August 25th, 2021
If you’ve checked art market news, perused art magazines, or glanced at a few art world headlines within the last year, then perhaps you may have noticed the phrase “NFT art” thrown around, seemingly everywhere. NFT art seems to be the buzzword of the last year, finding a renewed relevance in the online art buying world, precipitated by the age of COVID. If you’re anything like us, then perhaps you, too, have asked yourself, “what in the world is NFT art?”
Wanting to know more about NFTs and the growing market around them, we dove into a bit of research of our own and talked with a few of our Gallery MAR artists, Jylian Gustlin, Dolan Geiman, and Bridgette Meinhold, about their personal experiences with this new territory.
So if you’re interested in NFT art or simply share our curiosity, have your burning questions answered below and find out, in the words of the artists you know and trust, what makes learning about NFT art worthwhile.
What are NFTs?
To put it simply, NFT art is an acronym for non-fungible token art. Now, that certainly was not enough clarification for us, so we’ll offer you a more complete definition, as put forth by Forbes:
“An NFT is a digital asset that represents real-world objects like art, music, in-game items and videos. They are bought and sold online, frequently with cryptocurrency, and they are generally encoded with the same underlying software as many cryptos.”
Artist Jylian Gustlin explains that, in turn, NFT art can be considered digital art. There are two main forms of NFT art: a digital image like a .jpg or a digitally animated work like a video. Gustlin elaborates, “It’s creating a new genre of art that has its own market.”
What makes NFT art worthwhile?
A few of our Gallery MAR artists are dipping their toes in the world of NFT art, from Dolan Geiman’s continual exploration of new media in the form of animated paintings to Bridgette Meinhold’s experimentation with digital forms of her “Living Ink” series to Jylian Gustlin’s lifelong interest in digital art. So what inspired our artists to begin creating NFT art and what about it makes it worthwhile?
For Dolan Geiman, he and his wife, Ali, are always finding ways to expand their creative portfolios. For them, NFT art was an exciting new genre to explore. Ali Geiman explains that after months of hearing about NFT art, their fascination with NFTs grew. There are a couple of things about NFT art that appealed to Dolan Geiman, namely being able to use animation in his work and being able to reach a broader audience.
Together, they have put forth both still jpegs and animated options in the NFT arena. “It was an interesting arena for Dolan to explore, particularly in the animated realm,” Ali Geiman explains, “because it’s something he cannot do with the physical form of art. For him it has that multilayered quality that is so integral to his work, but in a digital animated space- – one that he can’t use his traditional paper or metal materials. These layers were then fully developed in the digital space. Because Geiman works in so many different media, he’s always interested in pushing himself from a creative standpoint.”
In addition to expanding his creative potential, Geiman was excited at the prospect of expanding his audience through this marketplace, particularly his international audience. “Dolan’s work is big and heavy and not easy to ship,” Geiman points out, “So there was a lot of interest in pulling in some new international audiences that would not have access to his mixed media work. For artists that are able to navigate this space, I think it’s a very exciting arena for them and it fully democratizes the space.” The accessibility and democratization of NFT art makes it quite revolutionary for artists in terms of the scope of their audiences.
For encaustic artist Bridgette Meinhold, NFTs presented an opportunity for her to embark on a new artistic adventure. “This is not something I’m switching my career into,” she explains, “but I am exploring it and checking it out and seeing how I can use it in future art projects going forward. There are so many fascinating aspects about, for instance, just selling new kinds of art that I had never thought of before. That’s the fun part: thinking about art in a brand new kind of way.
Meinhold’s NFTs are based off of her “Living Ink” series as well as some new work that she has yet to share. The abstract landscape paintings that she creates in this series are derived from her own handmade inks, foraged from natural materials in her environment. Because of the organic material she uses in these paintings, the colors of her work can oxidize and change over time. “I’ve always been really interested in ephemeral art [like the “Living Inks” series] and how ephemeral art is of the moment and can maybe then be lost forever. A lot of times, my ephemeral art is an experience just for myself or for very few others who get to experience it, too.
The ephemeral quality of this work is part of its beauty, but it’s lack of longevity also presents a challenge — one that digitally preserving the works can potentially solve. “NFT art opened up a new window into how ephemeral art can be shared and saved and captured, so that more people can share the experience.”
Furthermore, Meinhold loves that with NFT art, artists can continue to profit from their successes far into the future. By this we mean that every time a work of NFT art is resold, the artist gets paid a royalty. “I love the idea that artists can get paid into the future for the work that they do,” Meinhold says, “If the artwork is popular and stands the test of time, then the artist gets to make something off of that.” As it currently stands in the traditional art markets, artists don’t get any percentage of the profit if their work is resold in auction. For instance, if an artist makes a big name for themself, a previously sold piece of theirs can sell for a fortune at auction, but the artist themself does not get any of that profit. Instead, all of the money goes to the current collector of the piece. “That’s always kind of bothered me a little bit,” Meinhold says, “there’s no recourse for an artist who makes it big. They should be able to reap the hard work of continuing to make a name for themselves and continuing to be progressive enough to make people interested in what they’re doing.” With NFT art, that is changing for the better.
While the world of digital art is new territory for many of our artists, for mixed media artist Jylian Gustlin, digital art has been a lifelong passion. “I’ve always been a “hacker and cracker,” Jylian Gustlin says, “so I’ve always been working with art and technology.” When Jylian Gustlin was a child, her parents worked at IBM. She grew up playing on computers long before household computers were normalized. She went on to work for Apple for many years, doing animation and programming. Even before officially launching her career as an artist, Gustlin had been creating digital art for her entire life. For her, NFT art was a natural progression and a was to sell the digital art that she has been making for over 40 years.
“I design my NFT art 3D from scratch,” Gustlin says, “I build my models out in their entirety, building the muscles, the clothing, the hair, everything. For Gustlin, NFT art combines all of her favorite things, namely her passion for art and technology. “This is the opening of a whole new world,” she says, “there’s just a million things you can do, and it’s just so much fun.”
How can you display your NFT art?
One of the most challenging things to understand about NFT art is what exactly collectors can do with their NFT art after they purchase it. When we’re accustomed to imagining how and where art could fit into our homes, it’s rather challenging to then think about our art as existing solely in a digital space.
However, NFTs can be like any collectible. For example, if you collect something like baseball cards, you do not necessarily have to have your collection on display to appreciate its value. Perhaps your collection is stashed away somewhere private or within the laminated pages of a carefully stored portfolio book for your own personal viewing. NFTs can work in the same way, but in a digital space. As Geiman explains, NFT art can be appreciated “purely from an investment standpoint, as part of an investment portfolio.”
If you’re not one to keep your most prized possessions hidden away (and believe us when we say we, as gallerists, understand), then there are still options for you to display your beloved NFT art. Geiman suggests purchasing digital frames with Bluetooth capability to display in full animated glory the beauty and interactivity of your NFT art.
As Jylian Gustlin muses, “right now, there’s a whole genre of art that’s not really being seen because it exists in a digital space. However, now you don’t have to just show this work on your phone or computer. You can hang it on your wall in digital frames and containers.” Gustlin, like many artists working in the NFT realm, are considering the design of NFT art containers and displays as part of their work.
How do you purchase NFT art?
Currently, the purchase of NFT art involves some knowledge of cryptocurrency. Before buying an NFT, one must establish a digital wallet with which to purchase a piece. That particular cryptocurrency must also match with the marketplace from which the art is being sold. As Meinhold explains, “it’s more than just selling art, and it’s more than just choosing a marketplace: you’re choosing your cryptocurrency.”
If your head is spinning a little with the complexity of this new art marketplace or if you feel a little daunted by the task, you’re not alone. Geiman understands collectors’ hesitancy to jump on board with purchasing art using cryptocurrency. “It’s fairly standard to have to go through the steps of setting up a digital wallet and buying cryptocurrency to purchase a piece. That was one of the bigger obstacles for us,” Geiman confesses.
However, as the world and market of NFT art continues to grow, more efforts are being made to streamline the process of purchasing NFT art. Some NFT art marketplaces are even beginning to allow credit card purchases. Moreover, as the art world continues along this trajectory, we anticipate more and more artists and collectors will begin to embrace this digital marketplace and the process that comes along with it.
What areas of the NFT art market still need improvement?
Along with the somewhat challenging hurdles of purchasing NFT art, one other major concern continues to arise when it comes to NFT art. For those who are unfamiliar with the NFT art market it may come as a surprise that the leading concern of NFT art is its environmental impact. While the thought of digital art having a hefty ecological footprint may not be intuitive, unfortunately, as it stands, NFT art has a massive environmental cost.
Here are just a few of the alarming statistics from CBS News:
“Ethereum is currently estimated to consume roughly 44.94 terawatt-hours of electrical energy, which is comparable to the yearly power consumption of countries like Qatar and Hungary. It is responsible for about 21.35 metric tons of carbon dioxide released each year, comparable to the carbon footprint of Sudan. The amount of electricity that mining Bitcoin consumes in one year is equal to that used to power Malaysia, Sweden or Ukraine, according to the Cambridge Bitcoin Electricity Consumption Index.”
For environmentally conscious artists, the cost of NFT transactions, from mining to bidding to sales to ownership transfers, can be enough to discourage participation in this new market. However, many concerned artists are finding new and innovative ways to offset the environmental costs.
Geiman was made aware of the large ecological footprint of NFT art only after creating his NFT art. He and his wife then worked to find a way to make their NFT art more environmentally friendly. “Something that came up for us about NFT art that stemmed from our own naivety was the environmental impact. Because of this, we embedded in the NFT purchase an offset that would be part of the sale. We worked with Carbon Fund to create carbon offsets for all of our NFTs. For the last 10 years, we have worked with Carbon Fund to offset all of our art fair travel to try to reach neutrality. It made sense for us to continue this with our NFT art.”
Bridgette Meinhold has long been an advocate for environmentalism, so for her, creating and selling NFT art was a matter of finding the right environmentally friendly cryptocurrency to work with. “For me, because Ethereum (a cryptocurrency) is so energy intensive in how it’s mined and how the NFTs are created and sold on the marketplace, I just couldn’t in good conscience use that marketplace or any marketplace that used Ethereum to sell art. I try to be as energy efficient and sustainable as I can, so to sell just one piece on the Ethereum block chain would have blown everything that I had done away for years. Instead, I chose a smaller and less known marketplace using Tezos currency.”
Although the environmental costs of NFTs are currently challenging to work around, our artists remain optimistic that it won’t always be that way. “There’s a lot of different marketplaces,” Meinhold says, “and I think they’ll get that aspect figured out. In a couple more years, I think it will become more energy efficient and it’ll all settle down in terms of marketplaces.” Jylian Gustlin agrees, observing how even Ethereum is actively working to be better for the environment. Plus, she says, “the new coins are taking that into greater consideration.”
What does the future of NFT art look like?
When we initially began researching NFT art, one of the questions we posed for our artists was whether or not they felt that NFT art was here to stay. In our naivety, we believed that perhaps the traction that NFT art had was galvanized by the age of COVID and may have been destined to fizzle with time. After a great deal of research and conversations with our artists, we now realize that the question is not if NFT art has a future but what that future looks like.
Jylian Gustlin considers how NFT art will open up new worlds of creative potential: “It’s like the Renaissance when creativity just poured in,” Gustlin muses, “That often happens when we have big world traumas, like COVID, so I think it’s going to be another Renaissance.” Geiman also sees the potential for growth in the NFT art market, saying, “I think there’s opportunity for new marketplace development. It’s so interesting for somebody to come into this sphere that wants to work with established artists, not just celebrity artists, but established artists that are truly wanting to add this to their portfolio. I think there’s real potential there.”
For artists and collectors concerned about how NFT art will change the traditional art markets and media they know and love, Gustlin assuages these concerns: “It’s like when photography came out, people were lamenting that portrait painting was dead. That didn’t happen. I think NFT will be like that. People don’t have to create or buy it, but the option is there. I see it growing and creating new forms of business. It’s a very creative and exciting time.”
Meinhold agrees, arguing that NFT art will always have a future because “there’s too many people who believe in the concept of what NFTs are and believe in the potential for it, much like the beginning of early internet days.” Just as nobody could have anticipated to what ends the internet has evolved and grown, we cannot anticipate all that the future of NFT art holds. “I think NFTs are going to morph and change,” Meinhold says, “and I think that we’re going to be pleasantly, and maybe not so pleasantly, surprised. I feel like this is actually the next evolution of art, so it’s really interesting to be there. I want to pay attention and hopefully be a part of it.”
Meinhold even takes it a step further: “I think that NFTs going forward will go beyond the art market and be attached to almost everything of importance…and possibly things that aren’t important. I think it’s interesting that things sort of started in the art market and with collectibles, but going forward, I expect that there will be NFTs for your car and your shoes and houses and who knows what else. To me, it’s a way of exploring that world, trying to understand the technology, and see where it’s going to go.”
Knowing that NFTs are certainly here to stay, we hope you now feel more knowledgeable and excited about this fascinating new world and all of the vast potential it holds.
Written by Veronica Vale