Teenage artists make millions on NFTs. Why and how?


JAiden Stipp was watching a Star Wars movie in his afternoon youth group in Tacoma, Wash., Last March when the deals started coming in. First it was a fragment of an Ethereum coin, valued at around $ 300 at the time. Then it was more. Eventually, Stipp, who is 15 and will soon be entering his sophomore year of high school, sold his work, a digital illustration of a cartoon character resembling an astronaut, for 20ETH. (This converted to over $ 30,000; it was traded a month later for almost $ 60,000.) “My dad was like, ‘No way it’s real money,’ Stipp says. . “Looks like there’s a lot of counterfeit money going around. So we took some of the money out just to see what’s really real. And then to the bank. I was like, ‘Whoa.’ ”

Stipp had created and sold logo designs for clients found on the Discord social app for $ 20 to $ 70. On a whim, he turned his astronaut cartoon into an NFT (non-fungible token), auctioned it off, and overnight became a leading artist. It has since been sold four other pieces, and cashed in enough to help her parents pay for their house and cars. For the rest, he is investing in the early works of other young artists who bypass the traditional art market to find a stable of avid buyers in the world of cryptoart on the blockchain.

NFTs, like Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies, have been subject to bouts of volatility since they hit the mainstream in the spring. The initial bubble, in which artists like Beeple sold his work for $ 69 million, has burst. But what remains is a thriving market for digitally native art and collectible virtual paraphernalia. A major market called OpenSea, for example, comes from outmoded 26,000 users, with more than $ 3 billion of sales volume in August alone, ten times more than in July.

For some of the youngest creators of this Wild West of art, the wave may not even have reached its peak yet. Noah Davis, head of digital sales at Christie’s, is optimistic about the future, especially for young artists who are flooding the space. “They have the keys to the castle,” says Davis. “It’s not a strictly aesthetic game. These are not the same ideals and goals that fine artists used to have. It’s a space that really values ​​the community and the identity of the artists behind the project in a way that wasn’t as important before. In recent weeks, newer and younger artists have flourished; Davis calls it “absolute madness”, with record prices for projects by cryptonative artists like 12 years old. Benyamin Ahmed and his Weird Whales series. “There is a premium for artists who look and feel like a part of this community and this world,” Davis says. Whether or not it is a bubble does not matter to buyers who are willing to invest in these NFTs – buyers whose mindset, according to Davis, is that “the future , it is now “.

One of the first to bid on Jaiden Stipp’s work was Victor Langlois, another digital artist, himself 18, who wears the mononym FEWOCiOUS and received critical distinctions for his colorful and distinctive work. (He has reportedly cashed in over $ 18 million in the past year on his own NFT sales; when asked about that number, Langlois just laughs and says he has no idea what he really did.) Langlois, Stipp and a growing community of teen cryptoartists are finding that their status as digital natives gives them a head start in the NFT market. “We just grew up playing on social media, watching YouTube videos or playing video games. We therefore understand, since our childhood, exchanging digital assets in a video game and, like, working to obtain [things like] armor and upgrade, ”Langlois says. “This naturally translates to NFT, as it’s like trading collectibles or trading your art.”

Plus, the free experience means there are no barriers to entry or investment. The process of creating an NFT goes as follows: first, you apply to be listed in a market like SuperRare; it took about a month for Stipp to be accepted. Then you go to a site where you download the digital file you want to list and “tokenize” it, including paying a typing fee. (Since being a miner, Stipp’s mother has helped him create a PayPal account and a Bitcoin wallet to use for his transactions.) From there, it’s all about building the hype and getting connected. with other artists and collectors, who bid on each other to increase visibility and sales. Some artists, like Ahmed de Weird Whales and 12-year-old Nyla Hayes, sell sets of thousands of collectable works, taking advantage of the computer generation to iterate on a concept. (His series is called Ladies Long Tie.)

“It’s available to anyone, anywhere, anytime to meet on the blockchain,” Stipp says. “And you make it easier for people to notice your work than if you were in a traditional gallery or traditional art setting. This means that teens can get around the more stuffy side of art sales and the hurdles that more established gallery processes present. And they can create an independent community of outside taste referees.

Not everyone has embraced this future. Cat Graffam, an artist and art teacher who has frank summer on Twitter and YouTube about their concerns, warns of the potentially predatory nature of the market and investors. “I think the people who have the most to gain are people like the Winklevoss twins, who are already very wealthy and have an NFT platform,” Graffam said. “The biggest losers are the vast majority of non-established artists trying to break into NFT sales. Whether he’s selling or not, artists are paying to hit their work on the blockchain, and owners of selling platforms inevitably benefit from this influx of NFT art. Finally, everyone’s story is not as successful as that of Stipp or Langlois. The tricky thing about NFT art is that its very existence turns works of art into pure currency – a flattening of creative expression that some artists will always resent. “Valuing art purely on the basis of the money you make is really reductive and detracts from the personal worth, the cultural value that art can have,” says Graffam, echoing criticisms of the art market. contemporary art in the broad sense. Other concerns include the potential for fraud and theft of works of art, as well as environmental disadvantage.

Graffam understands that the art world is particularly in love with young people; They were only 19 when an online magazine associated with the Saatchi Gallery first wrote about them, anointing them like a rising star and offering them a springboard for their first exhibition. But while Graffam, now 28, applauds artists like Langlois, they remain skeptical of the wider potential.

But for Langlois, Stipp and artists like 14 years old Erin beesley from North Carolina, the future looks bright and Beesley hasn’t even started high school yet. She discovered NFT in 2017, playing an online game called Cryptokitties. (Think Neopets, but simpler.) She’s been an artist since she was little, learned to code herself in 2019, and now produces generative art – images and videos made using of the code she wrote. The types of generative art have been around for decades, but coded projects like Beesley’s are particularly suited to today’s digital space. More recently, her work – which she lists on the SuperRare platform, the same one used by Langlois and Stipp – sells for 14ETH, or about $ 50,000. She says she tries to be “slow and meticulous” in going out and selling pieces and that she has reinvested in both NFTs and physical art. As for his parents and friends? “I think they’re very impressed but don’t 100% understand the technical stuff so it’s a little confusing for them,” she said nonchalantly.

Like Beesley, Stipp has been quiet about his digital fame; he’s just started at a new high school, and other than his best friend who helped him with sales, he thinks no one knows about his NFT successes. It also sticks to a more limited one-off exit strategy. The income is just a bonus for him. He didn’t even really feel a change when the the summer “crash” blew up crypto stocks in June, possibly sparked by Elon Musk’s hesitation. Since then, markets have risen to over $ 2,000 billion on all stock exchanges, but remain subject to episodes of major volatility; on September 7, for example, they gave up about 15%. For teenage NFT performers, the ups and downs are the side spectacle. It’s the community that matters most.

“I feel even more connected than in March,” says Stipp. Langlois, too, has shining eyes. “Every time I see someone young, I think to myself, yes, I believe in you,” he says. “What about the fact that you even know what it is and how to do something?” I want to support you so hard because I don’t know what you are going to do in three years; you could invent the future… something!

Write to Raisa Bruner at [email protected]

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