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How Nifty Are NFTs?

The results are in! In our April newsletter, we launched an NFT survey to find out what emerging artists thought of NFTs and how NFTs were impacting their creative practice. That same month, we featured two digital artists who had recently embraced blockchain technologies to mint and sell NFTs. Machado Leão and Marc Simonetti spoke very positively about NFTs, which had allowed them to achieve financial security and to develop a fine art digital practice. The results of ArtULTRA’s survey, however, are far more mixed…

The near 50:50 split between artists who believe NFTs have real potential, and those who don’t, is striking. Just over half (53%) of artists thought NFTs were a good thing, which is indicative perhaps of a wider phenomenon in the artworld where artists (just like every other group of professionals) are divided into the tech-savvy/entrepreneurial and those less so. Could it even be a divide between optimists vs. pessimists? ‘Most of my designs are digital’, explained one artist who felt their work was very easily adaptable to the NFT format, ‘and I want to make money from it too.’ Another optimist argued that embracing NFTs meant ‘adding a new tool to my creative toolkit’ as well as increasing the ‘accessibility of my art to a new type of collector.’ ‘Artist will keep on making money during re-sales of their work’, noted a third, ‘unlike the current secondary art market.’

By contrast, 47% of artists were of the view that NFTs were not ‘nifty’ at all. The reasons for this were wide-ranging. ‘The market has become saturated with junk art!’, stated one artist. A couple of artists saw NFTs as exploitative ‘scams’ that instead of providing transparency and security propagated the exploitation of artists. Another explained that they ‘didn’t see NFTs being functional currently as they have no accessibility or utilisation. They may have use long term when it comes to displaying digital assets, but I worry this will only add unnecessary fees to things we currently have for free.’ Several artists raised ethical and ecological concerns about NFTs as being ‘bad for the environment’ and ‘a way for rich people to get even richer.’ These views echoed sentiments of Anil Dash, CEO of Glitch, who argued in a 2021 article for the Atlantic that ‘our dream of empowering artists hasn’t yet come true, but it has yielded a lot of commercially exploitable hype.’

Only a fifth of artists in our survey had made NFTs to sell. This seems to be because in order to sell, you ‘have to be familiar with crypto and how to transfer from wallet to wallet using MetaMask [a software cryptocurrency wallet].’ Those who did, noted the cost of ‘minting’ NFTs requires fees and so even if ‘the process is easy, it can get expensive.’

Despite these practical setbacks, a third of artists thought that NFTs are going to play a useful part in their development and career, and two thirds of artists thought that NFTs will be important for artists in the next decade. Several artists expressed the belief that NFTs ca