History shows art has always been controlled by major institutions. Michaelangelo was paid to paint the Sistine Chapel through the patronage of religious authorities in the 14th century. In the18th century, Capitalism met art and the image of a starving artist became idealized by art buyers. After World War II, museums became the dominant institution for creatives. Today, technology has transformed how art is created and consumed. Artist Elissa Waverly has found blockchain technology extremely helpful for the democratization of art and sees a future as a creative revolution where money and power will move into the hands of artists.
In the last 10 years, we saw the democratization of art through platforms like Instagram, Etsy, and Shopify. With this technology, artists are able to share their stories and sell their work instead of relying on galleries. In the next 10 years, we will see a shift in patronage. Anyone who has a smart phone and access to the internet will be able to support artists. “These four billion people investing in creators through their phones and blockchain technology will become the modern-day Medicis,” says Waverly. But how do you connect this new world where people can invest in art and the artists who want to get exposure for their work?
The NFT (non-fungible token) was the first bridge between blockchain and art and marked the beginning of decentralized financial patronage. Where the NFT represented a single piece of art, the next step would be the ability for each artist to have their own token where the new patrons can invest in the artist as they would a corporation. Waverly says it best, “fintech apps and blockchain technology will pave the way for a creative revolution.” However, as exciting as this transition into a new kind of art world may be, it is still being antagonized, and the transformation is happening slowly.
A belief that has been carried throughout the years is artists do not create art for money; they do it out of love and passion. If you chose to create a piece just for the money, you would be considered a sellout and many artists do not want to be seen as capitalists. However, Elissa Waverly suggests, “This idea that artists should be ‘starving’ and oppose business is a myth made up by the art world. It’s an antiquated ideology that does not make sense in an internet world where we have all the tools to exist without established authority. The antagonization between artists and business is just class warfare.” Even in its most recent adoption of the blockchain, the artworld saw NFTs as a haven for people to store their assets, missing the bigger picture of decentralization, trust through smart contracts and anonymity .
Traditionally, the art world determined the image of the artist and the price of the art. The existence of cryptocurrency allows artists to create in anonymity, while allowing patronage in anonymity. “An anonymous artist with an audience of the internet will no longer be subject to gender, race, or identity politics,” says Waverly, “The art world will not determine the image of this artist. As an anonymous avatar, the individual can hold multiple identities online, and the idea of the starving artist will no longer be relevant just as the iconic image of an investor will no longer be relevant with the presence of crowdfunding and fintech apps. The narrative will rest purely in the hands of the creator and modern day patron. Thus, allowing the people of the internet to decide the kind of work they want to support without institutions dictating who is or is not worthy.
Society has changed and adapted as technology continues to advance. Finances have transformed in recent years with cryptocurrency growth, and no surprise, art has been affected by this. Probably for the best, NFTs and blockchain technology have allowed art to be created and consumed differently than what we were used to. Instead of major institutions deciding what art should be supported and admired, four billion Medicis with access to smartphones get to stand by the pieces they believe deserve to be recognized. As Elissa Waverly says, the democratization of art will give artists more freedom.
About Elissa Waverly: Driven by an unparalleled curiosity, Elissa Waverly is an Indian-American multimedia artist who values Economics as much as she does Poetry. Whether in her studies of Finance at Harvard to hand-making works of wearable art for the likes of Victoria Secret fashion models, Elissa Waverly draws on multiple disciplines to make connections about the future. Her methods of experimentation have led her to be one of the few minority women sitting at the intersection of blockchain investing and the creative economy.