“You have to realize that behind the [Beeple] $69 million sales, there’s very modest prices that are supporting a lot of legitimate artists,” said digital creator Matt Kane.
In effect, NFTs provide an immutable record of ownership for art buyers. In conjunction, they can receive the original artwork through the mail if it was created physically. In any event, the blockchain-based deed will always be a public testament to the transaction that happened directly from the artist to the customer. This value proposition is one that can apply to the most famous creators as well as to emerging players in the space. If an art collector believes in the quality of a piece, she can reward its creator directly for her work. Below are 7 artists whose life changed thanks to the invention and proliferation of NFTs:
Emily Yang, whose pen name is pplpleasr, is a New York-based digital artist who made a fortune putting her artworks up for sale as NFTs. Following her rescinded job offer at Apple when the COVID-19 pandemic hit along with a slew of rejections ensuing, she hit a low point in her life. At that stage, she started making art for the sake of it while up until then it was always within the context of a school or professional assignment. At around the same time, a friend of hers introduced her to the world of DeFi, DAOs, and NFTs. Her exposure to the crypto-community on Twitter gripped her. “I couldn’t help but notice two things,” Yang recounts. “First: The community, culture around memes, and sense of humor highly resonated with my own. Second: There was a shortage of creative talent in promotional efforts in the space.”
From then on, through referrals and a keen entrepreneurial spirit, Yang started creating 3D animations for DeFi projects. Building her portfolio, she ended up securing a gig for the NFT Virtual Summit organized by Andreesen Horowitz and the Stanford Center for Blockchain Research. Next, she was commissioned to make a video teaser for Uniswap V3. Her two most celebrated pieces, Apes Together Strong and x*y=k, were both fruits of these projects. She later auctioned them off as NFTs and respectively sold them for USD 111,186 and USD 986,911. Notably, a DAO by the name of PleasrDAO formed around her to purchase her pieces as investments. At first, pplpleasr’s involvement with NFTs was primarily motivated by a need to earn a living in a tumultuous time. Nowadays, she takes on the larger responsibility to drive forward the NFT and DeFi movements. She namely gives a sizable portion of her NFT-sale earnings to charitable causes in the space.
Victor Langlois, more widely known by his alias FEWOCiOUS, is a Seattle-based NFT artist. Most famously, not only did his pieces make it to the illustrious auction house Christie’s, but they also had its website crash due to the traffic garnered from contending bidders. His story is one of hardship to discover his sexual identity and build himself back up after leaving a truculent family context. To date, his most expensive artwork The EverLasting Beautiful sold for USD 550,000, and the aggregate value of his NFT sales amounts to the colossal sum of USD 18 million. His first piece ever sold as an NFT, i Always Think of You, was purchased for slightly over USD 1000.
Langlois’s Christie’s collection was introduced on its website as “his inspiring journey from Las Vegas to Seattle, and from Victoria to Victor Langlois.” It features artworks that made up his journal where drawings and writings overlap. It tells a tale of struggle, catharsis, and soul-searching with him finally accepting himself as a transgender man. Because he had disciplinarian guardians with a close-minded outlook on queer rights, his only outlet ever was his art, even outside his home environment at school. By fear of retribution, he would draw digitally on a tablet to conceal his deepest expressive impulses. Years later, after studying how to publicize his art and monetize it to “””””””””” he sells his creations for millions. Indeed, the authenticity of his creative outlet and his eye-watering story shines through.
Vyankka, who goes by the pseudonym Squirterer, is a 24-year-old digital artist from the Philippines. She generated non-trivial revenue from selling NFTs online. Based in Davao, Mindanao, a group of islands in the country’s south, she has been able to earn the totality of her income from selling crypto art since 2018. Squirterer first started creating digital art on a $50 tablet. Later on, she was able to acquire an iPad Pro for her crafts, thanks to the rewards in ETH and Hive she had earned respectively from selling NFTs and writing blogs about her artworks.
Squirterer learned everything she needed to know about cryptocurrencies and decentralized platforms on Hive where she published pieces focused on her art. Indeed, she learned how to convert Hives to ETH and ETH to pesos first through Coins.ph and then through Bittrex and Binance. Suffering from PTSD and having always wanted to pursue a career in fine arts, she was told she could not because she was “too emotional.” To this, she tweeted: “‘You’re too emotional” Ok imma make money out of it.” Her most famous piece to date is the fruit of a collaboration with Kitty Bast and is called The Dauntless. It sold for 5 ETH, which traded for USD 16,859 at the time.
Michelle Soneja del Mundo who usually goes by Shelly Soneja is a digital artist and art director from the Philippines. She has said that the concept of digital scarcity has been “a game-changer especially for digital artists.” It came as a pleasant surprise when the 10 editions of the first artwork she minted sold out for 0.1 ETH each, which at the time was equivalent to USD 38. She stated: “For people in developed countries, maybe that amount is not much” but that it meant a lot to her as someone “from Asia, from a developing country on top of that and being a digital artist who has never really seen that kind of amount of money.”
Nowadays, Soneja works for the blockchain game studio Altitude Games. As part of her tenure there, she released an NFT avatar project called DJEnerates. Its current floor price on Open Sea is 0.04 ETH (USD 134) with a volume traded of 152 ETH (USD 510,000). On the project website, it is announced that the perks of the exclusive 10,000-person membership include metaverse clubbing: “Get access to DJENERATES hosted events in the Metaverse and party all night long with us in Decentraland. Special trait DJENERATES collectors will gain access to the VIP Amnesia balcony in Decentral Games and all DJENS will be invited to our October launch party in Decentral Games.”
Alejandra Glez is a 24-year-old Cuban feminist artist who was the first in her country to mint and sell an NFT. In only eight minutes, she was able to earn no less than 3 ETH, equivalent at the time to USD 5,700. This is all the more significant considering that the monthly minimum wage in Cuba is 480 pesos, amounting to about USD 20. Given that the Cuban economy has been severely affected by the COVID-19 pandemic with its impact on travel and tourism, Glez paved the way for other artists to follow in her footsteps.
Glez’s NFTs are meant to be thought-provoking and hold a mirror up to society regarding its treatment of women. Her diptych Presence and Absence is a tribute to all women worldwide who were victims of injustices she purposely exposes. She does so, in her own words, “by exploring the lives of women claimed by femicides, migrant women enduring extreme hardship, and victims of gender-based violence.” Indeed, she hails NFTs as a medium thanks to which she can express herself fully without having to pass through the hoops of courting a gallery or curator. She reveals: “What’s most important to me is that this drop contains my unapologetically feminist work; it’s not art made for the sole intention of being minted.”
Jason Osinachi is a digital artist from Aba, Nigeria. As an aspiring writer in his youth, he would use Microsoft Word to write poems and short stories. When he got bored and needed to take a short break before he could refocus his mind, he would play with the drawing tools on the software. Today, he is one of Africa’s foremost NFT artists and earns income in US dollars which affords him a comfortable life. Fifteen years later, he uses no more than a touchscreen HP laptop to draw his artworks.
Osinachi’s priciest piece Resignation sold for 20 ETH — USD 35,919 at the time of the transaction. Further, his digital drawings Mirror Mirror and Am I Pretty were respectively purchased for 9 and 13.2 ETH, equivalent to USD 16,227 and USD 23,633 when auctioned off. Osinachi has had a long history of making art and trying to live off it with limited success. He ended up as an academic librarian but never stopped creating and trying to earn a living through his craft. When the NFT boom in March 2020 hit, he had already been learning the ABCs of minting NFTs online for two years. In December 2019, NFT art collectors bought Osinachi’s pieces for 1 ETH when the cryptocurrency exchanged for merely USD 150. Today he sells pieces which he completes in a day for tens of ETH.
From Yogyakarta, Indonesia, Rifqi Ardiansyah whose pseudonym is rubahitam is an NFT artist. He has sold a total of 50 artworks for a tidy sum of 44.978 ETH, equal to USD 155,333. Accordingly, Rifqi Ardiansyah has stated: “Crypto art has changed my life.” As a freelance motion designer, it has given him the freedom to express himself unadulteratedly. He remarks: “No revisions, no fixes, no tweaks, no notes given by clients.” Thanks to the NFTs he has sold online, Ardiansyah has been able to nearly quintuple the income he would normally earn from commissioned work.
At 25 years old, Ardiansyah recognizes that something fundamentally changed in the Indonesian art market. Deloitte’s 2019 Art and Finance Report relays that the auction market in Southeast Asia accounts for only USD 41 million. In contrast, it is a USD 2.5 billion industry in the United States, USD 112 million in China, and USD 92 million in South Asia. Because of the lack of alternate opportunities, Southeast Asian artists are hired for their cheap labor both nationally and internationally without holding any copyright to their craft. With the advent of NFTs art collectors can now circumvent middlemen and directly interact with artists. They can thus reward disenfranchised creators for their artistic labor. Accordingly, with NFTs local artists can henceforth put an end to exploitative treatment by art dealers and secondary salesmen.
This article tells a story of NFTs as a technology that bridges the opportunity gap and levels the playing field between artists worldwide. Whether for musicians, game developers, or any company wishing to append an immutable, digital deed to limited-edition products, NFTs are transforming several professions. Detractors of NFTs’ disruption of the art market will argue that not only do they predominantly concentrate wealth in the hands of a few, but they also put vulnerable populations in danger due to their environmental toll. Indeed, the barriers to entry to minting an NFT are high and can be prohibitive for digital artists from low-income countries. Putting food on the table or paying a month’s worth of income in gas fees to mint an NFT as a dilemma bodes only moderately well for a technology that promises to equalize. This is especially true when the outcome of an NFT auction is mostly uncertain. Nonetheless, the advent of astounding rags-to-riches stories and special-purpose blockchains geared at tuning out current technological setbacks offers a different perspective. Effectively, NFTs are already standing out as a net positive for the global art economy.