While blockchain is best known as a digital, immutable ledger, some are viewing the technology as inspiration for a new medium of artwork inspired by bitcoin, systems of decentralization and financial freedom.
Blockchain’s impact on the billion-dollar art market was evident during the recent Art Basel Miami Beach event, which showcased nearly a dozen different panels on art and blockchain. Many of these discussions took place in venues surrounded by crypto-themed artwork from various artists.
We’ve been talking about ‘art meets blockchain’ for about five years now. When it’s starting to become a topic of conversation at Art Basel, that means it’s now at that point where enough artists are thinking about it. We’re going to see some extraordinary use cases emerge that will lead to big things,” Brock Pierce, entrepreneur and blockchain community leader, told me. “Christie’s has been looking into it, as have many respectable auction houses, and there are companies like Codex who are building a decentralized asset registry on fine art and collectibles”
Finding Inspiration Across The Blockchain
While crypto art might be a new niche for 2019, blockchain-based artwork first emerged in the art world four years ago, in the form of Sarah Meyohas’s “Bitchcoin” (2015). The project was said to be a natural manifestation of the New York-based artist’s central interests, which she characterized as “how you create value, what value is, and what value means,” along with how value could be represented.
Four years later, a handful of other crypto artists have emerged, proving that blockchain is more than just a technology.
Artist, performer and speaker, VESA, founded ArtForCrypto.com in 2017, which is now rapidly establishing new creative standards in the blockchain art space.
According to VESA, his journey into the blockchain space started ten years ago, when he was involved in creating a documentary film about how the fiat monetary system works. For VESA, this innovated a new pricing system on how to sell art.
The jump to blockchain was natural once I understood how many missing solutions it offered for the digital age. However, the real trigger for me happened a couple of years back, during a coffee session with a friend who told me he had become a blockchain investor. He spoke about his progress and how he spent days trying to find a suitable piece illustrating this new world to his office, yet he couldn’t find anything. I quickly realized what an opportunity this was and how it aligned with my values relating to crypto. The next four months consisted of total immersion time, with almost no sleep and feverish research, while creating the first pieces and the ArtForCrypto.com platform. The process inspired one of my pieces entitled ‘Red Eye.’ This movement truly is a vortex that sucks you in once the satoshi drops,” VESA told me.
A series of personal experiences also inspired Argentinian-born artist, Nanu Berks, to start creating crypto-themed art.
I began creating artwork inspired by the decentralization of power back in 2002 and 2008, when the monetary crisis was happening in Argentina. My family had all of our life-savings stolen by the banks and the government. We ended up on the street without jobs, or access to education, food or supplies. I then started to spray-paint the outside of banks and street-walls with messages of freedom and heartfelt rebellion,” Nanu told me.
As soon as Nanu was old enough, she began traveling the world, trading murals and offering creativity workshops in exchange for living accommodations. Simply put, Nanu found herself living a very “decentralized” life.
While my art has always been about consciousness expansion and upcoming systems of decentralization, I started tagging my art as ‘crypto-art’ and ‘blockchain or tech-art’ about three years ago, once I had a better understanding of the technology. I then realized its vocabulary already fit the intention of my work. Oddly enough, nomadic values of a shared and trade/gift economy, line up spectacularly with the idea of tokenization,” Nanu explained.
For Sergey Gordienko, artist and founder of MTSG Art, the notion of decentralization inspired a series of his crypto-themed creations.
I created my first piece of cryptoart in early 2017, before the hype. I remember one evening I accidently watched a documentary film about bitcoin and blockchain technology. The decentralization idea completely blew my mind. I was so inspired and excited that for a couple of months that I stopped working on my other projects to focus solely on crypto art. I knew that this movement would change our life and society, and I wanted to tell everyone about it. I then created e-commerce website called Bit Gift Shop, where people could purchase t-shirts with my original cryptoart designs using cryptocurrency,” said Gordienko.
Yet while personal experiences appear to be a key factor for many crypto artists, the possibilities of a new financial system triggered by cryptocurrency has also been inspiring.
For at least 6,000 years, kings and governments have controlled the money supply for people. The launch of bitcoin started the separation of money and state. It will soon be natural that we have various digital coins. Also, bitcoin does not require only humans to participate, as crypto will be the natural choice of AI when it starts autonomously trading online. What all that means for the trading markets is impossible to say at this point, but seeing the development of bitcoin and other self-programming military AI innovations, it is likely to be foundational for the whole system. We’ve already seen AI art being sold at Christie’s for significant sums. The piece “HELLO’ refers to our current and emerging reality – AI is already among us, and it is saying hello,” VESA explained.
As for Nanu, many of her pieces focus on intention, trust, and transparency, all of which are unique characteristics of digital currencies.
Early on I focused on messages of freedom from breaking down the current financial system, yet I quickly felt seduced and intrigued by the symbology in all things tech. I am interested in the social impact that visual/experiential art can have on us for mass-adoption. We make art to store our memories and design who we become, to share our identity and knowledge with each other. I hope with my creations I can pass on the remembering to honor our nature, trust in our intuition, and build systems that empower a wholesome future. Additionally, most of my work has the signature detail of a made up language of equations with a dyslexic style mixing numbers as letters and crypto symbols to spell out encrypted messages within the work. I also often use upcycled materials in my work, including old world-wide currency and computer parts,” said Nanu.
A Blessing In Disguise: The Bear Market
Even amidst the current cryptocurrency bear market, the crypto-themed artwork movement seems to be taking off and gaining traction.
For instance, the Lynx Art Collection, offers a variety of crypto-themed artwork that can be purchased using cryptocurrency. In September of 2017, right before Bitcoin reached its all time high of nearly $20,000, the art retailer began offering blockchain inspired pieces in exchange for litecoin, monero, ether and bitcoin payments.
Yet according to a recent Coindesk article, even when market prices dropped, their gallery sales continued climbing.
“The bear market didn’t really affect our sales throughout the majority of 2018,” Frank McKeever revealed to CoinDesk.
McKeever also mentioned that the Lynx Art Collection had received more than 500 crypto payments for various prints and artworks by December 2018, making up roughly 75% of its annual sales.
The bear market is a blessing. It is the grandmother showing up to disrupt our lives, it is the tsunami of perspective coming in to wipe down all unnecessary building, neon and noise, and ground us back on the intention of what we are actually building and why. When market value goes up, so does our energy, curiosity and inspiration, yet without the need to be extra cautious when it comes to allocating funds, time, etc, things often move too fast. This wake-up call is wonderful to help us fine-tune and understand what is actually needed, versus all the shiny things we want to throw into the ether. All stages are necessary for contrast and re-evaluation,” said Nanu.
Echoing Nanu, VESA views the current crypto bear market as an opportunity to focus less attention on cryptocurrency prices and more on innovation.
While the bear market has made raising funds for projects more difficult and has even slowed down sales, the larger vision of this allows me to not be as reactionary as the ‘basic trader bros’ tend to be. In this case, having some depth and not caring much for lambos is a not just virtue signaling. It is survival and mental peace tactic that now might come across authentic to even those just after a quick buck. The ‘Fork And Flip” piece, among other things, helps to see the natural part of the winter to the summer,” said VESA.
The bear market has also inspired many of Gordienko’s “HODL” pieces.
“When the crypto marked started falling, I tried to explain what I had learned, which is don’t try to cheat the market or invest more than you can lose. Overall, it’s important not to panic and ‘HODL.’ I’ve created some artwork demonstrating these messages.”
The Future Of Crypto-Themed Art: Both Functional and Decorative
Interestingly enough, artist Troy Fearnow, Founder of CryptoArt, has come up with clever ways to combine crypto artwork with cold storage for digital currencies.
I had fallen deeply down the Bitcoin rabbit hole and was convinced this was the beginning of a long, transformative movement. Art is often associated with great movements, and there weren’t many artists participating in the space at the time. I previously owned an online art retailer, so I had some experience with selling art. This was essentially my small contribution to the space. I then came up with the idea of combining art and bitcoin cold storage,” Fearnow told me.
Many of Fearnow’s pieces also act as cold wallet storage for cryptocurrencies, while illustrating a powerful message.
“One of my favorite pieces of crypto-themed artwork is ‘The Halving.’ This piece not only covers an event and property (decreasing supply distribution) of bitcoin, but it reminds us of how the private key / public key relationship allows for transfer without intermediaries and guards sound money supply,” said Fearnow.
The Halving was created by artist Christina Hess in celebration of the 2016 Bitcoin Halving. “The Halvening” is an event that occurs approximately every four years and signifies a reduction in the rate in which new bitcoin is released. In July of 2016, the amount of bitcoin released in each new block dropped from 25 to 12.5. Since new blocks are generated on average every ten minutes, this represented a significant reduction in the dilutive effect of new bitcoin, as 75% of all bitcoin that will ever be created was released by this point.
And whether crypto-themed artwork is functional or purely decorative, most artists involved with this new movement believe that artwork inspired by blockchain technology is here to stay.
As crypto art is as much in its infancy as are the currencies, we will soon see it surpass the average logo polishing, tech gimmickry, and plain propaganda. As blockchains become more stable, and the rules become more clear on the regulatory side, we will see many more inspired by what is possible here. Personally, the current challenge is fundraising for great opportunities that have been earmarked for 2019 and 2020. It is about letting people know just how much they can benefit from associating with substantial art that has reach and clarity,” said VESA.