Through the Blockchain
by Suzanne Hazlett
An NFT is an intangible asset that exists only in a digital universe. Essentially, these “non-fungible tokens” are digital collectibles kept on a decentralized ledger or blockchain. You can’t touch an NFT, but you can own it. Still don’t understand what all the fuss is about? You may not be alone. An NFT is a unique token that isn’t easily exchangeable with another. The primary use of NFTs is artworks. Millions of dollars of artworks have been selling on the blockchain in the native currency, Ethereum.
Art dealers, gallerists, curators, and a select elite have been long considered to control access to the art market. Today, collectors and artists have technology-aided access via cryptocurrencies and blockchain markets that allow for sales and acquisitions, provenance tracking, virtual galleries, digital art collection exhibitions, and management systems.
An NFT provides the collector with a certificate of ownership representing a specific digital asset. With it comes a smart contract that identifies its uniqueness. The smart contract is minted into a token on a blockchain. Popular forms of NFTs are jpegs, gifs, and videos.
Crypto-artists and collectors can find each other on blockchain marketplaces where artists can upload, market, and sell their work. From a collector’s viewpoint, the value of an NFT is based solely on demand for it. A collector has the digital rights to resell the token but does not have ownership of the original artwork. An NFT may lose some or all of its value if interest dissipates. Also, if an NFT is sold at a profit, expect to pay even higher capital gains taxes than with the profitable sale of traditional assets.
In this issue, L’Anne Gilman of Gilman Contemporary shines light on the potential she sees in NFTs and the opportunities they provide to her collectors and artists. Hailey, Idaho, artist Jill Lear shares her experience merging her more traditional creative skills with technological tools in creating her first digital works of art. Finally, Yanna Lantz, the owner of Friesen + Lantz Fine Art, discusses how she is exploring ways of increasing collectors’ knowledge and comfort, as well as potential investment opportunities in this intangible art form.
“If you are in the arts industry, it would be hard not to be paying attention to NFTs…The only thing we can all agree on is that it is a wild ride, it is constantly changing, and it will continue to morph, but given that it is a 40-billion-dollar industry, it cannot be ignored.”
– L’Anne Gilman
The summer season of 2022 marks Gilman Contemporary’s 15th anniversary. In that timeline, the Ketchum/Sun Valley community has evolved, and so has the art world. The gallery has defined its artistic program by including both established and emerging artists who present an innovative process to traditional art forms. Rotating exhibits demonstrate their commitment to innovative, inspirational, and thought-provoking art. A new medium that Gilman is not shying away from is NFTs.
Digital art is the latest artistic movement, blending art, science, and technology. Still considered to be in its inception, it is an evolving movement. With that in mind, L’Anne and her staff are exploring NFTs and the opportunities they provide to her collectors and artists.
L’Anne Gilman says, “If you are in the arts industry, it would be hard not to be paying attention to NFTs. When attending the Bernoulli|Locke conference in Jackson Hole this winter, I was able to speak to several leaders in this industry in varying capacities. It was enlightening to understand better the possibilities that the NFTs could provide, particularly in the art world. Before the conference, I opened a crypto wallet, MetaMask, to purchase my first NFT. Though I had purchased crypto several years ago, I admit that opening the wallet, getting on Discord, and then purchasing that NFT was a lesson in and of itself. Nonetheless, I found it fascinating and look forward to adding more to my personal collection.”
Gilman has enjoyed speaking to artists and current, interested collectors about their interests in NFTs, and their feelings are across the board. “The only thing we can all agree on is that it is a wild ride, it is constantly changing, and it will continue to morph, but given that it is a 40-billion-dollar industry, it cannot be ignored,” she says.
Because understanding the capacity and implications for NFT art is still developing, Gilman has a great deal more comfort in discussing the topic than she realized. The NFT market is much like when the Internet was first established, and emerging tech companies were clambering into a new industry with immense passion, innovation, and drive. The NFT market isn’t oversaturated. The majority of the world still doesn’t know it exists, and there’s vast room for improvement and new resources, so it’s constantly growing, making it very exciting.
“It would be exciting to show traditional works alongside artists who may just be producing NFTs. I don’t know where the digital platform will lead Gilman Contemporary. Right now, we’re exploring and learning alongside everyone else,” Gilman explains.
“To go from being a perceptual, tactile, works-on-paper artist to launching myself into the purely digital realm was very inspiring. It allowed me to understand something about my aesthetic and process as I attempted to apply it to a completely different medium.”
Jill Lear is a painter so inspired by nature and landscapes that she has made trees her primary subject. Her paintings are neither embedded in realism nor are they committed to abstractions. It is precisely this complexity and ambiguity that makes the pieces so compelling. Lear’s artwork is represented by Blue Print Gallery and Gallery Shoal Creek in Texas, Gilman Contemporary in Idaho, and Saatchi Art – touted as the world’s most extensive online gallery.
The artist’s engagement with Saatchi Art provided the link for Lear to transcend from her nature-grounded subject matter to the digital realm. She is one of the 154 artists invited by Saatchi Art to participate in their inaugural exhibition of NFT art.
In January of 2022, Saatchi began their NFT journey with a project titled The Other Avatars. Avatars are images of a character, usually from the shoulders up, that feature various traits. There were 11 predefined traits that artists used to create each of their Van Gogh-inspired avatars for this project. Saatchi’s ultimate vision is to display and sell traditional art and NFTs in an integrated marketplace.
“This project was a great creative challenge for me as an artist working within these specific constraints. Spontaneity within structure, so to speak. To go from being a perceptual, tactile, works-on-paper artist to launching myself into the purely digital realm was very inspiring. It allowed me to understand something about my aesthetic and process as I attempted to apply it to a completely different medium. I enjoyed blending my world of nature (measurement, proportion, and the space between things) with purely digital. I think my avatars are special because of this juxtaposition,” says Lear.
What interests Lear most about NFTs is that she sees them as a brand-new way of interacting with art and the people who love it and support it. “They make art accessible to more people and make more artists accessible to a wider audience. It gives artists more control and more opportunities with how and where and in what form they show their work,” she adds. “Royalties from the secondary sales are not an insignificant benefit. (If only the real art world implements this!) It is very freeing to work in this digital world. I see the NFT world developing into a place without limits. What you can imagine, you can make happen.”
FRIESEN + LANTZ FINE ART
friesenlantz.com email@example.com 208.726.4174
Yanna Lantz says her goal is to make art accessible, to make her gallery a place that brings together artists and collectors in meaningful and profound ways through works that ask questions and inspire. She also wants to make art accessible to both established clientele while cultivating a new generation of collectors.
“NFTs have been one of the fastest-growing sectors in crypto. Art NFTs, in particular, have been a great gateway to get people with little to no experience in this realm interested in the future of blockchain technology. Art is powerful, accessible, and communal,” says Lantz. “We are seeing people learn how to set up a digital wallet, transfer USD to ETH, collect, mint, and transfer items on the blockchain due to interest in art NFTs.”
“There is so much to learn about the blockchain and the digital art market, and it can easily seem overwhelming. I’m working with two outstanding young men from Sun Valley (Rob Glass and Lucas Campbell) to host an educational and cultural event focused on NFTs, art, and Blockchain 101 for our community this Labor Day weekend at Friesen + Lantz,” she adds. “The mission is to educate locals about the digital art market and smart contracts, why they are important, why this technology is so exciting, and what this new world means for both the physical and digital art markets.”
In the past year, a dominant trend in NFT art has been profile pictures (PFPs). A picture-for-profile non-fungible token is a piece of digital artwork that holders can use for their online identities. Bored Apes, CryptoPunks, Cool Cats, and others have been the dominant players in this arena – representing billions of dollars in volume traded.
“PFP collections have been a major trend this past season. Many collections go beyond the NFT itself – ones that grant you exclusive ongoing perks, access to VIP parties, or are tied to important fundraising causes. I’m invested in the Remarkable Women NFT project, which supports the Fund for Women’s Equality (FFWE) with every sale and another impact fund with every resale. Being part of a community is a big driver of NFT culture, and it’s an excellent way to meet like-minded people,” Lantz says.
Lantz has recently seen a shift towards interest in unique digital creations sold with a physical print. For more traditional collectors, she feels having something tangible in addition to digital bridges the gap more quickly. Lantz also sees a thirst for NFTs with a cultural context. For example, her most recent NFT acquisition is from artist whiskeyblck’s Dosage One collection, a commentary on humanity’s lust for absolute emotional control through pills. Created through stunning 3D renderings and digitally sculpted, the unique digital ‘happiness pill’ will live on the blockchain, and as the collector, she’ll receive a hand-signed physical print from the artist’s studio.
“I’m invested in the Remarkable Women NFT project, which supports the Fund for Women’s Equality (FFWE) with every sale and another impact fund with every resale. Being part of a community is a big driver of NFT culture, and it’s an excellent way to meet like-minded people.”
ARE NFTs A WORTHWHILE INVESTMENT?
NFTs are breaking down the barriers of the art world. Some buyers of NFTs have been investors in cryptocurrencies for years. They see NFTs as a way to diversify their positions in digital currency.
The lifespan to date of NFTs is not yet long enough to understand the implications and viability of these assets. This unpredictability means they are not immune to criticism. One such criticism surrounds the environmental impact of maintaining the blockchain for NFTs. There is a high carbon footprint and reduced energy efficiency for NFT transactions. Separately, from a financial perspective, industry professionals have warned that the recent interest surrounding NFTs may be an unsustainable bubble.
While the excitement over digital art may fluctuate, the increasing acceptance of cryptocurrency and the underlying technology will likely have some enduring impact on the art world.