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April 11, 2023

How To (Really) Make It in Web3

For graduates of the VCA Residency, community is key to success as a crypto artist
Credit: Stefano Contiero, Evoluzione, 2022. Courtesy of the artist
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How To (Really) Make It in Web3

In 2021, VerticalCrypto Art founded its Residency Program with the mission to democratize access to knowledge by providing free education in the fields of crypto art, NFTs, Web3, and the metaverse. Now in its sixth edition, it is hard to overstate the importance of the VCA Residency in sustaining Web3 as a space where everyone can participate regardless of their background. Thanks to its cutting-edge curriculum as well as the high caliber of its mentors, the Residency reveals the power of community to shape a more inclusive art world. Here, graduates from each cohort share how their careers have benefited from an education like no other.

Wyn-Lyn Tan, Land-scape, 2023. Courtesy of the artist

Micol Ap: What was your experience of the VCA Residency Program? How has it helped to nourish your career in Web3?

Ana María Caballero: My experience as a VCA artist in residence was equal parts humbling and empowering. As some of the brightest minds I’ve ever encountered presented their crafts, I was struck by their mastery and inspired to learn. Before the residency, I thought it was too late for me to begin coding, but the experience helped me to believe that new tools were within my grasp. I owe this to both the quality of the classes offered by the residency and to its tone — one of devout, yet casual, inclusivity.

Stefano Contiero: Being part of the VCA residency program was great! It was an amazing opportunity to learn and grow, both as an artist and as someone who had little to no crypto or Web3 knowledge at the time. Learning, chatting, and being mentored by the same people who contributed to building this space from day one was invaluable. Through the residency, I was able to connect with fellow artists and the broader crypto art community, which undoubtedly expanded my career in Web3.

Encapsuled: At the time, I was pretty new to crypto and NFTs. The VCA Residency helped me to understand and navigate this space. It gave me perspective, and allowed me to learn directly from many wonderful people. 

Rose Forsyth-Jackson: I was so excited to be part of the first cohort, which was a great experience.

At the time, I was trying to soak up all the information from Twitter, which wasn’t the most productive. Being part of the residency helped me gain access to all the information I needed in a more streamlined and accessible way. 

It was indispensable to learn the history of crypto art not to mention the importance of having a Ledger from an early stage. It really set me up to succeed. The Residency has also helped nourish my career through its support network — it is a wonderful community of people to be part of. 

Rose Forsyth-Jackson, the warmth of the earth, 2023. Courtesy of the artist

Alejandro Javaloyas: The VCA Residency was one of the most exciting, enriching, and enlightening projects I’ve been a part of since I started my Web3 journey in June 2022. I was aware that VerticalCrypto Art was one of the key players facilitating meaningful conversations about art in the crypto space, and I had heard great things about its educational program. However, I didn’t expect that we would be exposed to such high-quality content and speakers.

Through the Residency, I gained a much broader understanding of the ecosystem, while being introduced to fascinating folks among my co-residents, mentors, guest artists, and collectors. It ignited a spark of curiosity to keep digging deeper into new areas, such as creative coding and GAN art.

Wyn-Lyn Tan: I come from a traditional fine art background, working as a visual artist for over 15 years. I entered the VCA Residency Program with an interest in learning more about blockchain technology and how I could use it to present my art. At the time, I was fairly new to making digital art and was looking for feedback and critique of my digital work. I was also hoping to connect with other artists and perhaps discover potential collaborations. The VCA residency curriculum covered a wide scope of topics relating to crypto art, NFTs, Web3, and the metaverse.

For a blockchain noob like me, it was helpful as an introduction. The topics I found particularly useful related to how one could market and promote one’s art against the noise of the NFT ecosystem. 

Since the residency, I have continued to develop my digital art portfolio, including new generative AI videos that were minted, sold, and exhibited in various digital art festivals. I was chosen as one of the Top 3 artists for INSTINC D: Art Fest in Singapore, and I was also approached by Galeria Paloma to exhibit in a virtual and physical group exhibition in Manila in conjunction with Crypto Art Week Asia.

Encapsuled, Your Story, 2022. Courtesy of the artist

MA: In what ways is the VCA ethos unique? I’m interested in the experience of participants from different cohorts.

E: I loved the fact that VCA didn’t care about who I was, or whether or not I had a pre-existing following. They evaluated my application and it seemed that they appreciated my art. During the Residency everyone was always encouraged to participate, and the mentors really tried to nurture an environment in which everyone would feel listened to, no matter how good their spoken English. We were all there to learn together from the mentors and from each other.

WLT: The Residency is unique for the way it truly wishes to support artists in carving a sustainable presence in the Web3 ecosystem. It is a stepping stone to the wider Web3 community that has given me both the confidence and connections to put my digital work out there, and apply to more crypto art open calls.

AJ: I think some principles like art appreciation, community building, and empowerment permeate everything that VerticalCrypto Art touches, including the Residency Program. The abstract painter Ian McKeever once said: “everyone thinks a painting is somehow about space, but I think it’s much more about time. When you look at a painting, you shouldn’t feel a sense of space and physical presence, but rather the latent time inside of it.” In my opinion, that experience of latency is what VCA is capable of offering the space through its approach to curation as a form of art-making, as creation. The Residency has the power to slow down the frenetic pace of Twitter in order to offer context and exchange art and ideas.

Alejandro Javaloras, Flatlines Beyond The Last Station, 2022. Courtesy of the artist
RFJ: The VCA Residency promotes education and accessibility over money and exclusivity. The fact that all classes are on YouTube, available both to those already in the crypto art space as well as those completely new to it, is a testament to their integrity and commitment to knowledge sharing. 

SC: First of all, the VCA community is incredibly supportive and collaborative, it creates a unique environment for its members to create and showcase their work. I was part of the second cohort in the last quarter of 2021 and, during the residency period, the whole NFT space was going crazy. VCA felt like a safe space, where we were free to learn, experiment, and share while being supported and mentored by great people.

AMC: The VCA ethos is one of disciplined disruption, experimentation, faith, and fairness. All artistic styles, backgrounds, career levels, and mediums are welcome. Micol, you are a true leader who is committed to uplifting the good and calling out the bad. I admire how unapologetically vocal you are, and how fun, joyful, and consistent. It’s not easy to be a woman founder, and you lead the way with outspoken grace, integrity, expediency, and vision.

Ana María Caballero, (Still from) Fathomless, 2022. Courtesy of the artist

MA: As the crypto and contemporary art worlds continue to integrate, what natively Web3 principles should be preserved and how can this be achieved?

RFJ: The Web3 principles of decentralization, community ownership, and transparency must be prioritized in order to ensure that the crypto and contemporary art worlds continue to integrate in a way that’s aligned with the core values of the Web3 ecosystem. I think it’s important that marketplaces, platforms, and education systems are designed with these values in mind. I believe it is so important to educate and empower users to participate in these platforms and to actively engage in community governance and decision-making. Teia is a wonderful example of these principles, I hope it can continue on and be supported by the crypto art community.

AJ: I understand my practice as fundamentally post-abstract. That does not simply entail digital abstraction designed for a screen or a device connected to the Internet. It also involves a reaction against some of the paradigms of traditional abstraction. 

Abstract Expressionism and European Informalism were heavily dominated by Caucasian, straight men. What was once gestural brushwork and material accident is now glitch and long-form algorithmic art. Post-abstraction needs to be diverse, inclusive, and accessible.

Decentralization is, in my opinion, the core Web3 principle that should be preserved to ensure a new, fairer art ecosystem with fewer gatekeepers and tastemakers, one that is accessible to everyone regardless of gender, race, or country of residence. We need a new system in which the artists hold the power to make their own decisions without having to rely on third-party validators.

Stefano Contiero, Sviluppo Cromatico, 2022. Courtesy of the artist

WLT: As an artist, Web3 gives me a legitimate way to create and sell digital art. With the blockchain there is transparency and trust because the ownership is also tied to the blockchain.

SC: I believe that the crypto art and contemporary art worlds have a lot to learn from each other. The transparency of proof of provenance, ownership, and authenticity we have in Web3 would be truly beneficial in the contemporary art world. Of course, decentralization also plays an important role, allowing artists and collectors access to one another in a direct, transparent manner. Royalties are truly life-changing for artists, but, unfortunately, they are also under threat in Web3.

E: One of the aspects I love most about Web3 is transparency. Having transactions and activity recorded on-chain is instrumental to achieving this, and I hope that it will be adopted more and more in the contemporary art world. In Web3, it is also so easy to work together with other artists. This open spirit can be preserved, and even enhanced, with programs like the VCA Residency as well as on-site residencies. 

Encapsuled, Manifesto, 2023. Courtesy of the artist

AMC: Whenever anyone asks me to define crypto art, I like to quote Artnome: “crypto art is what happens when everyone gets to participate.” 

The principles of open participation and opportunity should be maintained at all costs. However, I think it’s dangerous to expound the idea that “We’re All Gonna Make It.” What does “make it” even mean? 

I believe that crypto art is an imperfect land of opportunity, much like the Wild American West once was. It’s mined with obstacles and not for the faint of heart. But if you have a clear vision of what you want and a lot of endurance, you will travel. 

As a VCA mentor myself who’s bilingual, I’ve spoken to many alumni who feel limited by their knowledge of English. This is true of many realms, of course. But if we are truly to make opportunities available for all, it is necessary for the hegemony of English to be less absolute. This requires a whole ecosystem — collectors, curators, audiences, etc. — able to speak and function in other languages. It’s a lofty dream, but one I hold. If crypto art can preserve low barriers to entry and deliver on its promises of opportunity and self-sovereignty, then I’m hopeful that it will merge with the traditional art world in a way that doesn’t muddy its waters. 

Ana María Caballero and Julián Brangold, (Still from) Domingo 2, 2023. Courtesy of the artist

MA: Why is it important to foster education programs that aren’t solely focused on maximizing sales? 

RFJ: To me it’s kind of a no-brainer — education is key. Without education for artists, curators, and critics you get more people susceptible to scams, underrepresentation in exhibitions and auctions, as well as major institutions risking their reputations by making ill-informed decisions. The way that the VCA Residency empowers its cohorts with access to knowledge is the way forward.

SC: While the hype surrounding sales was fun in 2021, I don’t believe it is sustainable in the long run. 

The strength of this space is its ability to empower all artists worldwide to distribute their art without limits, while empowering everyone to become a collector. 

To do that, we need education programs that focus on onboarding new people into this space and familiarizing them with technology that can be quite intimidating in the beginning. To me, it’s all about enabling new forms of art to find their true place in people’s homes, rather than record sales.

AMC: For those who are not established artists, sales are unpredictable at best, unobtainable at worst. To come to Web3 in search of nothing more than sales is to find disappointment, perhaps peppered with flashes of joy. That is no way to live or “make it.” If you enter Web3 with a desire to learn and connect, to share your work thoughtfully with new audiences, armed with a message that is greater than yourself, you will grow as an artist and as a person. You might even find you’ve “made it.”  

Alejandro Javaloras, A Post-Human Chronicle After The Martian Diaspora, 2023. Courtesy of the artist

E: To me, education is the key to solving a lot of problems in the world by providing the ability to think, connect dots, and form judgments. Too often we follow advice and rules blindly, but rules also need updating. Artists are innovators with the ability to change society. But this cannot happen if we are solely focused on selling the next piece.

WLT: Web3 and crypto doesn’t necessarily have the best reputation, given its volatility and flood of cash-grab projects.

For art to be respected and legitimized in Web3, education is a necessity.

AJ: One of the central issues of our contemporary society is that we read every event with neoliberal glasses on, so we tend to reach conclusions based on the principles of productivity and profit. That’s a very skewed view of the world. Sales do matter, and transparency is key. However, the impact of a given artwork or body of work goes beyond its sale price. It’s essential that we have education programs that focus on the art over and above the creator’s need to monetize it.

In the VCA Residency we had weekly crits, eloquently moderated by Harry Martin from LAL Art advisory. The protocol was very simple: a resident would drop one of their pieces in the Discord chat, we would have five minutes of silence to reflect on it, and then we would engage in a 15-minute discussion on formal and conceptual aspects of the work. I can’t stress enough how refreshing and soul-nurturing it was to have this time to simply observe and enjoy the art by my co-residents.

Wyn-Lyn Tan, The Living Mountain, 2022. Courtesy of the artist

MA: We’d love to hear about any forthcoming projects you might be developing for 2023.

WLT: I’ve been invited to participate in this year’s Proof of People x REFRACTION at NFT.NYC, where I will launch a new generative AI video work for the event. I’ve also recently opened a solo exhibition of physical paintings and generative AI video projections at the Esplanade, Singapore’s national performing arts center. Titled Land-scape (2023), it’s an expansive installation stretching over 85 meters long — my longest installation to date. 

AJ: In my IRL practice, I have an ongoing solo show titled “Floating Matter” in Mallorca, Spain, curated by Fernando Gómez de la Cuesta, that displays my first body of images generated with CLIP AI. In addition, I’m super excited to be included in two forthcoming group shows: an abstract exhibition at CAI Gallery, Belgium, and an ultra-photographic show at the Centro Párraga in Murcia, Spain.

In Web3, I’m currently working on my first generative collage, continuing my series of scanned wilt flowers while learning JavaScript and p5.js. I’m also participating in different curated drops by projects such as Fakewhale, NIGHTTIMESTORY, and the Flannel Collective.

E:  I always like to be busy! I’m currently working on a few collections in parallel, trying to find the right partners to release them with. I’ve grown very attached to them and I would like to release them with galleries that are also passionate about what I do.

Rose Forsyth-Jackson, 02D, 2023. Courtesy of the artist

RFJ: 2023 is my year of exploration to develop my artistic practice in multiple mediums. I have a launch in August that I’m excited about. Otherwise I’m just focusing on furthering my painting practice and how (if) I want to weave it into my digital work. 

SC: At the moment, I’m taking a break from new projects, and focusing on getting back to my creative process to experiment more. I have some fun ideas that I’ll explore in the coming months. I’m looking forward to experimenting with more physical manifestations of my art and I’m curious about incorporating AI in a meaningful way into my generative art practice.

AMC: I’ve recently co-created a really special piece with one of the artists I most admire, Nancy Baker Cahill, launching on Feral File as part of an exhibition curated by theVERSEverse. I’m also developing a project with the blindingly brilliant editor of RCS, Alex Estorick, that rewrites the wordless books of the so-called Dark Ages. I’m also working on a poetry-book-as-exhibition with master coder and wonderful human, Aaron Penne. Finally, I hope to launch my first solo generative project with Micol, who else. On the non-digital side of things, I have a non-fiction book coming out in May and a poetry book coming out in Spring 2024 — lots to look forward to, lots to be grateful for.

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With thanks to Borya Shapshalova (BoryaXYZ).

Ana María Caballero is a first-generation Colombian-American poet and artist, whose work explores how biology delimits societal and cultural rites, ripping the veil off romanticized motherhood and questioning notions that package sacrifice as a virtue. She’s the recipient of the Beverly International Prize, Colombia’s José Manuel Arango National Poetry Prize, the Steel Toe Books Poetry Prize, and a Sevens Foundation Grant. Her Pushcart Prize and Best of the Net-nominated work has been widely published and exhibited internationally, most recently at bitforms in New York, JustMAD in Madrid, Gazelli Art House in London, and L’Avant Galerie Vossen in Paris. Recognized as a Web3 poetry pioneer for her own work, she is also one of the co-founders of theVERSEverse

Stefano Contiero is an Italian-Dominican self-taught artist born in Bassano del Grappa, Italy. Using generative art, he explores self-reflection and expression through a continuous feedback loop between his subconscious and technology. After developing his craft in solitude for many years, he became known for Frammenti (Art Blocks Curated Series 3) and Rinascita (Art Blocks Playground) in 2021.

Encapsuled (also known as Michelangelo) is an Italian artist and writer whose work revolves around simplicity and imagination. He joined the NFT space in 2021 and has since produced several on-chain writing projects. In 2022, he released a generative art project, Your Story, on Art Blocks, whose tokens (or rather pages) combined form a book. The interpretation of this book relies on the imagination of the viewer. His latest work, Manifesto, created for BREEZY’s “Criticize by Creating” initiative, is an asemic piece that comments on the loss of critical thinking and individuality in contemporary society. 

Rose Forsyth-Jackson (also known as Rose Jackson) is a multidisciplinary artist whose work spans painting, wool felting, and digital art. Born and raised in the Blue Mountains of Australia, Rose combines traditional techniques with modern technology to create dynamic, colorful pieces that explore themes of identity and personal experience. Her work with textiles and digital media showcase her interest in texture and dimensionality, exploring the landscape of the natural world and connection to spirituality. She has exhibited globally, and her work has been auctioned through a renowned Chinese auction house. 

Alejandro Javaloyas is a multimedia visual artist from Spain who is currently based in France. His work explores a broad spectrum, ranging from post-abstraction to ultra-photography. He holds a BA in Fine Arts from the University of Barcelona, an MA in Filmmaking from the Cinema and Audiovisual School of Catalonia (ESCAC), and an MBA in Cultural Management from Aalto University. 

Wyn-Lyn Tan is an artist from Singapore who works with painting. For over a decade, she has worked in a range of media, including canvas, plexiglass, metal, and wood. Her practice centers on her observations of natural phenomena, fusing ideologies from  traditional Chinese painting with the sublime landscape of the Arctic where she lived for some time. Her surreal generative AI videos rely on the training of GANs (generative adversarial networks) on her own physical paintings. An extension of her painting practice, these works oscillate between intentionality and serendipity, and the real and surreal. She has exhibited globally, including in Singapore, New York, Norway, and Hong Kong. Her work can be found in the permanent collection of the Singapore Art Museum, as well as numerous other public and private collections.  

Micol Ap is founder and CEO of VerticalCrypto Art, a natively Web3 curatorial studio dedicated to art and culture on the blockchain. Micol sits on the curatorial board of Art Blocks and has over nine years of experience working in the fields of technology and art, previously at Meta.