Today, I’m highlighting one of the many amazing artists working in the crypto art world who’s fighting to build a more democratic, decentralized space for artists to thrive in.
Nanu Berks is one of my favorite artists in the industry today, and I wanted to give her some space to tell us more about the emerging world of blockchain art.
So, in her own words:
From a young age, I knew I wanted to spend my life creating art. My parents were supportive of my goals, but they did push me to study a field with a more defined career path.
Even then, I was told it would be difficult to make a career in the art world.
I ended up going offline and living outside the system after college. I traveled through South and Central America, bartering my paintings and decorating walls with murals for something to eat or a place to stay for the week.
When I was near the pyramids in Chichen Itza back in 2012, everyone was freaking out about the end of the Mayan calendar. In this complex, with its near-mythical history, I met a hippie who started telling me about Bitcoin and got me interested in the concept.
So, when I finally came back on the grid, I began sharing my work and learning about blockchain and crypto. I’d always been keenly interested in technology, so naturally I created artwork that reflected my interests in blockchain, AI, and futuristic tech.
Working in the world of crypto art has been an amazing experience, but like any emerging space, there are both exciting opportunities and challenges to overcome on the path forward.
Here are my insights into the crypto art industry based on my on-grid and off-grid experiences:
Being a crypto artist allows for unique opportunities and challenges.
There are three types of artists in the blockchain space today. First, there are artists who have already “made it,” and have plenty of opportunities offered to them. On the other hand, you have the community artist — someone who has a day job, but likes to work on their art on the side.
But the vast majority of work is created by what I call the “middle class.” These are the artists who’ve made the leap into working on their art full-time, but have yet to achieve the success enjoyed by their better-known peers.
This third group is where we’re seeing some of the most interesting work being done, even as they face some of the greatest challenges in the space.
When it comes to the “class” question, I’m in an odd position, because I’m transitioning into a more well-known role. And it’s weird. The press and opportunities I’ve received reflect the work I’ve put in, but my bank account has been slower to follow suit. I still have to take on a certain number of projects to make ends meet.
I’ve always been obsessed with technology, so I found my way into the crypto space naturally. The only difference is that I don’t create digital art. My art is all in the physical realm and done by hand. The industry is seeing the production of a ton of digital art — so I think the idea of working through physical mediums to create crypto art is pretty unique.
I like to paint gears, to use old computer scraps and cold wallets to make new blockchain art. At one point I actually went to the recycling center in Austin and got scrapped spray paint cans to use for some of my work.
I was tired of seeing cyber-trash everywhere, so many of my favorite pieces are salvaged from recycled materials — even the spray paint.
Of course, working on this type of art full-time isn’t easy. It’s incredibly fulfilling, I just hope that by having these conversations we can all work together to stop perpetuating the old ways that have dominated the art industry for so long.
The industry as a whole needs to do a better job of supporting the middle class of artists, because they’re the ones who put so much effort into this space.
Those hyper-pioneering the industry have a chance to change the status quo.
I love the blockchain and the possibilities for the decentralization of power, wealth, and opportunities it holds.
However (and in the name of another one of blockchain’s missions: transparency) I have been frustrated with the combination of art and blockchain, because right now we have a unique chance to redefine value and change the system. Here’s the problem:
The industry is starting to feel more and more like the existing, outdated system already in place.
For example, when it comes to blockchain projects, engineers are paid to build the software. The marketing people are compensated to get the word out. Yet, we still ask the artists to work for exposure and tokens, which are valuable, yet not instantly liquidated or convertible to living expenses. To many artists this feels like working for free. If I took on every project for nothing more than exposure, I wouldn’t have any money to pay the bills.
That’s an issue. Why shouldn’t artists be paid, like everyone else?
If you love someone’s art, ask them their rates, and hire accordingly. Working for exposure simply isn’t enough. But artists need to remember this is a two-way street and stop accepting projects just for exposure.
We need to work together toward re-defining the paradigm — to have art valued at the same level of engineering, or any other skill.
Blockchain does offer new ways for artists to monetize their art. For instance, if I paint a mural for free, I can place a QR code in it that explains I was only paid for materials, and that if the viewer likes the mural, they might consider making a small donation from their phone.
Companies like Paybook are building software to make both crypto and fiat financial tracking easier. And crypto platforms like Steemit are providing artists with ways to register their work and tokenize it, helping to ensure they’re rewarded for their efforts, and aren’t ripped off by digital thieves.
It isn’t inevitable that old systems reassert themselves through new technology.
We just have to stay focused on making sure these crypto art platforms are serving all of the people they were meant to — including the artists, if that is still their focus.
All of us in crypto art have to be mindful about what we’re building.
The question I’m posing is, “Are we bringing our current problems into the industry of the future?”
If we want the answer to be “no,” then we have to be very careful about how we’re creating this new blockchain ecosystem and its platforms. I think we need to slow down, check our original intentions.
I’d like to see everyone take a step back and re-evaluate why we’re building this technology and why the movement exists. Right now, the promise of being paid in coins or exposure is falling short. Many coins crash or end up being worthless — while rent and groceries still have to be paid in fiat currency.
Part of any solution comes down to the actions of individual artists. For instance, when I circulate proposals to marketing teams, I’m always looking to negotiate a better deal. When I’m successful, it often comes down to my ability to educate the other side about what it takes to create what they want. If they’re asking for a mural, I have to carefully explain how long it will take to paint, and send them a detailed account of the materials necessary.
After I send a counterproposal with a price of material breakdowns, it’s usually clear that the client’s original offer would turn almost no profit when the commission is completed. Unless you break it down, people who are not doing this for a living usually underestimate the costs of creative projects. We have to continue educating each other, the public and new artists about what our time and effort is worth.
To be fair, it’s still early — we may even be ahead of the early adoption wave. I’m still here because I fundamentally believe in this technology and its ability to effect change and create solutions.
But now’s the time to be thinking of how we can create a more equitable system that benefits artists. If we wait until the system is established to start talking about these issues, then it will be harder to shift this new paradigm into place.
For years, I have been sharing the magic of this up-and-coming industry. Only now, with years of experience and understanding, so I feel open to sharing some of our pain points.
I am here to help. I write this because I truly believe in crypto’s founding mission of decentralization of power and open opportunities.
I invite other artists in the space to share their experiences, and to hold one another accountable to continue designing a future that breaks through the outdated scarcity systems, and truly re-defining value.