This is a story about removing freeloading from the rare digital art space.
I occasionally see these slightly over the top, utopian-like claims by individuals working in the cryptoart space expressing how this decentralised market is going to radically change the current traditional art model, solve all the afflicting problems and replace it with a new, exciting and importantly, more egalitarian ideal in which everyone will benefit. I’m sorry to say, from my experience of working in both the old and the new worlds, the rare digital art space seems to be mirroring the traditional art market more every day. I won’t get into all the increasing similarities between the two as I believe much is common knowledge already. Saying that, one real beacon of light I have witnessed is the change in artist commissions on secondary sales. I don’t think the debate is finished yet and only time will tell how this new royalty system will impact ALL artists in the future but there’s already been rigorous discussion and the results are, in my eyes, having a positive impact in a variety of ways.
For example, I decided to put one of my first NFT purchases on the market just last night and I woke up this morning to a notification that my list price was met. Of course, I was over the moon with the sale, but I was also thrilled that the creator of the work received a 10% commission from SuperRare. As an artist it’s such a nice feeling to be part of an art transaction that truly is benefitting absolutely everyone involved, which brings me to the situation at hand and the reason why I’m writing this. Perhaps how this issue is resolved will be another reason to believe that this space really can build and improve on the traditional art sector.
I’ve had some unsettling conversations with someone over the last few days that have pissed me off. I’m not going to name names, but you know who you are. I was contacted last week by someone asking if I’d be interested in exhibiting some of my works in his virtual reality gallery. He explained that he was contacting a few of his favourite cryptoartists to be a part of this ‘inaugural class’ and he went on to suggest some of my works (physical and digital) that he particularly liked including my series of 21 Cubist Satoshi NFTs, each listed at 2 ETH. He’d done his research.
He informed me that the exhibition would be ‘free of cost’ but in return he would like a ‘watermarked’ digital edition of the artworks I submitted. I wasn’t entirely certain whether he simply wanted an image to display in the gallery like I had with the DCL Plaza kiosk at the Decentraland grand opening, as he hadn’t come out and directly said it, but it seemed that he wanted a minted NFT. I politely explained to him that as I make so few NFTs (only four 1/1s to date and a series of 21, ‘Cubist Satoshi’) that I didn’t feel comfortable giving one away. I thanked him for getting in touch and wished him all the best.
He got back to me the next day to let me know that he completely understood; however, shortly after, he messaged me again to inform me that one of the biggest artists in the space had now committed to the gallery event and that I was still very much welcome to get involved. He told me that the VR gallery and the artwork would receive ‘significant exposure’ and that my work would link back to my website or marketplace page. His words ‘significant exposure’ set off the alarm bells as it was becoming more apparent that he was trying hard to sell me on the concept. I’ve been around the art scene long enough to be acutely aware of the situation so many artists in their career face at one point or another – to give away or create artwork for someone in return for ‘publicity’.
Of course, there’s a very long tradition of artists offering artwork for charity fundraisers as #1 it’s a great way for an artist to support the charities they believe in and #2 it can provide the (usually young or early career stage artist) an opportunity to get more eyes on their work. Although it’s only changed in the last 5 – 10 years, charity exhibitions now tend to take a 50/50 cut as they realised that artists need to eat too. This shift occurred mostly due to social media and artists getting fed up with the constant email barrage by charities wanting them to give away artwork for a ‘good cause’. Charities began to find out the hard way that taking advantage of artists’ good will was not at all a good look. Nowadays charities give the artist the opportunity to keep 50% of the sale and, if the artist so chooses, they can gift the full 100% to the charity. Giving artists the option is the fair and right thing to do.
This situation I’m writing about was not at all like a charity event and I’m very conscious of how little bang for buck the ‘artwork for publicity’ transaction usually is for the artist.
I messaged him back to once again politely turn down his offer. I went into a little more detail this time and explained that my 1/1 NFTs have all sold very quickly and that there are only about half of the Cubist Satoshi series left and I know they will all sell at some point for the 2 ETH list price. I asked him, “why would I give away a $350 (2 ETH) artwork to a brand new VR gallery space that in all honesty is unlikely going to drive sales for me anyway?”
I wouldn’t have had any problem with him or the conversation up to this point to be honest and I could have chalked it up to him not being that knowledgeable about the art world or, perhaps even a little naïve that he believed that the artists would benefit greatly, but what he said in his next message is what pissed me off.
“Zero need for sorries, and wholly understood! We've moved on with (Artist X) and (Artist Y) and (Marketplace Z) so all good. From the Gallery's perspective, it's about widening the collector base to the greatest extent possible, so that top crypto artists whose works already are reaching ~50-100 ETH can hit multiples of that, the sooner the better; plus a rising tide lifts all boats. As someone who collects (insert 20th century, famous dead artist here) and recently bought one of his pencil sketches for $22,500, I think, "why not?" Regardless, you're kicking butt for the community -- please keep fighting the good fight, Trevor!”
What a load of bullshit! First off, he begins with the fact that although it had been less than 12 hours since I declined his offer he has already ‘moved on with other artists…’ which is a little patronising. Dude, I honestly don’t care as I didn’t want to be involved from the beginning, but you do have some cheek pointing that out with those choice of words. Secondly, you’re trying to sell me on the artists ‘already reaching 50 -100 ETH can hit multiples’ notion? Get the fuck outta her you ridiculous car salesman. Yes, these figures could (and hopefully will) be hit at some point in the future, but it definitely won’t be because of your prepubescent VR gallery. And lastly, and this is what got me, he’s happy to pay $22.5K for a dead artist’s pencil sketch but he expects a living artist who is not wealthy or famous and who is working in this space to gift him a $350 artwork in return for ‘publicity’? He then has the audacity to tell me that ‘a rising tide lifts all boats’?
Go fuck yourself, you parasite!
I responded by challenging him on his statements but without the profanity as I was still trying to keep it somewhat professional on my end. He got back to me with a long, drawn out apology that he ‘believes something has been lost in translation and that the gallery takes no commission.”
I don’t give a fuck if you take commission or not. You NEVER EVER expect an artist to give you artwork for free in return for ‘publicity’.
This individual has no history of running a gallery. He has no track record. He has no history of selling artwork. There is no evidence that he has a huge database of art collectors knocking on his door to buy artwork. He does not have a whale-like collection of NFTs in which he’s putting his money where his mouth is and truly investing in artists and the community. He has no history of proving that he’s improved any artist’s life (and bank account) by genuinely working with them and honestly expanding their clientele base and yet he expects artists to gift him art with the notion that they will benefit from ‘significant publicity’?!
I don’t know if this individual is just not very bright or if he’s delusional, or more likely, he is intelligent and a big-time chancer. The cryptoart space is currently made up of a very small community and every collector out there is already aware of who the most well-known artists are, and if a collector is new to the game, they’ll find out very quickly through means other than a nascent ‘gallery’ in virtual reality. If this individual truly wanted to help the community and he doesn’t have much of a budget (although I assume he does if he admits to paying $22K for a drawing, or he’s lying about it), he should be contacting less well known artists who are creating great work, buy their NFTs while they’re still affordable and then support these artists and showcase these pieces to draw attention to these talents and raise their profiles - like a commercial art gallery does, funnily enough. It’s a win win.
‘A rising tide lifts all boats’, you fucking twat.
He also stated, “Another point I think was misunderstood -- if we get more eyes, and more collectors in the space (such as via galleries in virtual worlds), wouldn't the "rising tide" shine more of a light on all cryptoartists' works, veteran or new, successful or still unknown?”
Yes, I can understand that but dude, if you are so focused and intent on trying to help artists in this space, new or veteran, and you are more than happy to pay $22K for an artwork, buck the fuck up and pay $350 for an NFT from an ‘old veteran’ artist to help raise the profile of your gallery and the other artists you so selflessly ‘represent’. Let’s be honest here, raising the profile of the gallery is the only reason he’s reaching out to the most well-known artists.
Another thing that pissed me off was that before I declined his ‘generous’ offer the second time, I suggested a 25% discounted price which would have brought the cost of the NFT down to $260 and yet, that wasn’t good enough and he still wanted my work for free. That proved to me just how little he was concerned with ‘helping’ the community and how much more it was about benefitting himself at the expense of artists. He also tried to explain to me that he was only asking for a minted work that had a watermark because, in his words, “the point of the watermark is to elevate the original artist-owned work” and “An artist can produce an extra edition of a work (presumably free of cost)”.
WTF? How is it going to ‘elevate’ my work? To be honest, if I minted a #22 NFT of my Cubist Satoshi, watermarked it and gave it to him, it will no longer be a series of 21, which is kind of important! Moreover, with a watermark the piece would be visually unique with regards to the previous 21 and, who knows, it’s possible that this could add even more value to the artwork in the future. Regardless, I also think the idea is ridiculous because the old school watermark concept goes entirely against the point of minting artwork on the blockchain. Watermarks have become obsolete in the NFT world. The dude is one serious chancer.
I was scrolling through twitter a few days ago and I saw someone’s post about how they now recognise the value of ‘location, location, location’ in the VR world. This person had purchased two VR parcels a while ago and they’d recently noticed how the footfall next to one was something like 800 in a week and the footfall beside the other plot was over 4,000 because it was right next to Coldie’s gallery. This proves without a doubt that quality art by a well-known, active artist in the space brings value to the parcel and even the land around it. So, this individual who is contacting established artists in the space and, I found out, calling the CEO of an art marketplace, looking to acquire free work is much more likely trying to raise the value of his land than actually taking an honest interest in artists and trying to help them. You gotta give credit where credit is due, this guy had some big balls getting in touch with the CEO of an NFT marketplace to ask him if the artists he works with would be willing to gift artwork to his gallery. If anything like this happened in the traditional art sector that person would be absolutely annihilated and would never ever been seen in the art world again.
From what I understand a few artists have already gifted him artwork for his gallery. I spoke privately with one of them yesterday to fill them in and, understandably, after hearing about my conversations with this individual, this artist is no longer at all happy with the transaction. My advice to any artist who has given work away for free with the offer of ‘publicity’ in return (to someone who has not offered you a realistic breakdown as to how this will genuinely benefit you and has no track record of selling art) is to ask for that artwork back immediately. Seriously, you should and here’s why:
Loads of people in this space harp on about how broken and horrible the traditional gallery system is in that the gallery expects 50% commission, give or take. Yet, with this scenario, the individual is expecting the artwork and 100% of its attached value in return for a link to a URL. That’s it. At least a commercial gallery is committing to selling your work because if they don’t, they go out of business and they lose everything. A successful gallerist needs to work hard to develop their clientele list. They bring to the table all the knowledge, history, education and tools they have to raise the profile of the artists they represent. Yes, 50% is crazy but it’s a heck of a lot better than giving away an artwork to an individual who cannot explain how he will draw in legitimate buyers to his gallery to: view the artwork on display, click the URL, go to the artist’s marketplace, open their wallet and purchase that artist’s artwork. He’s doing nothing except fill his VR plot with art by some of the most established artists in the space thereby raising the value of his land parcel with each and every piece gifted to him. A pretty cushy deal don’t you think? Let’s state a fact: If you let this type of activity permeate and persist throughout the cryptoart community you’re doing a disservice to everyone else in the space.
Do you want to build a better world for artists? If you care about the cryptoart marketplace and the artists involved (current and future artists), this needs to be nipped in the bud, artwork needs to be returned to their owners and this individual needs a serious wake up call.
And to you, you know who you are, your best course of action is to write a long and heartfelt open letter of apology to the entire crypto community explaining how you weren’t fully aware of what you were doing or the negative consequences of your actions etc etc, you get the idea. Most importantly, return all the artwork that was given to you for free or, even better, buy it from the artists. If you do this, I’m more than happy to let all of this go and to publicly thank you for accepting responsibility for your actions and for doing the right thing.
I would like to end on a positive note, and I would like to hear from other artists in this space as to what you think could be done to ensure this type of situation doesn’t occur on a regular basis – or more preferably, ever again. As I’d mentioned at the beginning, there are some beacons of light shining in this space that do separate it from the admittedly flawed traditional gallery system. Yes, the cryptoart space is flawed as well, people are flawed, which doesn’t make things easy, but I do believe that if the big issues are addressed as quickly as possible that the best outcome will be achieved, fingers crossed.
Lastly, thanks to this series of events I’m going to add one more tip to my Artist Checklist for Success blog post.
Tip # 61 Don’t ever give away artwork for free if the person asking for it subtlety tries to guilt trip you or only promises you ‘significant publicity’ in return.