Tradition paints the life of the artist as a story of obsessive creativity, challenge, and fleeting success. Living week-to-week with a bootstrapping mentality can only take one so far, and with the specter of conformity looming heavy many simply run out of steam.
In 2022 however, this appears to be changing and opportunities for creatives are evolving at a significant pace, according to crypto artist Trevor Jones. The digital art space captivates audiences and the explosion of NFTs in the last two years means new avenues for creativity and potential revenue streams are emerging.
speaking to DIGITJones says he believes the NFT art space has the potential to be a “great leveller” for a new wave of up-and-coming artists and creatives, and that the global NFT art community bears all the hallmarks of the thriving art ecosystems of old
“To use an analogy, it’s like the late 19th century Paris, where you had some of the greatest writers, poets, musicians and artists all interacting,” he says. “That melting pot of talent and ideas made it wonderful and exciting. And I’d say that’s almost what’s happening here.
“You have people from all kinds of backgrounds involved in the NFT art space. You have creatives, techies, entrepreneurs and even athletes, influencers and celebrities. Every kind of person. It’s amazing.”
Down the crypto rabbit hole
Jones hails from a fine art background, having gone back into education in his thirties to study at Edinburgh College of Art. Emerging into the world of art full of ideas, Jones found himself struggling to get by like many of his counterparts. However, seeing the potential to combine technology and art took him down new paths of creative expression.
His 2015 project, #EdinburghHacked, saw him gain widespread attention by hijacking paintings in the National Gallery of Scotland using augmented reality. This type of work, sitting at the increasingly blurry intersection of art and technology, is in an area Jones is extremely passionate about.
“I was constantly trying to find ways to incorporate technology in my art, but also raise awareness of how technology can impact, influence or even improve art,” he says.
Jones admits that this project was a “last-ditch attempt” to try and draw attention to his work combining technology and art. But it appears to have worked.
A later exhibition in 2016, titled ‘Would I Lie to You: The Art of Politics and Propaganda‘featuring portraits of world leaders using AR was a marked success. And it was from here that the journey to NFT art stardom began.
“After this exhibit, for the first time ever I had a bit of money to invest. Like most artists I was really living week-to-week, but looking at potential investments I stumbled across Bitcoin. And that’s when I fell down the rabbit hole.”
The world of crypto art
Investing in Bitcoin in 2017 and “getting wrecked” in 2018, as he puts it, was a hard learning curve. But he quickly found the crypto space to be a dynamic, thriving ecosystem full of potential. Especially for artists like himself.
It was during a trip to Coinfest in Manchester in 2019 that his eyes were truly opened to the opportunities that crypto and NFT art offered – even for an individual from a fine art background. Engaging and collaborating with what he describes as a “transformative” community convinced him that NFTs might genuinely herald the beginning of an exciting, revolutionary new era in art.
“At first I thought this isn’t for me. It makes no sense,” he says. “I didn’t know how I would fit in as a traditional painter and couldn’t understand why someone would want to buy a digital piece of my work when they could simply buy a physical painting.”
Jones admits things “started making more sense” after engaging with others who had entered the space from a similar background. And the financial element certainly added to the appeal.
Over the last two years, there have been a number of high-profile NFT art sales. Perhaps most notably, NFT artworks by Beeple have sold at auction for sensational sums and the ‘Bored Apes’ project remains a source of immense excitement among NFT collectors and enthusiasts.
Celebrities, influencers and all manner of public figures have unveiled their own NFTs or involved themselves in projects. Even football clubs in the UK have tried – and failed – to jump on the bandwagon.
Jones believes this influx of money into the space is a positive thing for creatives – lowering barriers to potentially lucrative sources of revenue and improving accessibility in the broader art world.
His’Art Angels‘ Twitter spacewhich brings together NFT artists, investors and collectors in a Dragon’s Den-type setup, recently enabled a Cuban artist to sell thousands of dollars’ worth of NFT art, the equivalent of several years’ salary in Cuba.
“It’s completely changed her life,” he insists. “This space offers an opportunity for anyone wherever they are in the world and removes barriers.”
Jones says that the financial benefits of NFT art have also granted him breathing space and room to experiment with future projects. And you can’t put a price on that type of freedom, he believes.
“I’m very fortunate and privileged to have been successful in this space, having started quite early and established myself,” Jones continues.
“The biggest part here is that it’s given me financial stability. I don’t have to worry about if I can make my mortgage payment next month, so I can dedicate my time to art and explore any avenue because I have the resources. And that’s huge for any artist.”
An evolving landscape
But while this space does offer new opportunities for artists, Jones warns that there is a small risk that the rapid growth of the NFT art ecosystem could present challenges down the line.
Like any marketplace, the landscape is becoming slightly saturated amidst a period of intense interest. And there’s a risk that, long-term, the NFT art ecosystem could begin to mirror that of the traditional art space.
“The NFT landscape has changed dramatically since 2018/19 when there was really just a handful of artists and a much smaller community,” he explains. “This means there’s a lot more noise, so it is becoming more difficult for artists – just like in the traditional world – to be noticed and seen.”
This doesn’t necessarily mean that artists and creatives hoping to enter the NFT art space will be shunned or neglected, Jones insists. Instead, it could act as the driving force behind a new wave of creativity and innovation.
Future artists will have to “find a way to be unique” and stand out, he says, much like in the traditional art ecosystem.
Old dogs, new tricks
Maintaining distance between these two contrasting worlds would be wise though. In his experience, there has been a lingering undercurrent of “snobbery” in the traditional art world, especially with regard to how the NFT art space is perceived in some circles.
“I saw a lot of this during the transition from traditional to digital artist. You might think that artists are open-minded free thinkers, but that’s not always been the case in my experience.”
Furthermore, Jones claims there is a “big technophobe mentality” in the traditional art world among those perhaps fearful of change and the influence of technology.
His first experience of this culture of tech-related fear came during a failed venture. Alongside a business partner, Jones launched a startup which aimed to sell augmented reality technology to fellow artists.
“We basically went out of business because nobody was interested as an artist to use this technology or experiment,” he explains. “And a big part of that was the fear of technology and the fact it was taking them outside their comfort zone.”
Long-term, the negative perception of NFT art among traditionalists will change, he believes. Not least because there is a steady stream of “very talented artists bursting into the space” helping to challenge these views and bridge the divide between these worlds.
Education also wants to play a key role. The simple fact that a new generation of artists are growing up and learning amidst this period means perceptions will eventually shift.
“It’s going to be an evolution where NFTs and digital art concepts filter down into art colleges and into new, up-and-coming creatives,” he says.
“I think it will be at least ten years before art colleges, for example, start offering tutoring about this. But it’s coming, and it’s an exciting prospect.”
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