead of rushing a job to completion for an algorithm, I let it marinate to pixel-perfect perfection.
Charles Peterson: Well, believe it or not, artists, like everyone else, need money to live. Shocking, I know. It is the possibility of reaching many collectors who are really looking to buy a piece. I’ve never bought anything with Instagram likes, but I certainly can with NFTs. That said, my sales of physical impressions are usually indirectly due to Instagram. It’s a different mindset and a different way of interacting with art. Currently I have only sold archival work from the grunge era, but looking forward NFTs will be a great platform to showcase new and lesser known archival work. It’s also without the hassle and expense of putting on a show and hoping someone other than your friends shows up to pay for all the expensive framing you’ve done! Sure, it costs mints (fucking gas!), but at least the coin is then on the market rather than just there for likes.
neon salt water: Neon Saltwater is about a world I’ve created of over 400 pieces so far; aside from my physical work, it’s lived digitally on Instagram most of the time. NFTs allow me to keep my little fantasy world of Neon Saltwater in the digital realm, but now with room to grow to provide greater access to it, with greater awareness of digital art.
GeekWire: What do you think of the long-term future of NFTs?
BlakeCatherine: He is so early and still has a lot to do to grow, mature and improve. First, there’s an onboarding process for just getting into the space that’s driven with, quite often, proprietary tech/financial language. It looks like unnecessary control that I hope to see eradicated.
In addition, the main blockchain, Ethereum, must completely switch to a more energy-efficient proof-of-stake (PoS) process. There are, however, alternative green chains today, such as Polygon, Solana and Tezos; For artists curious about how to get into space in a carbon-conscious and eco-friendly way, I highly recommend reading about them.
Outside of those criticisms and looking through an optimistic futuristic lens, I really hope it continues to empower creatives of all backgrounds to build their own craft and their own security. From writers to musicians to fashion designers, the list goes on with what’s possible every day. From an artist’s perspective, technology is truly inspiring and will only continue to fascinate; being able to transform works of art over time through coding, creating interactive works that respond to gestures, and more. There are so many things that are barely explored or yet to be discovered. The partnership of artists and developers to make these experimental works has fostered such a fun digital playground. I look forward to continuing to be surprised.
Charles Peterson: I think they are here to stay. It really is a medium that appeals to a younger generation, and they will be the ones who will drive it forward. Last year’s madness will die down when people realize that sprinting is exciting, but marathon runners will win the race. I’m actually one of the first ‘old school’ photographers to enter the space in a big way, but soon we’ll see a lot more traditional fine art and documentary photographers, and other artists coming in . It will be time to sink or swim, as the quality of work on offer will increase.
neon salt water: I think like everything else, it’s going to change and morph, and it’ll be interesting to see what that means for NFTs.
GeekWire: Criticisms of NFTs include the environmental impact of the technology behind them, as well as concerns about some artists’ work being pirated to create NFTs. Did any of these concerns influence your decision to pursue creating NFT art?
BlakeCatherine: Totally valid concerns. For my part, I compensate for every Ethereum mint, in addition to donating to various global and local non-profits to help my immediate and wider community as best I can. Even when it moves to PoS, I will continue these contributions; if I can work, eat and sleep comfortably, it’s just that I donate the surplus to ensure a better future. I also enjoy collecting on green channels (as well as doing occasional jobs) like Tezos, and I hope to see these areas flourish and grow to further push carbon footprint priority in all avenues. I also wanted to look into Solana, but I’m currently in client mode so haven’t done the proper research to comment yet.
When it comes to art theft, I like to think there’s a special place in hell for anyone who takes the hard work of others for a quick buck. … Hackers are stopped extremely quickly in my experience, and unfortunately this is just an ongoing problem area that many of us have had to watch out for, ever since we started sharing work online. Maybe with all this shiny, fancy technology that this space is building, we can create some proper IP security blankets, because it’s totally unfair to the artists who have to navigate these breaches.
Charles Peterson: Yes, environmental concern is important, and one of the reasons I chose Phosphene initially to represent myself in the NFT space. They undertake to give back to the environment part of their fees. Now that I’m going to start knocking myself, I’m also thinking about setting up a carbon offset initiative. I think this is something every successful NFT artist should do, or at least consider. As far as piracy is concerned, it’s a real problem, but whoever affects the [picture for proof] space more than 1:1 photography, so it’s really on the periphery for me right now.
neon salt water: Absoutely. I’ve been slower to dive in headfirst, but I’m hopeful and optimistic that processes will continue to change, grow, improve, and address these issues. It’s still really new.