Crypto art: A decentralized view

We wrote a decentralized position paper on crypto art, which includes viewpoints from different actors of the system, namely artists Martin Lukas Ostachowski and Sergio Scalet, collector Sebastián Hernández, gallerists Jonathan Perkins and James Morgan, art historians T’ai Smith and Blake Finucane, as well as data scientists Massimo Franceschet and Giovanni Colavizza. The full paper is available on arXiv.

The writing process went as follows:

  1. a general definition of the topic was put forward and used as reference to ask to a set of diverse authors to contribute with their viewpoints asynchronously and independently. No guidelines were offered before the first draft.
  2. Afterwards, all authors read and commented on each other’s work. Every author was asked to suggest open questions and future perspectives on the topic of crypto art from their vantage point, while keeping full control of their own sections at all times.

While this process does not necessarily guarantee the uniformity expected from, say, a research article, it allows for multiple voices to emerge and provide for a contribution on a common topic.

O Snail, by crypto artist HEX0x6C, is on SuperRare gallery
Tokenized Cloud Sphere, by crypto artist ArtbyMLO, is on KnownOrigin gallery
Rez.Girl, by crypto artist Hackatao, is on SuperRare gallery

In the following we summarize and knit together the main threads emerged during this writing experiment.

Understanding the crypto-artistic movement

Art scholars’ T’ai Smith and Blake Finucane provide much needed historical and critical depth to crypto art, uncovering that while the mix of blockchain technology and digital art might be new, there are antecedents to consider and be informed by. In this respect, crypto art offers to scholars a singularly compelling entry point to study the encounter of art, technology and socio-economic systems in the digital space.

Crypto art values

The crypto art phenomenon is intimately linked to the values that the blockchain technology has come to represent. Crypto art is, in the words of SuperRare gallerist Jonathan Perkins, a new idea in an ancient field. Decentralization, democratization and individual control are themes emerging from the viewpoints of both artists, gallerists and collectors. For the artists, crypto art represents in this sense a way to get and keep control of their artworks, and reap related benefits. Sometimes these values are not fully materialized yet, such for example in the case — discussed by KnownOrigin’s James Morgan and artist Martin Lukas Ostachowski — of the gallery-centralized verification and authentication of artists and artworks.

Engagement and community

Crypto art is seen as an artistic phenomenon most appealing to a broader and younger cohort of potential artists and collectors, including but spanning beyond the crypto community. This point is made explicitly by both artists and gallerists, who have an interest and appreciation for their community of peers and customers. The artist Sergio Scalet from Hackatao highlights how crypto art allows them to move across the physical and the digital spaces, with a speed and freedom of experimentation previously unknown. The space for exploration is still quite wide if we consider that, until now, crypto artists have been focusing on the relatively traditional format of rectangular images and GIFs, as T’ai Smith and Blake Finucane aptly note. While for the artists crypto art makes for an opportunity to engage with new peers in the digital art space, as well as to attract new buyers, for gallerists the engagement with the community goes through the task of ever perfecting their platforms in terms of services and ease of on-boarding. For Jonathan Perkins, the biggest opportunity in crypto art is to bring the collector side of the market to maturity, by designing marketplaces to maximize the benefits of transparency, provenance, liquidity, social signaling, and online collection management. Crypto art might be, in this respect, just the beginning of a whole new way to create, exchange and experience art in the digital space, of which the collector Sebastián Hernández gives a compelling example discussing art exhibition in the VR world Decentraland.

Economics of crypto art

The economic aspects of crypto art are crucial to the viewpoints of almost all contributors. For the artists, crypto art offers a way to directly market their own artworks without mediation and at unprecedented speed: a crucial possibility especially for new artists, as Martin Lukas Ostachowski underlines. Crypto art’s immediate economic incentives, and their sometimes unintended consequences, are discussed and historically contextualized by the art scholars T’ai Smith and Blake Finucane. In a curious twist of history, crypto art has finally materialized Duchamp’s and the conceptual artists’ attempt to get rid of material objects in order to expose and disrupt the traditional art market. In doing so, it has created a much more rapid market for digital artifacts, whose velocity makes it akin to financial trading in some respects, according to the data scientists. Perhaps as a consequence of the high speed and the relative lack of control on artwork publishing, a significant current challenge for crypto artists is artwork hyperinflation (Sergio Scalet) or over-tokenization (Martin Lukas Ostachowski). The sheer amount of new artworks does not allow for users and buyers to experience, digest and eventually buy artworks before a flood of new creations arrives. Hyperinflation has not only the effect of depressing prices, but also of preventing a secondary market to emerge. A possible step forward could be to propose curated experiences, either directly by third parties and processes or using Decentralized Autonomous Organizations (DAOs) and Token-Curated Registries (TCRs).

Blockchain technology and applications

While Crypto Art is fully engaging with crypto technology, there is a shared agreement that the movement has not fully tapped into the potential of blockchain technology and value system. A relevant point has been made regarding the use of crypto currencies whose volatility makes the market, and collectors’ behavior in particular, more difficult to analyze and predict. The recent growth in adoption of stablecoins might offer a way forward in this respect, as discussed by Sebastián Hernández. Another striking example is the lack of interoperability among galleries, which use different standards and identification of artists and artworks. This has the direct effect of currently limiting the secondary market to within-gallery exchanges. Another, related problem is the system-wide verification of counterfeiting: a solution across the crypto art world might come from DAOs and TCRs in this case as well. System-wide interoperability would also allow for extra-system (re-)use of crypto artworks, as well as for the creation of third-party services such as a crypto art analytics platform proposed by Sebastián Hernández.

Crypto art analytics

A crypto art analytics platform would require first and foremost the collection and alignment of data from different galleries or, more conveniently, their adoption of a shared standard to expose them programmatically. It would further necessitate the development of crypto art metrics informative to the different users of the platform, such as artists, collectors, gallerists and even by-standers. This is a direction for future work proposed by data scientists Massimo Franceschet and Giovanni Colavizza. Furthermore, the open availability of crypto art data, or context, will ultimately allow data scientists to model the transaction system and predict the future success of individual artworks and artists. Crypto art offers the full availability of artwork data (images and metadata), transaction data (bids and sales) and social data (likes and views), and thus will allow to study the mechanics of success in art and creative industries, perhaps at unprecedented detail.

The full paper is available on arXiv.

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