What Do Traditional Artists Think About NFTs? A Dialogue with Canadian-Hong Kong Artist Vivian Ching
By Zoe Chow
Are traditional artists looking into NFTs for profit or for audience? What are some of their concerns? Canadian-Hong Kong artist Dr. Vivian Ching recounts her experiences with copyright and her thoughts on the rising crypto market before sharing how she is working to bring her work into the digital scene.
For Dr. Vivian Ching, she has built quite a reputation not only as a business professor but also as the first Hong Kong and Canadian female artist to have her iconic creation “Glasses” to be flown to space (see below). How she came with such an inspiration for a space-flown art installation will probably need another occasion to let Dr. Vivian Ching to tell us — perhaps an Ask Me Anything at ARTRACX in the month of August during Affordable Art Fair HK. You can also check out her work listed at ARTRACX (Click here)
With the rise of Non Fungible Tokens (NFTs) and other forms of crypto, traditional artists have begun to feel the need to catch onto the trend and digitize their art in order to compete on the expanding market. Recent years have shown how NFTs can dramatically increase the monetary value of art and help with its distribution, allowing the artist and the buyers to “get rich quick and easy”. The general impression is that artists have a more accessible way to spread their art throughout the world, gaining traction to their work and hence causing their art to increase in value. Buyers can then benefit from buying an NFT by selling it for a higher price compared to when they purchased it. NFTs are valuable because they are encrypted in a way that cannot be replicated, certifying the authenticity of the piece. Despite the benefits and the rising trend, many traditional artists are still hesitant to make this transition from offline to online because they are concerned about copyright. Dr. Vivian Ching is both a business professor as well as a rising Canadian-Hong Kong artist who wants to expand her horizons and push her art career forward. She is currently working closely with ARTRACX to integrate the use of smart chipset and blockchain technology to protect the intellectual property of her creations. However, Vivian still holds many security related concerns about going digital with NFTs and joining the new “progressive” market. I spoke to her in an interview, she shared her personal experiences with copyright and expressed her concerns about NFTs, providing a closer perspective on the struggles new artists face when joining the NFT scene; and in particular setting her expectations on how these new technologies could help traditional artists like herself.
Vivian’s art journey stretches back to her undergraduate studies at the University of Virginia, when she was the Speakers Chair of the University Programs Council. In particular, she had the privilege of inviting Dr. Patch Adams to speak at the university — world-renowned doctor and founder of the free “Gesundheit Institute” — a US healthcare facility that uses clowning as a healing practice and whose pioneering practices inspired the Hollywood blockbuster movie “Patch Adams” starring Robin Williams. At his lecture, there was a particularly poignant moment where he presented footage of a small group of men in an African village, excitedly chasing after a dozen colorful balloons tied to the back of Patch’s truck. The men had never seen balloons before, and were completely awe-struck by their colors and shapes. It really touched my heart that the colourful balloons could inspire so much hope. Later that evening, Patch asked her what she wanted to do after graduating. Vivian dreamed of making a contribution to the world through art. Though at the time, she did not know how to proceed in making this come true given that she was pursuing an Economics degree, she would never forget what Patch said to her as his parting words that faithful evening — “Remember to choose your dreams.”
After graduating, Vivian started working in Finance in New York. In spite of her success, she still felt that a part of herself was missing. Around that time, she had begun to re-read the book that Patch had given to her on the day that they met. Only then did she realize that he had left her a secret message inside — “Choose your dreams”. Those words gave Vivian a renewed sense of encouragement. From that day on, Vivian committed to using her artistic talents to positively change the world. By 2012, Vivian relocated to Hong Kong and began experimenting at an art studio every week whilst continuing her career in Finance, and came to develop her own signature style known as “Happy Art”, which utilizes the psychology of colors and positive imagery to channel the power of “like-attracts-like” — the idea that happiness is a choice and surrounding ourselves with positive messages can attract a happier lifestyle.
Vivian continues to balance both an academic career as a business professor and artist, and shares her art with others in hopes that people could appreciate it and understand the significance behind her work. She mentioned that she was lucky to be acquainted with people who were already working in art and entertainment industries, and was thus grateful for all the high-profile opportunities she had as a new artist entering the scene. In fact, the studio where she would initially experiment with her work was co-owned by a popular former member of a Hong Kong boyband, and he frequently helped to promote Vivian’s artworks by encouraging production staff to film her work as the backdrop of his filming projects, which drew early media attention to Vivian’s artworks. By chance, the owner of PubArt Gallery in Soho also visited the art studio and offered the opportunity for her first solo exhibition in Hong Kong in 2012, which officially launched Vivian as a professional artist. Vivian was excited with the offer as she knew it would have great potential in cementing her status as an emerging artist. However, it was at this exhibition that she also had her first experience with copyright infringement.
“There was a popular Hong Kong female celebrity singer at the time who was filming a music video in the area. After hearing about my exhibition and seeing some of my artworks, she decided to film a part of the video at the gallery.” Under normal circumstances, this would have been perceived as an honor due to the promotional value of this action. However, the key issue was that proper permission was not requested in advance, and the intention for proper credit and attribution was also left in a vague position. The celebrity, whose name was not disclosed, had been trying to build up a reputation as a multi-talented artist and presented Vivian’s artworks in her music video as if she was the creator of those artworks. Due to the fact that she was new to the art scene, it was expected by both the gallery and the celebrity that the issue would be quietly tolerated however foreseeing the risks of copyright conflicts, Vivian ended up having to call the the music producers to ensure that her name would be properly credited to ensure no confusion on her creation of the artworks featured.
“When you’re a new artist, there is always the urge to jump at any opportunity to get your name out there. I would advise emerging artists to be careful no matter how big the opportunity is because copyright is a really big problem especially when you are just starting out and need to build a track record”. In 2014, Vivian achieved a new milestone in her art career by launching her “Glasses” reprint design into space in collaboration with Canon, becoming the first Chinese artist to showcase artwork in space. With her newfound public persona, this actually subjected Vivian’s artworks to even more instances of copyright infringement. For instance, her “Infinity” painting was featured on a Hong Kong TV show without advance authorisation and credit during a film session at her art studio while both she and the studio owner were not present. In another instance, a client in China also used one of her art reprint postcards and scanned the image into high resolution for print onto a tote handbag for personal use without proper authorisation. Since these incidents, Dr. Ching has consulted with legal experts and taken numerous steps to ensure that her works are protected. She has added watermarks to digital images of her works, and incorporated extensive copyright protection policies in legal contracts with her clients and collaborators, whilst continuing to keep rigorous documentation of any related matters. These are only some of the many methods that Dr. Ching used to manage her work. However, when it comes to managing artworks that are completely digital, Dr. Ching mentioned that she can’t help but feel uncertain due to her unfamiliarity with the technology and the vastness of the Internet and the problems with NFTs.
“There are so many different ways to steal information on the Internet. Not to mention that there have also been incidents where artworks were stolen and sold as NFTs. If I were to go digital, the minimum I would expect from a service like ARTRACX would be to provide security and protection against copyright.” Fear of copyright seems to be the biggest obstacle keeping traditional artists like Vivian from joining the NFT scene. This can be detrimental to them because NFTs have become one of the most widespread assets online, serving as a great way to promote one’s work and financially benefit. How can a traditional artist wanting to join the digital scene ensure that they take the right steps to protect their work? What services or outlets are there that can help integrate these artists into the digital art and crypto market? This is where an organization like ARTRACX can help.
ARTRACX is a project which aims to help artists to integrate their work into an online digital marketplace — gaining access to additional collectors while preserving their intellectual property rights using smart chipsets and blockchain. The online platform assists artists, art dealers and art galleries to setup as a catalog by offering portfolio management, provenance, certificate of authenticity and digital auctions. It aims to incorporate highly-secured chipsets, blockchain, smart contracts, online gallery and unified communication technologies. So far, the platform has been working with South-East Asia based artists to create provenance and history of their works, while also assisting them in promoting to various fundraising gala dinners. ARTRACX has created digital authentication certificates and partnered with international standard organisation (such as the Art ID Standard) to adopt the use of Decentralized IDs (DIDs) as a reliable digital standard to facilitate trade. The ARTRACX platform is relatively new and is being optimised regularly to ensure the best performance.
“I started working with Daniel and ARTRACX to expand my horizons and bring my artwork to another level,” notes Vivian. “I am really new to the whole NFT scene but hearing about it has made me curious, and I am willing to experiment with it. I have always been open minded and I want to explore new things just to see what I can do. I think ARTRACX has been really helpful in guiding me and accomplishing some of the more technical things that I am still unfamiliar with. Things have been going smoothly and I want to continue working with them to bring my work to a wider audience.”
About the author
Zoe Chow is a high school student from Hong Kong who attends Phillips Academy in Boston, Massachusetts. She has written several articles for the South China Morning Post’s Young Post, and is on the board of her school’s political affairs newspaper. Zoe hopes to pursue a career in the fields of art and technology in college.
ARTRACX is a new platform marketplace that will be using highly secured chipsets together with the Enecuum Blockchain network for deploying the tracking and tracing function of the provenance for art and collectibles.