Exclusive interviews with Gary Vee and Chemical X on the strength, self-expression, and social currency of NFTs.
Non-Fungible Tokens (NFTs) are the darling of the crypto world in 2021 and, even more unexpectedly, one of the few elements of the crypto world to cross the invisible barrier into mainstream awareness and relevance.
NFTs are effectively a digital receipt, recorded immutably on blockchain — but anything can be attached to the sale of the NFT making them far more variable and colorful than one would expect from a receipt and making them an attractive new means of digital ownership.
Pioneering digital artist Mike Winkelmann, better known as Beeple, contributed in no small part to the NFT craze with the sale of his digital art piece “Everydays: The First 5000 Days,” sold in auction at Christie’s for a record-shattering $69 million.
Now Beeple has partnered with WENEW, which bills itself as “the memory palace of the metaverse,” to bring us notable moments from history, including NFTs to celebrate tennis star Andy Murray’s historic win in 2013, presented in partnership with Wimbledon.
“NFTs represent a new paradigm, not just in how people can invest their money but in how we conceive of our shared experience and how we celebrate remarkable achievements,” Beeple said in the press release. “They give people a way to meaningfully engage with the memories and moments that matter to them — maybe even inspired them or shaped who they are in some way…”
Beeple, photo credit Brandon Todd.
Anyone who has been following Chairman of VaynerX, CEO of VaynerMedia, speaker, and author, Gary Vaynerchuk, “Gary Vee”, through his videos or saw his keynote presentation at Consensus 2021 already knows that Gary is palpably bullish on the possibilities presented by NFTs.
Gary Vee said in his presentation that NFTs are ushering in the “best era for content creators”
He asked “…could you imagine if you were able to buy the original Mickey Mouse cell? If you could have actually bought the derivative if this was now and Walt Disney was now that first drawing of Mickey Mouse.”
Not to be outdone by Disney, Gary Vee recently introduced his own line of 268 cartoon characters of his own making. Each is an alliterative animal drawing with some sort of abstract attribute attached to it like tiny morality tales. Whether you are identifying with Accountable Ant, Hype Horse, or Lit Lamb you are getting a small piece of Gary Vee’s own hand-made IP to have and possibly resell unless you decide to hold for posterity.
Gary Vee took some time to give us an interview a few weeks following the show. His responses are below, with some editing for length.
What was the lightbulb moment for you and NFT’s and what made you first see the potential?
“It was a culmination of probably 50 to 100 hours of research in December 2020 and January of 2021. It was a culmination of article after article, discord after discord, YouTube video after YouTube video, Twitter stream after Twitter stream. It was just a culmination in January or early February like — I get it now. Social currency, self expression, digital environments, infrastructures in place, it’s starting to happen now and the youth really understands it. The potential and the aha moment really tied into each other. It’s just understanding what you think human beings are going to do before they realize they’re going to do it. I felt that about the internet and I felt that about social media. This was the third time I felt this moment.”
What opportunities are NFT’s making for creators that weren’t there before?
The ability to monetize directly to their audience through an asset that isn’t physical, which has far less friction in it and an opportunity to create more value for their audiences. You know, I think a lot of traders will think about what’s in it for me, how do I make money? Well think about it, what’s in it for them? And how can they make money or have experience or whatever value they’re looking for?
Are you concerned about SEC regulating fractional sales and sales of limited run NF T’s as securities?
“Not necessarily. You know, my whole life, I’ve done business within regulation. I grew up in the wine shipping business. My agency has plenty of rules that it has to stay within for its financial service and toy company partnership. So I’m not overly worried about regulation.”
With all the hype around NFT’s, has this been a bubble?
“Oh, I think there’s a real bubble on the individual level. I think 95% of NFT projects will not end up being financially positive investments. I think the exciting part is that 5% will be remarkable. Much like the Internet culture of the 90s, we will go through this bubble, and then we’ll have much better stronger NFT projects and a lot of opportunity.”
What use cases for NFTs excite you and what is the most overlooked opportunity?
“I think they’re one in the same. I think the smart contracts being deployed into areas like ticketing for events, or the ability for it to represent a lease or a contract that we’re accustomed to like a home. You know, I don’t think the real estate industry is thinking about selling NFT’s that represent homes. And if it’s an unusual enough home, the original owner might be able to get a royalty on future sales of a home which is unheard of. So I think there’s a lot I would argue most things because I view it as a contract that unlocks some thing, an ownership or an experience, which really can be deployed against everything at anything.”
You recently launched your own line of NFTs “VeeFriends”, what’s your vision for Gary V NFTs?
“This was my opportunity to stand up my own intellectual property. I’ve long been fascinated about IP and always thought my destiny in my career was going to be buying a historic IP like a Gumby or a Flintstones. But this was my opportunity to stand up my own Pokemon, my own Transformers, my own Harry Potter…”
What advice do you have for others looking to get into NFTs?
“For investors, homework, homework homework. The currencies are volatile and the market is still nascent and early. This is the era of 50 to 100 hours of homework and then putting your toe in. Don’t get FOMO, don’t get hyped, don’t carelessly spend money that you don’t have. Then, once you are educated, spend money that you can afford to lose. From the business side, realize this is an avenue for more opportunity to build community to create opportunities for both you and your audience — I think that is incredibly exciting. Finally, for pure, pure, pure artists, this is a huge opportunity. Create as much content as possible. Create NFTs. Get yourself out there, you’re only one NFT project away from changing your life.”
What do NFTs say about our relationship with the concept of ownership?
“We’ve always had an important relationship with ownership. That’s just how we navigate as humans going back to caveman life. As we become more digital as a society. actual ownership in a digital environment will continue to matter more. A decentralized blockchain is an incredibly effective way to achieve that goal.”
When you spoke at Consensus 2021, you mentioned your NFTs could be incentivized to keep active communities active and involved. Can you give us some examples?
“It comes down to the creator of the NFTs. I put out cartoons, movies, and toys, so for me, it’s getting the world to care about Patient Panda or Adaptable Alien. And that is my job. If I’m able to do that, the way that Mickey Mouse did, well, then the original asset of its creation becomes highly sought after. How do you get people to care about your art, or your characters? That becomes the ultimate job of an NFT creator, to maintain long-term value.”
You’ve expressed a lot of excitement about Bitcoin. Do you think it’ll hit $100,000?
“I gravitate towards NFTs because I have much more understanding around intellectual property, collecting, and community building, then I do around currency trading. So the answer is I’m not sure because I’m just not educated. What I do know is for it to get to that place, it will need to be functional in society.”
British contemporary artist Chemical X has expanded his repertoire beyond art and installation pieces reflecting rave culture to sustainable NFTs, minted on Stacks which is connected to Bitcoin blockchain and offers a more green solution by minimizing the energy consumed producing their NFTs.
His new series is titled “This Is #1” features supermodel, actress, and philanthropist, Cara Delevingne as well as Fatboy Slim, Orbital, and Grammy and Golden Globe-winning artist/producer, Dave Stewart.
Chemical X’s work is usually irreverent and sometimes subversive, but he does regard NFTs as a new medium in a long career of creating art.
Chemical X keeps his identity concealed as to separate the art from the artist, and perhaps because his earlier work was inspired by the accidental artistry of ecstasy pills, but he took the time to be interviewed.
Simply, what is the statement you want to make with this project? If you could make your audience walk away with one message, what is it?
“From an artistic perspective I’d like for them to see that art is about storytelling and doesn’t have to be a purely decorative medium. There are too many artists that are purely about the style and not about the substance. Art should engage on an intellectual and emotive level not just an aesthetic one. The works on display and the people that I am collaborating with share an ethos around accessibility, positivity and empowerment, but they can be fun and entertaining too.
From a technological perspective, I’d hope that they would begin to see that they can be a part of a technology that will change the world, even if it’s not obvious to everyone how that will happen but blockchain and the open source Web 3.0 are coming, paving the way for a user-owned internet.”
How is this an extension of your previous work?
“This is a new medium, an opportunity for collaboration across members of the artistic community to create something new. Sound and vision bestowed with a new value. Digital and 3D artists were already in that space and were rightly seeing an opportunity to monetize their work in a way that had never been easy for them. I felt that there needed to be an alternative way to engage with a new audience. Unlike my other work, this isn’t subject-led, it’s a whole new subject of its own.”
How does blockchain culture compare to rave culture? Are you reaching a new audience or speaking to the same audience you have cultivated?
“Rave culture was all about inclusivity, you only have to watch some of the early camcorder footage of illegal parties in warehouses and you are struck by the diversity of the participants.
That is the similarity of the crypto community, but without the drugs unfortunately. It’s easy to talk about inclusivity and shared ownership from behind your keyboard, when they actually view it as a bit of a secret club and letting in others will eventually take that exclusivity away. The blockchain culture needs to become mainstream culture if it is to attain the ubiquitousness required to change the world. That’s what happened to rave. Those old school ravers are in their fifties now and are helping to change perspectives incrementally.”
Why NFTs? Aren’t they just a new way to own something? What are fans getting in terms of experience that they can’t get with other digital files?
“In a word, ownership. The ease with which a digital file can be copied and distributed has stripped it of its value. That’s what happened to music when streaming came along. Everyone thought music had no value anymore as something to own. But in the last twelve months, vinyl sales have been as high as they were in the 90’s. People like to own something, not just consume it. To collect an artist’s work is to show support for what they mean to you. That’s why art needs to connect with its audience, not simply present a homogenised product to wash over the masses.
If you had to summarize what buyers are getting — it’s not a ticket to a show, it’s not a physical piece of art, it’s not an installation or an event, etc. — without using any blockchain language how would you describe it?
From a collector’s perspective, This Is #1 represents the world’s first collection of curated NFTs minted on Bitcoin as opposed to Ethereum, and a #1 references that these are one-of-a-kind, the first of their kind, and in fact, first editions. On a more meta level, #1 is also an ode to the very first Bitcoin wallet addresses which all start with the number one.
You are also getting an everlasting piece of art that has been chosen by its creator to represent their work. That file – the one you own, it won’t wither and die, crumble or fade. It will be the same in a thousand years as it was on the day it was created. It will live on and be passed down through millennia without degrading and in part, Bitcoin makes it so that this is possible.”
What does the artist bring to the blockchain space?
“Artists don’t reflect society back on themselves, they are the prism through which the world sees itself anew. Technology allows us to reinvent ourselves beyond our physical limitations, empowering the individual and democratising accessibility. The dream is to create an infrastructure that is open source and unownable by anyone but yourself. A world where you can count on your fingers the number of people that own half of the world’s wealth is not a success. Artists can create work that reaches everyone with access to the internet, whether someone wants to own a part of that is their choice but that connection can be very meaningful.”
Where do you hope this leads artists in the next 5 years?
“This whole project is a partnership between art and technology so none of it would be possible without my partners Risidio and their technical expertise. I will be led by the innovations that they are able to develop in terms of what is possible in the future. Plus, we all share an outlook and ethos. Ditto for the Stacks crew. We are all on the same page as far as keeping on the right side of history is concerned.”
“The fundamental content of the #1 project is based on me, as the artist Chemical X, collaborating with someone to make a unique artwork that represents the collaborator’s interpretation of the statement, ‘This is number one’. These will grow into a gallery of work that examines the way that we, as individuals, respond to addressing what is fundamental to us. What I hope is that this open, yet specific brief will be tackled through a myriad of contributors whose difference amplifies the outcome. So an architect and a rapper, a dancer and a poet, a drummer and a painter, all addressing a fundamental question about what is important to them and expressing it through an art form that allows for chronology and therefore storytelling.”
In 2021, after a year or more of relative immobility with more people stuck at home and behind their screens than ever before, perhaps it is fitting that NFTs — whether sports memorabilia, cartoon collectibles, or art — reflect our collective digital dreams.
The future of NFTs as a vehicle for collecting and owning rare and unique things has an interesting future in some ways independent of the future of cryptocurrency.
With these three very different creators and very different types of projects, there is a clear sense that each is in its own way trying to crack the code of the art and ideas that will not only resonate in an immediate sense with a potential audience, but will retain value by capturing something lasting.
It’s possible that the real, powerful use cases for mainstream NFT adoption may be considerably less exciting visually but more practical to the needs of a global audience — NFTs in real estate or in medical records, for example. In the meantime, the notable creators entering the formerly foreboding realm of crypto via NFTs are a delightful distraction from the obsessive following of numbers that is the mainstay of monitoring digital currency. Bitcoin, after all, is unlikely to evince a transformative experience from the viewer even when it does hit the $100,000 dollar threshold.
With NFTs, price is the least interesting aspect in many ways. Their ability to reach an audience has boundless potential.