However, since the birth of crypto art (or “CryptoArt” as the OGs have it), this utopian vision has been undermined by the reality that Web3 lies at the intersection of multiple male-dominated spaces in the art, science, and tech industries, privileging college graduates with access to advanced software and computing materials. The fact that STEM disciplines mark the principal entry points for so many artists in Web3 means that women are inevitably underrepresented in the space.
Many of the largest IRL events still take place in the same locations as the traditional art world. Indeed, those events that do seek to cultivate a more inclusive and tolerant ecosystem, such as Historic NFT Fest and FEMGEN, tend to occur on the margins. They are therefore indicative of a movement — and border economy — under constant threat from the forces of centralization and exclusivity that continue to shape the legacy art world.
Considering its hypermasculine, Eurocentric foundations, how can Web3 actually deliver on the promise of radical inclusivity? And how can we ensure that this new sphere of digital culture isn’t simply a rehash of the legacy art world?
For the artist Sputniko!, whose recent proposal for a wearable allowing avatars to bleed red was rejected by Decentraland, “although people talk about trying to make Web3 or the metaverse more inclusive, ironically it just feels like traditional values and perspectives are being perpetuated.” While there remain a number of projects that continue to widen participation — not least fxhash, Processing, and ClubNFT’s Pathfinder tool — their effectiveness is blunted by a Web3 art world that, even in its infancy, is still reproducing the very star system it once purported to quash.
By spotlighting a trio of emerging crypto artists, the following conversation seeks to address the challenges faced by the current generation of hybrid creators, in whom the roles of artist, collector, and curator all coalesce. Together, Anya Asano, Flora Márquez, and Shaga O’Nhan are united by their eclecticism as well as the fact that they have all been surfaced by Pathfinder, which seeks to familiarize collectors with artists who tend to go unnoticed. What makes such conversations so important is that it is only by listening to the priorities of emerging artists that we can return to the kind of horizontal and inclusive ecosystem that might effect meaningful change.
Katherine Howatson-Tout: What drew you to the NFT space in the first place?
Anya Asano: As an art director and designer by profession, I have a keen interest in all things tech. During the Christmas of 2020, I came across a news story about NFTs. It was a moment of instant enlightenment. I have been creating digital art for over 20 years, but I’ve only had the opportunity to display my work in two or three art shows, which unfortunately didn’t lead to anything significant. When I learned about the entire NFT ecosystem and the world of cryptocurrency, I decided to fully immerse myself in it.
Flora Márquez: If I have to use just one word for this answer, it would be “curiosity.” One day, back in August 2021, a friend of mine, Tornado Rodríguez, messaged me asking if I knew anything about NFTs. I googled what I could, and that very night I started exploring Hic et Nunc. Since then, I’ve always found a way to somehow be involved with NFTs. I’ve always liked staying up-to-date, knowing what’s happening in new digital spaces, and, of course, taking my art to different places and dimensions.
Shaga O’Nhan: I didn’t do that much art before I got into NFTs. I kept everything to myself. I had a little series of comics made in class but the French teacher didn’t like it. I found the NFT format fun and liked how it was adapted for generative art. My professional background is in computer science, so I like to combine art and coding.
I like the power of being able to generate images that would be too intricate or time consuming to be done by hand.
I started on the Harmony blockchain because gas was super cheap over there, with overcomplicated C Sharp programs and [the requirement] to upload images one by one. But it was lacking features and going nowhere, so I moved to Tezos just a few days before the Hic et Nunc drama. [The fact that] the marketplace immediately came back to life proved to me the resilience of Web3. Then, one day I found out about fxhash for generative art and it became my main platform.
KHT: Do you consider the lifestyle of an artist working in Web3 to be sustainable?
FM: I think so, but it involves effort, dedication, and time. I don’t think it’s as straightforward a task as many people believe. It’s a lot about knowing how to communicate, sell, and adapt to new languages and platforms. For artists from other places — in my case, Argentina — [Web3] implies having a basic knowledge of English. So I do think it’s sustainable, but too many factors come into play. It’s not so simple.
SO’N: The chances to make a living out of it are low, I always treated it as a hobby and kept my costs low. Staying away from Ethereum removes the pressure and allows me to do whatever I want. With that, I can’t fail. Hopefully I have a ton of crypto on my FTX account to pay for food and the bills.
AA: Answering this question is challenging for me because I’m not a full-time artist. I’ve always been employed in the commercial art industry, working primarily for creative agencies. This has enabled me to maintain my lifestyle and support my family. However, the commercial art industry often experiences periods of fluctuation. During the slower periods, I can focus on my art without being overly concerned about the financial aspects.
From what I see, there are Web3 artists who manage to sustain themselves through their work. However, I worry that the days of every art drop selling out might be over unless more collectors enter the space. I would also appreciate a system where the buying and selling of digital art is not so heavily dependent on the price of the token.
KHT: How have you gone about making your voice heard above all the noise?
SO’N: I am in an experimental phase of always trying new ideas and not really caring about developing a brand or having a consistent art style. Doing it for fun allows me to be more authentic. This lack of seriousness can confuse some collectors and I can be seen as a total clown, but anything is better than being bland. I would be happy to get some haters, since they are good at advertising. I’ll have to be more controversial and spread rumors that I am eating kittens for breakfast.
AA: The most significant factor in getting my voice heard has been my participation in Twitter groups filled with artists and collectors who share similar interests. Everyone in these groups is incredibly supportive, and we all promote each other’s work. This also enables you to avoid the general timeline in many instances and access content directly that genuinely interests you, rather than relying on an algorithm’s suggestions. Authenticity is important. Even though I maintain a level of anonymity, I continue to be true to myself.
FM: I think it was crucial to have started at a time when NFTs were booming, which was a different time for Twitter and NFTs. I feel like I had a period of high productivity, which generated interest and drew attention to my work. When I’m not active, all the noise absorbs me and I stop being present. It’s quite frustrating. I don’t like getting caught up in those rhythms so I try to stay true to my own pace.
I try to stop focusing on current social media trends and instead focus on my own process and what I really love doing, which is ultimately creating art.
KHT: What does the NFT art community have that the legacy art world lacks? What can one learn from the other?
SO’N: NFT art is more accessible [but it comes at the cost] of some low effort and lack of curation. Nevertheless, it is worth it. In the end there is no real separation [between the two art worlds], they are just going to merge.
FM: I’m from Argentina, and selling art in my country is very complicated. Not everyone who is an artist manages to make a living from their art, but in the world of NFTs, I saw that it was possible. It has at least allowed me to earn some money from my artwork, which was impossible before NFTs.
I feel that the traditional art world always positions itself in a somewhat inaccessible place, and NFTs are the opposite — anyone can access the artwork.
It’s as if traditional art has to be exclusive, or reserved, or made by someone who has already died for it to truly have value. That seems very unfair because there are many very talented artists who are not valued in their time. I also feel that many people dismiss the value of NFTs because there is a lot of speculation in the field, but isn’t the same thing happening in the world of traditional art? I feel like there’s a lot of inconsistency.
[At the same time] the world of NFTs often depersonalizes the artist behind the artwork. The focus is so much on the pieces that, many times, the person putting in the effort remains unknown. Not many collectors take the time to find out what else the artist does or where their inspiration comes from. I think that both the traditional and crypto art worlds should have more points of contact to evolve toward a better place where artists can develop, create, and be valued for what they do. There are positive and negative aspects to both. I think it’s up to each person to make the most of what they need and nourish themselves with what truly benefits them.
AA: Certainly, the technology of NFTs has introduced some obvious benefits, like digital ownership, provenance tracking, and programmability. There are also other clear advantages, such as accessibility — anyone with an internet connection can create, buy, or sell art from anywhere in the world, which is challenging to achieve in the traditional art world and gallery system.
The NFT art community is also innovative, and consistently pushes the boundaries of what digital art and technology can accomplish. This fosters a dynamic community that encourages artists to experiment and grow. Programmability also introduces the concept of royalties. While this may not have unfolded as everyone initially thought, everyone is now aware that royalties are a viable option. Royalties can revolutionize the way artists are compensated for their work, ensuring they receive ongoing recognition and financial reward for their creations.
The NFT space also offers the potential for artists to connect directly with their audience, bypassing traditional intermediaries. This can lead to more meaningful interactions and deeper understanding between creators and consumers, which can be incredibly rewarding for both parties. The gallery and traditional art scene have long-established curatorial practices.
The NFT space could benefit from improving quality control, ensuring not only that the art displayed is of high quality, but also that the environment in which it is displayed is up to par.
Contextualization is another element that I believe is lacking in the NFT space, yet it’s extremely beneficial, especially for newcomers to the space. Given the vast amount of work being created, it’s becoming increasingly challenging to keep up and find relevant pieces. ClubNFT is already addressing this issue effectively, and I would love to see more tools developed with this aspect in mind. The introduction of advanced search and filtering tools could significantly enhance user experience, helping individuals to navigate the overwhelming amount of content and find pieces that resonate with their tastes and interests. Spotlighting emerging artists and featuring diverse art styles can also enrich the NFT art space, making it more vibrant and inclusive.
KHT: How would you describe your relationship to your collectors? Have NFTs liberated your practice or do you feel constrained by the need to operate like your own gallery?
FM: I feel that NFTs have definitely liberated my practice because they encouraged me to create at a time when I was feeling quite unmotivated. Discovering that there are people who appreciate what I do in such a strange and ever-changing space like the crypto art world fills me with intrigue and curiosity, and it motivates me to keep moving forward.
AA: The relationship is fairly positive, although communication remains a challenge. Most interactions currently take place on Twitter, which isn’t the most efficient platform for detailed discussions. I’ve recently initiated a newsletter to address this issue, but it’s been difficult to encourage people to sign up. I’m still searching for the ideal solution, and I’m hoping that it goes beyond Twitter DMs.
From an artist’s perspective, I believe that there’s room for improvement. In the coming months, I plan to prioritize enhancing communication. I’m looking to explore better solutions, and consider platforms specifically designed for community engagement or hosting virtual meet-and-greets. That way, I can foster more meaningful connections and ensure that my audience feels heard and valued.
Crypto art has undoubtedly liberated me. Coming from a DIY skateboard and punk background, I have a preference for doing things myself, and while it’s not perfect, crypto art aligns with that ethos. That being said, I’m not entirely opposed to the traditional gallery system. Galleries offer valuable services to artists, [though] this isn’t always clearly communicated. The limited number of galleries and their need to generate profit can sometimes mean that artists don’t get a fair deal. In the traditional system, artists often find themselves at the mercy of galleries and dealers, [who] can limit their creative freedom and financial rewards.
In contrast, the world of crypto art offers a more democratic and open platform, where artists can connect directly with their audiences and retain greater control over their work. That doesn’t mean that there’s no room for curation or quality control in the crypto art space. On the contrary, these elements can be integrated in a way that respects the artist’s autonomy and the decentralized ethos of the blockchain.
In the future, I envision a hybrid model where the benefits of both systems are combined, offering artists the best of both worlds — the freedom and direct rewards of crypto art, and the support and exposure provided by traditional galleries.
SO: Where I operate, collectors tend to be artists themselves, and we collect from each other. I like the freedom of dropping an NFT on a whim and letting the collector have fun with it. With the new fxhash features I can even let the collector do some work with the parameters and become part of the creative process.
KHT: How important is Twitter to the NFT community and for you as an artist promoting your work? What do you think about Twitter’s instability at the moment and its implications for the crypto art community?
FM: I haven’t been liking Twitter lately. A lot of things have happened, and there have been many changes that leave us out. Unless you pay, your Tweets don’t get shown, and it doesn’t seem useful to me. It helped me build a small audience at one point, but I think today it’s more a source of conflict than anything. NFT platforms like objkt.com have a very practical dynamic [that allow you] to follow people you’re interested in and get notified when they have new drops.
I sense that the NFT community is missing a free, democratic social network where they can showcase their work and communicate with their audience more efficiently. We don’t have that today.
SO: My Twitter account is from 2011, but before entering NFTs I had [only [posted] five tweets [and now] Twitter is my main promotion tool. For my 1,000 followers I made a prophecy saying that I will trigger the Twitter apocalypse. I guess I was right. Now, I wait for Elon to crash it so that I can buy it back for the price of one of my Harmony NFTs. As an alternative, I have a Mastodon with three followers, or we can all go to Reddit — people are super anti-NFT over there, so there is a lot of potential to troll them.
There’s no question that diversifying your presence across platforms is key. Despite the challenges of building an audience, it offers opportunities to reach varied demographics. Utilizing each platform’s strengths, from Instagram’s visuals to Twitter’s conversational style, can enhance your online presence. Exploring new platforms and trends can also foster growth and connectivity.
AA: I strive to stay updated with ongoing activities, and it’s evident that the pace has certainly slowed down. However, it’s unclear how much of this slowdown is attributable to Twitter and how much is due to the current market conditions. Starting from scratch to build a new audience is indeed a daunting task. Even with platforms like Threads, which theoretically allow you to bring your Instagram audience along, it doesn’t seem to be working as effectively as one might hope, although it’s probably too early to make a definitive judgment.
KHT: Your work came to our attention after being surfaced by ClubNFT’s Pathfinder tool. How do you feel about that?
AA: I’m truly elated that my work was recognized by ClubNFT’s Pathfinder tool. I’ve been a fan of ClubNFT since its inception, and even though I’ve slowed down my collecting activities in recent months, I still regularly explore the platform. I have a passion for discovering new artists and adding their work to my collection, and ClubNFT has been instrumental in that pursuit. The curation aspect is particularly appealing to me. Having a tool that simplifies the process of finding and collecting art is invaluable.
FM: Any tool that helps to connect artists with people interested in learning more about their art is fantastic. Any kind of platform that spreads and connects people to create good things seems like a great idea. In a hyperconnected and hyper-communicated world like ours, oddly it’s lacking genuine channels of connection, so whenever they exist, one should always be happy about it.
SO: I looked at the way it works, and I understand that it is based on artists collecting from each other. It seems that I have a good circle.
KHT: Do you mind being labeled as a “crypto artist,” which suggests membership of a global movement for artists traditionally ignored by the art world?
SO: I don’t care too much about labels, but I like being an underground artist. I will probably be famous two hundred years after I’m dead and be in [the] history ebooks.
FM: I don’t mind labels because they are given by others, not by myself. I know who I am and what I do. In my case, I do things that nourish me, make me happy, and feed my soul as an artist and as a person, like knitting, ceramics, creating comics, and making zines. I don’t care much about what others think — I focus more on what I feel inside. The day I stop feeling what I feel when doing what I do, I’ll move on to something else, and labels won’t matter to me either.
AA: I believe that there are still significant perception challenges associated with this label. The general public’s view of crypto is often negative, largely influenced by news reports highlighting regulatory uncertainties, fraud, and security concerns. This perception inevitably seeps into the crypto art world, creating an unfavorable image. Being confined to a specific label can be limiting and may not serve anyone’s best interests.
I prefer to view crypto artists simply as artists who create digital art. This not only emphasizes the artistry involved but also helps to dissociate from the negative connotations associated with cryptocurrencies.
I hope to see a shift in perception where the focus is more on the innovative use of technology in art creation and less on the financial aspect of cryptocurrencies. This could help to highlight the creative potential of the crypto art world and its contribution to the broader art landscape.
KHT: Technostalgia is often considered a characteristic of crypto art. Does this resonate with you?
FM: Not really!
AA: I must admit I had to research the term and I find it incredibly appealing. It’s particularly compelling because all the artists mentioned in relation to technostalgia are among my favorites and have significantly influenced my work. This connection adds a deeper layer of appreciation for the concept and its relevance in the realm of crypto art.
SO: It’s not so much about nostalgia for me, but pixel art has its charm [thanks to the] added constraint and the perfect control of the image when you have to decide which pixel is best suited. I used it in generative art with block-based generated images and at the end I produced full-resolution images with every pixel drawn by hand.
KHT: Finally, we’d love to hear about any forthcoming projects you might be working on at the moment.
SO: Right now, there is plenty for me to do with fxhash features and I’m continuing some of my non-generative collections. I will experiment with almost anything: code, AI, vector graphics, pixel art. Everything except music — I suck at music.
AA: My art has always been a hobby, but it’s now gained enough momentum for me to consider pursuing it more seriously, so I’ve begun developing a new website and have initiated a newsletter. I’ve also embarked on a project for SuperRare, which I’ve restarted multiple times. I’m finally satisfied with its direction and I anticipate its release in the next month or so.
FM: Right now, my mind is a bit more focused on creating stories. In 2021, I started an NFT collection of stamps that tells the story of an imaginary country, Morondanga Republik. I’ve made so many stamps [...] and the story keeps expanding, so I’m eager to delve deeper into its development. Since 2020, I’ve been working on an autobiographical comic diary [in preparation for] a comic novel about my childhood and adolescence. I also want to continue with my series of illustrations for Morondanga Republik on objkt.com and to keep expanding into the world of NFTs.
Anya Asano is an anonymous digital avatar artist based in Oakland, California. Their work transcends the boundaries of traditional art forms, fusing an array of digital technologies to create a unique visual language. Utilizing tools such as Blender, Adobe After Effects, AI algorithms, and various glitch techniques, Asano crafts an assortment of abstract and figurative amalgamations. Their work is a kaleidoscope of color, form, and texture, where the virtual and the real intertwine in a dance of pixels and polygons.
Flora Márquez is an illustrator and comic artist from Córdoba, Argentina, who has experimented with the language of comics for over a decade. In 2019, she published her first comic book, Vasto Mundo, with the Buenos Aires publisher Maten al Mensajero. Currently, Márquez is working on a self-produced autobiographical project to be released in zine format titled, A Comic Diary. Since 2020, she has been documenting her reflections, thoughts, dreams, conversations, and more. The collection, “Morondanga Republik,” tells the story of a country through its postage stamps.
Shaga O’Nhan (also known as PetiShaMiaou) has a PhD in computer science with a minor in radiophysics, while working on image processing as a day job. He started out as an NFT artist in August 2021, working on the Harmony blockchain, subsequently moving to Tezos. He has minted on fxhash, objkt.com, and Teia.
Katherine Howatson-Tout is Assistant Editor at Right Click Save.