Mimi Gray is the co-founder of online art store Darklight Art.
Unless you were asleep for most of last year, you've probably heard about non-fungible tokens (NFTs) – one-of-a-kind digital images that can be bought or sold on blockchain. When it comes to art, they're basically the digital equivalent of a limited-edition print – certified by encryption.
In 2021, NFTs turned the art market on its head. In December, the NFT market reportedly hit $22 billion. Auction house Sotheby's said that the ‘meteoric rise’ of NFTs, plus the launch of its platform, Sotheby's Metaverse, attracted a new audience, with 78% of NFT bidders totally new to the auction house and more than half of them under the age of 40. Auction house Christie's took more than $140 million in NFT sales – including the infamous ‘Everydays: the First 5,000 Days’ by digital artist Beeple, which sold for $69 million. Beeple's work had previously sold for just $100.
Many believe that, before too long, everything we buy will be marketed as an NFT, from cars and clothes to our homes.
So, why isn't my business following suit? For a while we felt guilty and, in true impostor-syndrome style, even lazy for not moving fast enough. We watched as many around us became absorbed into the metaverse, forming new friendships and alliances. And, as we watched, listened and researched, we learned that there's merit in holding back.
For a start, we set up our online art store because we wanted to do things differently. One of our founding values was that we don't behave like a gallery; we're carving out space to make room for those who we believe are the future of the art market. We're approachable and affordable, and our works retain value as editions. After our first 18 months, we're beginning to really get to know our audience. But the NFT audience is a different beast. While our buyers are Instagram-savvy and more traditionally culturally aware, NFT buyers are generally active on Twitter and come from a tech or crypto background. For us, it's a leap away from the community we've worked hard to foster.
So, what about the works themselves? A bit like the internet, one of the biggest positives is that everyone has a voice, but one of the biggest negatives is that… everyone has a voice. There are kids creating and selling work, like 13-year-old Nyla Hayes, who has created and sold NFTs worth more than $4 million. This in itself is amazing – but these kids are selling digital files side by side with artists who have spent years building a career, a style and a reputation. This skewing of the playing field somewhat diminishes the creative value and efforts of artists.
The hysteria over NFTs is palpable. They're new, they're making people a lot of money and they're an equalizer. We can see why people are excited about them. But, we all know what follows a high…
We think of NFT art as an exciting new medium and a tool for authentication, rather than the future of the art market. We're intrigued by it, but we're not going to change who we are as a business because of it.