Part 3 in a series about the “Origins & Ancestries” art drop and what digital art means for the blockchain art ecosystem.
For centuries, art lovers around the world have collected all manner of art: paintings, sculptures, ceramics and more. But we have now entered the Internet age, the age of screens, where we’re more likely to show off our collections on our phones, on other digital devices and in our online homesteads.
Many of us have even begun showing off our art — or art that we like – on big, beautiful digital wall canvases, as I wrote about earlier. In fact, I just ordered a Blackdove 32-inch wall display this week.
Now, you may have noticed that the vast majority of online art shops don’t sell digital works at all — they display digital images so that you can better order a physical print. That won’t cut it for the digital generation, though.
As our lives increasingly move online, users — particularly the young — want to own digital goods that they can bring with them from site to site, that they can use to outfit their online galleries, and that they can bring into the metaverse. Understandably, in a crowded and overheated world where climate change is a growing concern, they don’t want to own stuff, they want to own pixels with zero carbon footprint.
Ownership of digital art starts, of course, with the blockchain. Call them NFTs, blockchain art, on-chain art — the name doesn’t matter. Even the crypto component doesn’t matter. Proof of ownership matters. I know plenty of people who want to own digital art but don’t know or care about crypto wallets. And that’s fine. Who needs old-fashioned paper certificates of authenticity when you have the blockchain?
Looking for value in cultural objects
From SURVIVAL: 500 works by Kevin Abosch (2021).
This week I asked some leading NFT art collectors on Twitter (sorry, can’t bring myself to call it X yet) why they collect art.
Alper Özdil, a multidisciplinary artist, musician and collector in Istanbul who tweets at alperozdilart, said, “I collect art for many reasons: supporting the artist, helping artists to keep producing and improving. I sometimes collect only for the NFT culture and community. As soon as I collect from artists, I share what I collected publicly and introduce the artist and his/her skills to the community.”
We need more artist advocates in the space like Alper.
“I was originally attracted to crypto by the idea of it being a way to reinvent money – where money is a form of social trust and coordination that we’ve invented as a society,” said purplehat.
Another form of social trust and value, he added, is culture.
“For me, this is … a driving force in how I often think about collecting: I’m attracted to collecting pieces of digital art that exist authentically within in the cultural fabric of crypto economic and social systems.”
While digital art may accrue financial value over time, he said, “I’m interested in primarily collecting works that authentically exist within crypto culture. Additionally, I like collecting works based on other factors, such as supporting artists that I respect and want to be patrons of, or just things that I find beautiful or meaningful on an emotional level.”
Art as a spark for social interaction
Ringers #712 by Dmitri Cherniak, owned by Suzannesvault.
SuzanneNFT, an avid collector from Europe, boasts a well curated, hall-of-fame list of crypto art in her Twitter bio: CryptoPunk #5347, Fidenza #128. Ringers #712, Chromie Squiggle #999, Meebits, CoolCats, Pudgy Penguins, Artemis.
“I am primarily a generative art collector because I love the combination of tech and art,” she said. “In particular, I love long-form generative art because no curation takes place after the algorithm is producing its outputs. It is very difficult to get all the outputs right and the top collections manage to do this.
“My favorite collections are Fidenza, Ringers and Chromie Squiggles. They are the most well-know generative art collections, and especially Chromie Squiggles have historical value because they were one of the first ArtBlocks projects, created by the founder of ArtBlocks, SnowFro.”
For Suzanne, collecting NFT art is not about financial gains but serves as a conversation starter. “I post my art on Twitter and Discord in order to start discussions with other collectors about specific pieces, traits and aesthetics. For me digital art also allows me to connect online to a worldwide community of digital art appreciators.”
In the end, she pointed to several advantages of digital art over physical art: No need for wall space. No need to debate authenticity and provenance. Ease of buying and selling. And it tends to generate an online community around specific artists and art styles.
Where to display your digital art?
Two longnecks in the Nyla Collection.
These are early days for digital art collection, and few collectors seem focused on showing off their works. Said skeezes, “The farthest I go in displaying digital art is on my watch, or as a pfp (profile picture) on platforms like Peloton.”
Nevertheless, a few impressive spaces have sprung up, including deca.art (check out dapppunk’s impressive gallery), Gallery at gallery.so (here’s one I liked) and a handful of virtual galleries and metaverses. Still, many collectors, like JeffJag of Denver, are content to admire their holdings in their crypto wallets. Interestingly, no one mentioned OpenSea as a space for checking out their digital art collection.
Vic, a collector in Southeast Asia, said, “I collect NFT art primarily to help support other artists and as a way of giving back to the community whenever I can. … You have to contribute to the well-being and development of the space in order to participate in it as early adopters.”
Like others interviewed for this piece, he expressed hope that “one day digital/NFT art acquisition will transition into a more sustainable model where works of art are being collected for their own merits” and we can escape the short-term flipping seen in too many NFT projects.
A generative selfie by Andrea Sgysin.
“I think digital art will come into its own going forward,” said US-based Tokyolife. “I’ve missed the boat on great opportunities. In other ways, we’re still early.”
A pop culture collector since 1988, the fellow behind TheJPEGGallery on Twitter said, “When I first stumbled across digital art in late 2020, I just knew it was going to be groundbreaking. It was at this point I started to collect from artists such as Hackatao, Beeple and of course CryptoPunks. I also bought lots of generative art early in 2021 before anyone really cared that much.
“I have never bought for the short term and see this as a long investment. The financial side is always there, but it’s not why I buy digital art. Of course, it’s nice if your investment goes up!”
Kenny Schachter, an artist and collector in New York, said, “I collect art that strikes me based on what I know of the art of the past, present, and how I feel it will smell in the future.”
Some of the artists he particularly admires include the late Paul Thek and Vito Acconci. In the digital space, he cited Sarah Friend, Kevin Abosch (noted for his Sun Signals drop) and Swiss-based Andreas Gysin.
Schachter said the NFT art space needs to mature in several ways: by simplifying crypto ownership (including the ability to convert crypto to regular money), preventing against fraud and criminal behavior, and offering better devices for the display of digital art.
Hours later, he posted on Twitter that if the NFT market doesn’t rebound and continues to be rigidly controlled by a select group of gatekeepers, “We are left yet with another version of the art world’s incestuous merry-go-round of stasis.”
Let’s hope NFT art and the digital art world can live up to its promise.
Image at top: part of the Sun Signals drop by Kevin Abosch
Coming soon: The “Origins & Ancestries” art drop on Expressions.com — watch for it!