It’s been two weeks since Christie’s historic $69.3 million auction for crypto art ignited light bulbs around the world. Digital content creators of all caliber have been plotting their own Beeple moment, hoping to find a similar fortune like the 39-year-old graphic designer from South Carolina who instantly became rich and famous via the single-lot sale.
Since then, more gambits have vied for headlines. Many are stunts or dada experiments designed to test the borders of the nascent crypto art market and the non-fungible tokens (or NFTs) that confer ownership and authenticity of digital files that live in the ether, where they can be easily replicated. There have been NFTs for the audio recording of fart noises; for a meme based on an unflattering yearbook photo; and for a portfolio of paintings made by a humanoid robot. A slew of celebrities—from Grimes to Diplo—have entered the fray. Quartz got into the action, too, and sold an NFT news article for 1 etherium (worth $1,800 when the auction closed) on the NFT marketplace OpenSea. (The New York Times and Time magazine soon followed with their own NFT drops.)
Some artists, however, are earnestly looking into how blockchain can bolster their livelihoods. The question on their minds: Can anyone make a fortune in the NFT market? Is it truly a democratic platform?
The answer is nuanced. Speak to crypto art collectors, artists, and traditional art-world gatekeepers and their responses echo longstanding debates about taste, power, and the ever-shifting definition of art.
How to succeed in the NFT market
To strike gold in NFTs, an artist must have two things: acumen and an audience. Profitable crypto artists spend time developing their fan base and educating themselves in sometimes quixotic cryptocurrency and blockchain protocols—including how to avoid scammers—apart from practicing their craft. Despite Beeple’s seemingly overnight success, he actually had been honing his digital art skills for over a decade before his first NFT sale. Everydays—The First 5,000 Days, his $69.3 million collage, in fact is a collection of the daily digital drawing exercises he’s been making and sharing since 2007.
Griffin Cock Foster, co-founder of Nifty Gateway and avid crypto art collector, believes it boils down to talent. “I think being an artist is, like, very much its own skill set,” he says. “It requires thinking outside the box, doing something that’s different than what anyone else has seen before in a way that gets you attention. The people who were successful are successful technical artists.”
Judging artistic merit is of course, is highly subjective. To command the millions that Beeple does, it helps to have an institution like Christie’s to back you up. Mike Steib, CEO of the art brokerage service Artsy, argues that the NFT market isn’t exactly the free-for-all platform many believe it is. “Who sold Beelple?…