The Furry Lisa, CryptoArt, & The New Economy Of Digital Creativity

Over the last year I became the proud owner of The Furry Lisa, among several other one-of-a-kind digital creations often referred to as “crypto art” or “NFTs” (non-fungible tokens — a special type of cryptographic token and digital contract that represents something specific and unique as opposed to Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies and tokens that are fungible). But before I explain the personal significance of The Furry Lisa (and break down the major players in this space and the mind-blowing broader implications), let me start with a bold proclamation:

This NFT world is likely the greatest unlock of artist opportunity in 100+ years. This isn’t a suboptimal or fringe version of the real-world art economy, it is a vastly improved one.

Whether you are an artist of any kind, investor, or consumer of anything creative, you will be impacted. But before we explore the far reaching implications, let’s understand why NFTs up-level art in profound ways.

(1) Crypto Art cannot be counterfeited. Every piece of art that is “minted” in this world is forever chronicled on the blockchain (a permanent ledger of owners, transactions, and other information), eliminating all doubts about authenticity and rightful ownership.

(2) The provenance is based in transaction, not spin. In the fine art world, the historical record of an artifact — past owners, fabled bidding wars, museum exhibitions, and an artist’s activity — are often represented by self-interested Gallery owners, art buyers, and industry insiders. In contrast, the “provenance” of an asset (the source of truth for its storied history) is memorialized in the blockchain and can be represented by novel interfaces in all kinds of creative ways.

(3) More transparent and better merchandised scarcity. Let’s face it, collectors want to know they own a one-of-a-kind — or at least something rare. Look no further than the CryptoPunk phenomenon to understand the value that real-time transparent scarcity drives. While the old school fine art world is littered with impossible to audit limited editions and artist proofs, Crypto Art has solved for this.

my cryptopunk crew, three of the ten thousand unique and trackable inaugural artistic use-cases of NFTs.

(4) Portability and liquidity. While the fine art world often relies on luxury shippers, insurance brokers, auction houses and expensive art advisor coordination to achieve portability and liquidity, Crypto Art can be transferred between owners in minutes and listed on various marketplaces and spaces simultaneously. Again, so long as these assets are represented on the same underlying blockchain (still some dust settling here), they have a ton of surface area for discovery.

(5) 10x more meritocracy and artist opportunity. Gone are the days of needing to be blessed by a particular art critic or granted a degree from a particular art school. Sure, “signal” from particular collectors and marketing by the artist still drives value, but the equal opportunity across the globe for any talented artist to “mint” a piece of work on a particular marketplace and be discovered is step-functions more empowering. And, once their work is purchased, that transaction is the ultimate signal of value for other collectors — unencumbered by industry politics and gallery affiliations. But this hasn’t stopped traditional auction houses from trying to get a piece of the action…

This piece, by famed NFT artist Beeple, is liable to make history as a “cross-over” moment when “EVERYDAYS: THE FIRST 5000 DAYS” is auctioned off by traditional auction house Christie’s on Feb 25th.

(6) Transformative economic model for artists via NFT contracts. This is perhaps my favorite advantage of all — the ability for artists to automatically gain a percentage of every sale of their work in the secondary market in perpetuity. I mean, can you imagine!? Artists can evolve from getting ~50% of the initial acquisition price of their work in a gallery to a new world where they get 80%+ (depending on marketplace they use) of the proceeds on their initial sale plus 10–15% of every secondary sale forever! Imagine the families of artists anywhere receiving residuals for generations much like the world’s greatest bands as their work continues to grow in value and trade hands. F’ing transformative. Vincent Van Gogh only sold one painting while he was alive, and not for much. Oh how far we‘ve come.

(7) Creativity without bounds. Now i’ll insert my bias, but bringing more digital experiences to the fine art world unleashes an entirely new medium of creativity that the fine art collecting world has never fully appreciated. Suddenly the seemingly-fringe creative explorations of algorithms and multi-media mashups are on par with any other piece of Crypto Art. As we shed our bias for stuff made of atoms and embrace stuff made with bits, the aperture of love for and inspiration by art opens widely.

A few highlights from my collection, including “Release” by UK-based Digital Artist mbsjq (who i’ve followed on Behance since 2009 where his work has 5M+ views, and now on Instagram as well) who is fascinated with all things iridescent & outer space. I purchased one of mbsjq’s genesis series featuring “Astro & The Universe” for 3.3 ETH, and his latest on SuperRare was just acquired by another collector for 35 ETH (~$69,000)!

(8) Crypto Art is art made for the future. As our walls become screens and our field of vision becomes enhanced with augmented reality, we will seek precious and meaningful objects to surround us (just as we always have). Whether in the much anticipated “metaverse,” the many digital worlds and games we frequent, or in our own living rooms and peripheral vision, this new generation of art is made for our future.

The total growth and total market cap of the fine art world is on the cusp of an explosive moment. SuperRare announced early February that they had exceed $10M in total sales ($7.87M Primary Sales and $2.19M Secondary Sales). You can also track some of the most expensive pieces sold across NFT marketplaces on cryptoart.io. And, speaking of transparency, you can track volumes of transactions across top decentralized marketplaces using products like Dapp Radar and Dune.

And here’s Dapp’s count, as of 2/21/21, on top seven marketplaces by volume transacted, updating here.
Dune’s report of SuperRare in particular, notice the turning point in just the last few weeks.

Much like Uber did for transportation and Airbnb did for hospitality, the blockchain is transforming and expanding the market of art and digital experiences of all kinds. The only distinct difference about this digital transformation from many that came before: it is empowering the careers of creators themselves more than everyone in the middle.

Packy McCormick described this quite well is a detailed piece about the next generation of the web and what he called the “value chain of the open metaverse.

From Packy’s excellent newsletter aptly called “Not Boring”

As McCormick explains it, “The movement is really about doing one of the most capitalist things there is: cutting out the middleman. It means that instead of value accruing to the Aggregators, there can be a more direct connection between suppliers and consumers. It’s not about taking money out of the system, it’s about moving the money around to the people who create and the people who consume, and to the people who maintain and improve the network itself. And it’s about attaching each user’s data and money directly to them (Self-Sovereign Identity), creating a public record that they own what they own (blockchain), and letting them take it with them, and profit from it, wherever they go on the web (Interoperability).”

So, what opportunities might this new world and economy unleash? Let’s have some fun exploring the biggest implications for this wild new world on work and life as we know it!

The New “Alt” Economy Will Reach Us All
No doubt, our captivity during COVID and the infusion of fed funds into the economy have helped fuel our open-mindedness to buying and trading alternative assets (the resurgence of baseball cards is a great proof point). But I imagine a time when everyone will have “long-tail asset digital wallets” of fractional ownership units of everything they love. New marketplaces like Otis (founded by a Behance alum!) and management tools like OnlyAlt (starting with sport cards but with a very ambitious agenda!) will allow you to collect, value, and trade such assets.

You can buy fractional units of culturally-relevant and scarce assets on Otis right now.

This will all give rise to “Holistic Assets”
Imagine buying an NFT asset, like a piece of crypto art, that is not only digitally available and memorialized on the blockchain, but also entitles you to real-world assets and experiences. I have come to call these “Holistic Assets” because they can be (theoretically) packed with all sorts of entitlements yet still be verifiable and tradable as any other NFT is. I even see a world in which every real-world purchase, from Gucci suits to a new Chevy, are accompanied by an NFT that establishes you as an owner and unlocks a series of entitlements, from Snap filters to Fortnite skins, for as long as you are the rightful owner.

A screenshot of the mulit-media piece “the V01D / 034–00,” a generative program written using processing (JAVA) + GLSL shaders, by Joshua Davis.

At least two of my purchases on SuperRare were followed by an overture by the artist to send along a physical print. Joshua Davis (aka Praystation) offered me to pick any frame in “The V01D / 034–003” and ship me a signed physical copy. But imagine what a musician or other celebrity “minting” a piece of their work for ownership might offer or entitle to its owner? Perhaps private audience or some other special experience? Perhaps you get a VIP treatment forever more? When you play this out — and the opportunity to fractionalization such offerings — this could be bigger than the business of live events. Perhaps you no longer go through middlemen and centralized ticketing or brokerage industries for such experiences when you can simply own a piece of the artists work and get direct access in exchange?

A new stack of technology and participants will emerge.
We’ll see a cohort of highly curated galleries emerge, like SuperRare. We’ll see other sites that simply act as sources of truth for all that’s going on or serve as open marketplaces, like OpenSea, Showtime, (and perhaps Behance might help in a more platform capacity as well from a portfolio perspective, as its 25M+ members discover CryptoArt?). We’ll see new variants and alternative blockchains like how Flow is being used for NBA Top Shots. And we’ll see plenty of “picks and shovels” type companies emerge to power functionalities like Magic Link for payments, NiftyKit for independent “minting” of assets, Bitski that allows big brands/creators to mint NFTs along with certain entitlements and media, and the list goes on. This is a whole new era of technology.

This Will Yield Entirely New Uses For Creative Tools
While i’ve committed my life to empowering creators of all kinds — from artists and product designers to entrepreneurs — to overcome the obstacles to make ideas happen, my day job is running product at Adobe. ;-) So what’s the role of Adobe and the creative tool space in all this? I’ve spent a lot of time over the last few months connecting with top crypto artists and learning about their workflow and challenges. Guess what? Most of them are using Photoshop and Illustrator on desktop, and some have discovered the latest iPad/Tablet apps like the (quite groundbreaking) Adobe Fresco and the newly reimagined Photoshop and Illustrator on iPad. My hope is that creative career opportunities, like selling your content and creating crypto art among others, become better integrated into the tools over time to make these capabilities more user friendly and accessible. I also think companies like Adobe that make creative tools, with open source initiatives like ContentAuthenticity.org, can help provide attribution data into an NFT designating who ACTUALLY made it (as opposed to just who minted it). This capability is noticeably missing in the new wild wild west of NFTs. Digital tool makers have a responsibility to understand the new and growing needs of the world’s best crypto artists.

But at the end of the day, art is about meaning.
And all of this analysis brings us back to where we started: The Furry Lisa.

This piece has special significance to me for a few reasons. Primarily, at a moment when the boundaries (and prejudices) of art’s physical and digital divide are finally crumbling, I saw the “Furry Lisa” as a great representation of the cross-over moment — the idea of making the creation and collection of legendary pieces like the vaulted Mona Lisa more inviting and accessible (literally soft to the touch). I love the added dose of irony that this creation cannot be touched given its digital existence, and yet FEELS so approachable. And its creator, Istanbul-based designer Murat Yıldırım, has been active on Behance (the platform i founded over a decade ago), since 2015 and has since minted a few more in this series for purchase on SuperRare. His second addition to the six-piece series, “Furry Night,” was recently purchased at auction by a collector named “Radar” for 17 ETH (equivalent of ~ $33,198 at time of purchase). And voila, the world of fine art does its thing. Full circle.

Welcome to the new era of digital art, one that finally transcends the traditional “lowest common denominator” aspects of the web and both elevates and rewards some of the greatest artists the world has ever seen. As always, art — and creative experimentation more broadly — is just the bridge between the old way and a better way. So much more to come in this space.

~~~
Follow and connect w/ Scott on Twitter, check out other recent posts like 8 Themes for the Future of Tech,” get his latest book — The Messy Middle, or sign up for an infrequent newsletter of insights.

founder @Behance, cpo @Adobe, early stage investor and product obsessive; author of Making Ideas Happen and The Messy Middle. http://scottbelsky.com