NFT ART – What is it Worth?

Ossi Paloneva is a vegan chef on a personal journey to make it in the curious and much-hyped world of NFT’s. Are NFT’s worth the hustle? Read and figure.

I drew a picture on my laptop. Is it art or just a picture doesn’t really matter – I could upload the .PNG file to OpeanSea for sale and ask any price I liked in Ethereum or Polygon crypto currencies. Chi-ching – money in my crypto wallet, easy living doing something I love! Unfortunately, the file is worth nothing. I’m not Britney Spears, my name doesn’t generate value. No-one is interested in owning an NFT of an unknown hustler – even if I gave it away for free.

I’m a semi-celebrity chef and closed my vegan wild food restaurant due to Covid. When events and catering went down to zero, I started putting time into writing and painting, but also into crypto. Bitcoin crashed along with my investments, which meant digging deeper into the digital rabbit hole seemed like a clever thing to do to pull it eventually off. I probably made all the mistakes on the way before finding some sort of peace with the game. 

What’s an NFT anyways?

NFTs have been around since 2017, but the phenomena broke out big time in the spring of 2021. In crypto space you find everything from meme coins with five holders to multibillion dollar tech companies, and I can tell you, NFTs are quite something else. A signed tweet, meme dog GIF or picture of a hand drawn elephant looking like it’s made in the preschool art class, can trade for hundreds of thousands of dollars.

At the same time, The NFT collage ‘Everydays, First 5000 days’ by Beeple (Mike Winklemann) sold at Christie’s auction house at the price of 69 million dollars making him the 3rd most valuable artist alive and NFTs a legit form of art. NFTs are the next big evolution of the art scene, a completely new platform displaying the creative process.

Before the NFT markets, 3D-animators’ work had value only through its utility. Animation was a part of a movie, ad, game, app, any form of digital & visual entity. By itself, it wasn’t considered as a tradeable store of value, like a physical painting was. The current situation is obviously a candy store for native digital artists, but what about the rest of us? If any form of art can be digitized and sold as an NFT, why not yours? And a big one: can any contemporary artist even afford blindfolding themselves from the on-going progress, sculpting the future environment of their craftsmanship?

Whereas two bitcoins are equal to each other, NFTs or ‘Non-fungible tokens’ are unique, no two matching ones. They are anything digital, attached to and traded on blockchain and the content or its utility is limited only to one’s imagination and beyond. NFTs are bound to re-shape the entertainment, sports, porn industry, and of course gaming. Most of us have spent thousands of hours playing SIMS, GTA or Counter Strike, only for the fun of it. Play-to-earn makes chasing the new high score also financially appealing. Future games are metaverses where you can buy the land, hire an architect (a real person, obviously) to design and build you a casino. Maybe the NFT is the flipper machine you place in the corner of your virtual saloon for making passive income while you sleep in the real world.

Facebook recently changed its company name into ‘Meta’, underlining the direction of their future direction and R & D. Instead of a public page, you’re going to possess a virtual home base where you’re able to work, interact and create, maybe invite friends over. What are you going to wear? Gucci’s or Prada’s NFTs? What’d be hanging on your wall, unless NFTs? Planning to go to see the show? You already know what the ticket is. 

This development makes me wanna sprint into the wild and cover myself with the real-life dirt, but I suppose the dApps, launchpads and web3 just don’t care. Supposedly no-one believes Instagram, internet and credit cards are the final achievements of humans. Crypto currencies seem to replace money as we know it. Blockchain, yes. Decentralizing data and finance, yes. Meme GIF NFTs, sounds silly but yes. NFTs play an important role as keys opening a vast variety of doors in the real and artificial future worlds.

Back to my drawings! 

I thought NFTs are only art and divided the phenomena into three categories: 1) fine art, nice pieces showcasing talent 2) technical stuff, 3Ds, computer art etc. and 3) Memes, GIFs, 8bit monkeys, and other random shit that has only speculative value with zero artistic attributes. This is partially true, but Gucci metaverse NFT sunglasses or tickets to a show don’t fit into any of the three above.

Crypto related Telegram and Discord channels are full of immature moonshot jargon, hype pep talk, dreams of buying Lamborghini when a long-waited catalyst blows the chart through the roof, selling is bad, taking profits makes you a Brutus, clichés, and sadness. Losing money is a taboo. My idea was to put up a conceptual art project, make fun of that culture, by doing technologically as undeveloped ‘art’ as possible. I was convinced
@guywithsign was lacking from the NFT space. I started writing sentences like ‘WEN LAMBO’, ‘China wakes up!’ and ‘SELLERS GET REKKKT’ with hobbly, bright colors, freehand, as imperfect as possible, made with old school Ms Paint. Then I uploaded the screenshot into OpenSea – one NFT done. I ended up uploading tens of those to the blockchain.

Marketing is key to success. I know how to build up a phenomenon. I’ve done that with wastefood, so why not with completely new approach to NFTs! That means social media. Reddit, Telegram, Discord and Twitter are the most important channels when it comes to crypto and NFTs. Naturally Youtube, Facebook, Instagram and TikTok matter as well. So, I put social media accounts up, followed the maximum number of related accounts each day, commented everything, engaged, put up freebie competitions. I made the journey of building the thing from the scratch into an amazing art project of its own, harassing the gatekeepers till my accounts got frozen because of the spamming, and turned that into a joke, obviously. I contacted the NFT influencers to get to know the prices. Numbers went up, but my NFTs still didn’t sell.

What I found out is that Twitter, particularly, is a highway for the shit. There’re thousands of NFT ‘collectors’ and ‘promoters’ telling they have huge amounts of money to spend on unknown NFT artists’ work. You only have to post your links or pictures of your NFT to the comments, making these threads quite impressive art shows by themselves. And people post, because its free visibility, for sure – yet you can expect they all are hoax. No-one even flicks through your works. Everyone wants to sell; no-one is there to buy. Only thing going up is the algorithm of the collectors’ tweet. Incredible art by talented people turns into garbage.

But then, out of the blue, the collector contacts you. Legit AF, 100K+ followers, most of them bots, though. He wants to buy your art, only problem is he doesn’t have Ethereum for the gas because of a silly and weird accident. You figure out the rest.

Certain hashtags on Instagram, like #NFTart, generate a nice amount of contacts and proposals for promoting your work. It’s cheap. 19 $ gives you a good package of visibility in the feeds of newly launched art collectives of 100K+ bot followers!

Finding out artists, who’s stuff I really liked, yet not selling one single piece made me confused. I was also thinking how value is formed in NFTs and art in general. Like, I have my paintings hanging on the wall of the local pizzeria, I’ve sold some, but it’s not the fast lane making me rich, either.

But why would you want to own an NFT?

The pixels are the same, Beeple’s 69M$ NFT is exactly the same as the high-quality picture of it is, and a GIF is a GIF, regardless of who owns it. But on the other hand, owning a replica of Mona Lisa is far from owning the real deal. For many, owning something might make a big difference compared to just watching the thing. Ownership of an NFT is certified by a smart contract written in the blockchain. NFT can contain hidden information, like timestamped digital signature of the artist. Displaying NFTs in museums is not only a speculative future metaverse scenario: St. Petersburg’s Hermitage Museum opened its first ever completely virtual exhibition in November 2021. The NFT artworks of the exhibition are only to be seen in the virtual space created as a new digital wing of the physical exhibition space.

Supporting an artist has always been an important factor in art. As said, the name is important. Jani Leinonen, one of the most successful Finnish contemporary artists, known best for kidnapping Ronald McDonald back in 2011, sold his NFT animation ‘Things You Own’ with 6,9 ETH (which by the time of writing equals roughly 30 000 $). But how to break through? Crazy talent, ruthless self-promoting, getting lucky, getting endorsed by someone important in the scene or just simply knowing the right people? That doesn’t really sound much different from making it in any other field of art.

Supply matters a lot, too. Are there 10 objects in the market, or a limitless amount of them? Digital stuff is easy to multiply and a pretty common maximum number for monkey NFT series is 10 000 pieces. Rarity, like a monkey having a beanie and an earring makes it more valuable.

Value can be much more than artistic stuff or speculative gains. NFTs also have a vast variety of utilities. Owning one can attach you to a certain group, and often there’s a closed community on Discord. Owning something might give benefits – for example in a form of pre-purchase access to other new projects.

Institutional position forms an insane value for some art works. Cryptopunks are an NFT collection of computer-generated pixel figures. They’ve also been sold at auction houses like Christie’s, the current record price being 7,57M $ for a piece. Cryptopunks are the first of their kind, but that alone doesn’t explain the price. Owning one is a status symbol, but also a ticket to an inner circle, some kind of world elite, and the ones not owning the pixel figure don’t know what information is being passed on and what kind of deals are being made in that club. It’s a modern noble rank. Maybe the person owning the rarest punk is the cult master? And yes, VISA owns one.

Gary Vee, authority and gate keeper in crypto and NFTs, made an NFT collection of hand drawn animal figures. 5 original drawings, including the works ‘Gratitude gorilla’ and ‘Tremendous tiger’, were auctioned at prices ranging from 162K$ to 412K$ each. The NFTs themselves (yes, 10 thousand of them) are priced above 50K$. The VeeFriend NFTs are actually tickets to VeeConference, a real-life event collecting the crème de la crème of the game into the same house. Seems like there’s plenty of people who don’t want to miss that party.

Can you succeed in NFTs?

Does this all mean, succeeding in NFTs demands creating a layer of impossible value from the thin air on top of your drawing? Yes and no. I suppose good art finds its way of making magic. But definitely, understanding what makes your art worth something, helps you to understand who wants to invest in it and why.

I got frustrated. My NFTs didn’t sell. Paint was a clumsy tool for doing anything. I went crazy, started doing splatter video clips and 3d animations but no-one visited my OpenSea collection. I gave up the consistency, supply didn’t matter.

I was not about to form a community around the stuff I did, who would join? Also, the chance of someone like Gary Vee spotting my works and making them skyrocket in value or getting sold for any price in the first place, was quite thin.

But from all the forms of art I’ve done during my life, I surprisingly found calmness and beauty in drawing on my laptop screen. So, I kept on going. I got better fast and learning a new skill feels special. Maybe – if I make 50 or 100 pieces I’m satisfied with, I’ll figure out a way of making money out of them, but for now, I’ll spend my free time drawing instead of flicking through social media. Creating itself has value of its own.

The self-portrait on the following page was drawn between editing this article and learning how to create Telegram stickers.

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