NFT artists who are making millions on their creations say the craze could permanently change the traditional art world

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NFT art has suddenly dominated headlines across the world, and it’s impact on the “traditional” art scene may be here to stay.

NFTs, or non-fungible tokens, are more straightforward than they sound. Basically, a NFT provides blockchain-backed “proof of ownership” on an item that the token is attached to. This could be anything, from the Nyan Cat meme to virtual NBA “moments” to an upcoming album from Kings of Leon.

Mainstream players like Grimes and Mark Cuban are also getting in on the NFT scene.

“I have a feeling it’s only going to get a lot bigger!” Trevor Jones, an artist who has an educational background in fine arts with a focus on drawing and painting, told Insider in an interview. “Ride that crypto wave! 

Jones, who has been a full-time artist since 2015, considers himself a “traditional painter,” but has been interested in the intersection between art and technology for the past decade, including exploring the NFT art space since 2019.

In homage to his training, all of Jones’ NFT work still begins as a traditional “physical” painting. And so far, this formula has been finding him massive success: His artwork has been selling for between $40,000 to $180,000 each, Jones told Insider.

And last month, he sold 4,157 pieces of his “open edition Bitcoin Angel” in seven minutes for $777 each, amounting to a total $3.2 million.

Despite his background of “traditional” art, Jones predicts this wave of NFT artists could defunct the longstanding art market.

“This digital art market is only getting warmed up and it could quite easily take over the $67 billion (physical) art market in the not too distant future,” Jones told Insider in an email interview. “The traditional art markets, galleries, and auction houses that don’t see this and don’t prepare will become obsolete in 10 to 15 years.”

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Mike Winkelmann — also known as Beeple, a wildly successful digital NFT artist with sales and resales amounting to millions of dollars — thinks galleries will in fact cater to this emerging market.

As Winkelmann explains it, entities like museums and auction houses are “gatekeepers” and curators of the art world. And as the NFT world grows, so will the “noise” that comes with being able “quite cheaply or easily” produce art.

“I still think you’re going to want other people to cut through the noise and show them cool things,” Winkelmann told Insider. “I really don’t think this is going to be the end of galleries or the end of some level of curation.”

For traditional galleries, this pivot could be replacing framed artwork with hanging video screens that will display these new digital works, an idea Winkelmann is already exploring.

Sergio Scalet of Hackatao, a pop NFT art duo based in Italy, also believes both curators and art experts will be essential in this emerging scene in order to tell the works’ stories. Scalet believes this could create a meeting place between the NFT and traditional art worlds. 

“Probably in the beginning, the traditional art world will be on defense, but as we can see from the creation of many new technologies and apps, the bridge [between the two] is happening,” Scalet told Insider. “Maybe these older entities [like galleries] should adapt and find a way to exist in this new space.”

And it seems like the traditional art world is already rapidly pivoting. Previously, these works of (often digital) art would have likely been rejected by old, standing art spaces. Now, traditionalists are scrambling to get a piece of the NFT art pie.

For example, in February, Christie’s listed Winkelmann’s “Everydays: The First 5,000 Days.” This will be the famed auction house’s first digital art sale and its first auction to accept cryptocurrency, specifically Ether.

The piece was sitting at $3.5 million as of March 5, and the auction is set to conclude on March 11.

The general art world’s growing receptiveness to digital — and NFT — art is now being noticed by people who’ve been integrated in the community for much longer.

“No shade, but there’s a lot of people [in the traditional art world] who would have never worked with us before we were in the NFT space,” Mark Sabb, founder of artist collective Felt Zine, told Insider in an interview. “They’re like gallerists and people we looked up to understanding they would never want to work with us, represent us, or really communicate with us deeply at all, who [are now doing so].”

Felt Zine was founded about a decade ago to “give voice” to art that likely wouldn’t be embraced by traditional galleries or museums.

Felt, which has always been deeply integrated in the digital art scene, was initially approached by artists who wanted the collective to enter the NFT space. These artists — which Sabb calls “early adopters of NFT” — then began asking Felt for sales representation and “crypto art exhibitions.”

Now, the collective is directly seeing the success in this recent NFT art boom: Its month-to-month sales volume has shot up 500% since mid-December 2020, Sabb told Insider.

Felt is also taking the idea of traditional art galleries and applying it to the online community by creating digital galleries and museums to showcase its artists’ work.

It’s a “new mode of experiencing this art,” Sabb says.

Bear Land by Mark Sabb for Felt Zine (2020) NFT art cryptoart

However, Sabb doesn’t expect galleries to go defunct if they don’t pivot to this NFT boom due to the inherent differences in business models. Also, many collectors still collect both traditional and NFT art, a trend Sabb says will continue to grow.

“I think that artists feeling empowered may change the relationship that they have with some gallerists, similar to the ways streaming impacted the music industry, for good and bad,” Sabb said. “But ultimately, we’re probably looking at a reality where we have a thriving NFT space while the traditional art galleries continue to sell art the ways they always have.”

Sabb also notes that some art is better viewed in a typical gallery, while others fare stronger in a digital gallery space. However, he still has his concerns.

“I think there’s a reality where the NFT space can create more pressure for galleries to become increasingly controlling of the artists they represent if we’re not careful,” Sabb said. “So yes, it can be liberating, but we have to purposely work towards that.”

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