So if you follow me on any social accounts, you might know that I really, really do not recommend artists, or anyone, get involved with NFTs or cryptocurrencies.
What you probably do not know is that I actually made, or "minted", an NFT. It taught me a lot about crypto. I have thoughts. Here is my experience.
(This part of the text is adapted from a series of posts I originally made on Twitter.)
How I accidentally minted and sold an NFT:
It is 2019 and a nice lady invites me to join her site. I do due diligence, investigating the site and what it does. It is called MakersPlace and is founded by the same people who made Pinterest, so that’s good. It seems we can make digital versions of our art to sell, like when I sell a digital file for someone to print, but there's no print, just a code on blockchain. Okay then. I do know what blockchain is. There are fees to pay for each sale, but the artist doesn't pay them, the buyer does. This is good. Overall, there don't seem to be any downsides for me. I make an account and upload some art. And then, because life, I forget about the site for like, a year. Then NFTs and cryptocurrency start to gain a lot of traction. There is a lot of heated discussion, and suddenly random dudes are trying to con artists into doing art for NFTs or outright stealing art. I am laughing at people paying millions for a line of code. I have learned a lot about cryptocurrency in the past year and am seeing all the problems. There is a lot of scamming going on, both in crypto and with NFTs.
Something clicks in my brain. I remember the site, that I have not logged into for a year. I realize it sells NFTs. Oops. This does not sit well with me and I decide to delete my account. I log in. Someone has made a purchase. I have sold an NFT. Double oops.
Okay, so there is Ethereum in my account. I am a poor artist and do want money. Capitalism sucks. At the current exchange, the crypto is worth between 400 and 500 Euros. I decided to try to get my money out. But how? I begin to investigate. I click around but I can't actively transfer anything myself. The site' s people nicely answer my questions and explain to me that I can't get my Ethereum until I first link a wallet to my site. I look into getting a crypto wallet and soon realize that the initial email exchange was the easy part.
Apparently, I need crypto to actually connect the wallet to my account, via the blockchain. And something like a bank for my crypto, since the wallet mostly is for the transfer. The staff at the site continue to be patient. I investigate more and my ADHD brain begins to melt. How do I get Ethereum? And can I do it before crypto crashes? Because the more I learn about this, the more I am pretty sure crypto is gonna crash any day now. I begin my three-day quest to get a bit of Ethereum to pay gas fees to open the wallet to collect from my NFT sale. I can't just use crypto, I have to buy into an exchange, backed by nothing substantial, completely unsecured with no consumer protection, and am increasingly convinced this is a pyramid scheme. After serious googling and drawing a flow chart, I pick Coinbase. It seems to be the most trusted and secure sight, and I can use it in the EU, and access it through my German bank. So I start an account and get a key, which I must never ever lose. Ever. Or my money is lost forever. Or the exchange could fail and I could lose my account and funds that way. Ahahahahah. But that would never happen.
I need to authenticate my identity for Coinbase and pick the video call option. It is 11.00 pm and the dude can hardly see me in my attic apartment. I have difficulty finding the flashlight on my phone, because as a comic book artist, I never go out at night. He is very patient and authenticates that I am me. The quest has ended, the trials passed. I am granted a Coinbase account, now privy to an elite who conjure monetary value from nothing. I have a sentence of gibberish words to guard my vault. Everywhere are mystic signs to guide my ascent to wealth. AM I A WIZARD???
Considering how convoluted this is, like, isn't crypto supposed to save us from outdated regular banking? Cause golly gosh, I sure needed many fees to connect my accounts. Every transaction on the blockchain requires a gas fee, which directly sucks money from my account, and massive amounts of energy off the grid. So, worse than regular banking. Using my bank card doesn't require a fee each time. So, with a chain of digital wallets and accounts stretching across what feels like the multiverse, I at last ask the site to send my cryptocurrency. That required another email to MakersPlace. Crypto! It's so convenient! This has taken me a WEEK to do. I'm sure they aren't sad to see me go, although they do tell me I am welcome back at any time. I've been very annoying, I'm sure. But I feel proud to have figured this out by myself.
At last, I transfer my crypto to my Coinbase wallet. MORE GAS FEES. Whoever bought that line of code, thanks! I hope you like your JPEG. I sincerely wish you well, and thank you for your support. I convert the crypto into Euros. I decide that the money will go to art supplies and to support some comic Kickstarters being run by friends. However, total gas fees, plus what I had to transfer from my banking account to my Cinbas account to have money for the gas fees, were the equivalent of 1/6 my earnings when I cashed out from Coinbase. Using small amounts of crypto isn't worth it. I can't imagine using crypto to get groceries or a coffee. Every operation takes something like 10 minutes. Cash or card is so much more efficient. Unless you are moving large amounts of crypto or cash back and forth, and are like, on the dark net trying to buy weapons or drugs, crypto is pointless. Every transaction costs gas fees to record on the blockchain, so it eats away your money. The energy requirements are stupidly huge. How could this possibly work with day to day living? It can’t.
Soon after I got my money out, the market for NFTs crashed. Coinbase was hacked between March and May 2021 even though it was supposedly one of the most stable and secure crypto exchanges. They’ve also done illegal stuff, including improper sale of securities and money laundering. Woof. Hmm, wow, almost like none of this was ever secure and all based on scams and should have been regulated. I am not an expert on coding, or even math, but I understand that high returns always mean high risk,that you should never invest more than you are prepared to lose, especially on something not tied to any physical currency or commodity. Look, I come from a farm. I understand how markets work with grain and cows, okay? Good harvest, lots of grain, lower prices for farmers, unless we hold out until the price is higher. If there's a bad harvest, grain is worth more, but we all try to sell our calves together to avoid buying feed, so the price of cattle crashes. But the thing is, people need to eat, so you can hold out on some things like hay and grain and cattle, until demand and therefore, prices, rise. Crypto is tied to nothing and has no real use. So, it can easily fall to zero, if the market, collectively, decides it is worth all of nothing. Which it has. I hope all those guys who scoffed at me and told me I should have kept my crypto in the exchange, which incidentally was hacked, are okay.
Cryptocurrency and NFTs versus Artists
Is there potential in blockchain? Sure, but besides the horrendous environmental impact, capitalism and human nature have ruined any of that for the moment. Crypto is full of pyramid schemes and fraud. NFTs have also been ruined by scamming and taking on the worst aspects of the art market, relying on inflated value and speculation, and oh, yeah, people just straight up stealing art.
NFTs and how the people shilling them treat artists is a reflection of how society at large treats those of us in the creative fields, and I think, connects into how AI “art” cultists are also treating artists right now in 2023. To these people, artists, and our work, are resources to be exploited for easy profit. We are divorced from our work by the art market, especially at the higher end, by some extent social media and by a larger society that does not respect our rights and the inherent ownership of our work, all so can they exploit our art without compensating us. Society values our creations as end products, but not us as humans or our human process. Many people, globally, are not educated to understand finances or art, and are therefore quick to fall prey to scams that offer quick rewards and can learn to feel that they have the right to any art posted on the internet, regardless of how the artist feels or the law actually works. Yes, a few artists made it big with NFTs, just as any pyramid scheme benefits the early adopters and sucks money to the top from all their victims. The current art market operates in the same way, with a few artists at the top striking gold when the system selects them to be shown to a rich elite via a small ecosystem of galleries and auction houses. Crypto is also highly centralized, with a few of those early adopters and holders, many of whom were involved in the dark web, using the system to funnel money into their accounts from those who don’t know better. The people at the bottom must invest large sums of money into cryptocurrency to secure any return, often risking everything and in turn exploiting others to win gains. When the inherent exploitative and non-productive nature of cryptocurrency meets the attitude that society holds to towards artists, then it shouldn’t surprise anyone that its adherents will try to exploit artists and their work without or with minimal compensation. The unbridled hostility shown to artists trying to protect their work is the outgrowth of an ecosystem that relies on exploitation at its core.
Also, I'm neurodivergent, with very sever ADHD. I do not recommend this corner of the internet for neurodivergent people. The entire process was very stressful. Opening a crypto wallet requires a lot of steps that are not intuitive and doing as much independent research as possible. Neurodivergents often have difficulty plotting the path from A to Z, and getting a crypto wallet connected to a sales site was a maze. There might be an easier way to do it, but even with the guides found online, you'll still at least need to pick an exchange if you actually want to use your money, and there are no truly safe options. As a neurodivergent person, I do enjoy learning new things, but having actual funds involved and watching Ethereum slowly drop in value as I waited for things to go through added extra pressure and anxiety.
I don’t regret my one NFT. I was invited to the site before the hype and exploitation and did learn something by going through that. Everyone on the site was very helpful and the system was set up not to penalize artists upfront. I think they are as legit as they could possibly be. In the end, although blockchain itself is potentially very useful, cryptocurrency and NFTs are at the best, useless and at the worst so damaging for individuals, societies and the environment, I cannot recommend them. Any artist should be suspicous of a "get rich quick" offer, regardless of who is making it, or off paying fees upfront.
If anything, I feel that the NFT experience helped artists to react to AI more quickly. Cryptos and NFTs devolved into “get rich quick schemes”, just as AI is a “get results quick scheme”, both relying on exploitation of artists and a lack of regulation and protection, especially for those without major corpoartions to protect us. The fight isn’t going to end until we are able to teach people the value of art as a product of education and labour and to respect artists and their rights.
If you want to know more about NFTs, I recommend checking out Line Goes Up-The Problem with NFTs by Folding Ideas. There’s also this three-part series The Truth About CRYPTO from YouTube channel Common Sense Skeptic. It covers the basics of crypto and the collapse of crypto currencies and exchanges over the past 2 years. This series discusses a lot of what I touch on here, including how crypto is essentially a Ponzi scheme and has always been involved in crime, and has no real purpose in the real world. It's a good starter pack on how crypto works:
If you are an artist considering crypto or NFTs, please don’t. You’re more likely to lose than win, just like gambling. Plus, you’ll probably damage someone else along the way. At this point, you can only profit by taking from someone else, and you’ll contribute to a growing energy crisis.
There’s no ethical consumption under capitalism, but there’s no soul in cryptocurrency or NFTs. And art is all about your soul.