“Cryptocurrencies” have been around for over a decade now (with Bitcoin, the grandfather of them all, having launched in 2009), but even if you haven’t been involved up until this point, some of the events of the last few months have started bubbling over into other news coverage. Cryptocurrencies set out to be paradigm shifts for various aspects of the economy, and one of the areas that recently started seeing a lot of change brought on by this community is the art scene.
If you’re in that boat, you’re likely here because you saw a headline recently about some “crypto artwork” (or “NFT”) that sold for some fantabulously-large amount of money (perhaps you heard about a Beeple being sold at Christie’s, or a CryptoPunk sold for record-breaking amounts?), and you as an artist are wondering if you too could be “discovered” or “market yourself” toward this trend. If so, this article is for you; I’m not going to get into the technical weeds of what cryptocurrencies are, but rather give you an overview of who the members of this community are, and what sort of art/topics would appeal to them. So, an alternate title of this article could also be:
“A brief jaunt through cryptocurrency memes and the community members who enjoy them” 👍
So first, who are these people who are on the buying end of this art craze? If you’re an artist who’s been practicing their craft for a while, but hasn’t “made it big”, can you really “get discovered” by this group? Right now, the cryptocurrency market as a whole is going through an upswing in value, after being down/flat for at least a year, and so there’s a substantial amount of people who had bought into cryptocurrencies years ago that are now feeling the elation of having extra disposable income and wanting to splurge on things, and buying art as a luxury good is appealing since it scratches that itch. Because these sort of buyers are ones who are long-time holders of cryptocurrencies, things they generally value are the permanency of a purchase (that it irrefutably gets transferred to them, and that a provenance/history of ownership of the item is clear), and authenticity of it (that it’s a genuine work, not a counterfeit/stolen piece). So, if you as an artist are willing to give up more of your rights as creator of the piece (the right to make duplicates/derivatives of the work, or use the work for commercial purposes), the more appealing it will likely be to this crowd. These buyers are the sort of people who would pay a premium price for a sports star’s rookie jersey for the “bragging rights” of saying they own a piece of that history. They’re the sort of people who are looking for a status item to hang on their (digital) wall. So, while they may pay a premium price for an artwork, they themselves don’t necessarily have influence/clout to then make you more well-known as an artist afterward.
But, while most individual buyers may not amplify your signal as an artist, the fact that those buyers are out there looking for art right now, that has led to many different crypto art marketplaces springing up, and those marketplaces make it their job to get artists’ work in front of the eyes of potential buyers. A few of these marketplaces are MakersPlace, Rarible, Foundation, Nifty Gateway, SuperRare, and Unique One. All of these marketplaces are generally open for artists to apply to become creators, and get their artworks shown. This is generally easier than trying to get artworks shown in a real-world gallery, since all these marketplaces are digital and therefore have no space constraints, and the market is hungry for more art, so bringing on new artists right now is key.
Being listed on these marketplaces is where your reputation as an artist can be more readily “discovered”. Most of these places have application processes to become “verified” or “featured” as an artist, and if accepted, the marketplace itself starts boosting your signal and building hype around your work.
If you already have a body of work that you’re wanting to sell, just go with that! There’s a huge variety of different styles and subjects on the crypto art marketplaces, and so any existing work you’ve done will likely not be out-of-place. And the act of actually getting your art available for purchase (“tokenizing” it, or “minting it as a token”) the marketplaces will walk you through (the experience is very similar to listing something for sale on eBay or Facebook Marketplace; you don’t need to know the technical underpinnings of blockchains or cryptocurrencies to start posting your artwork).
If you don’t have an existing body of work, or are just wanting to create something new with the specific goal of having it listed on these crypto art marketplaces, here’s some ideas of subject matter that will likely resonate with this crowd:
Bulls/Bears: the value of cryptocurrencies get tracked like a stock, and so financial terms that apply to stocks typically also apply to cryptocurrencies. So, “bull markets” (the value is going up! 🤑) and "bear markets” (the value is going down! 😧) are common terms used with crypto assets. Artwork featuring bulls looking triumphant, or bears looking defeated, or bulls overcoming bears would be good ideas to personify this. Also in this category would be “green candles” (the price is going up!) and “red candles” (the price is going down!). Those “candles” are normally seen as tall skinny rectangles on a chart, but representing them as a real-world candle (flaming stick of wax) fits into this narrative too.
Whale, Shark, Dolphin, Minnow: this set of sea creatures is often used to describe different investors, and “how deep their pockets are”. A “whale” is someone who has a LOT of money and has invested a LOT in a particular aspect (i.e. “the 1%”). On the other end of the spectrum are “minnows”, who are smaller-sized investors, who are typically either too broke or too cautious to invest more. And in the middle are “dolphins” and “sharks” who are between those two extremes. Ideas for this sort of concept would be: minnows banding together to look like a whale, minnows worshipping/honoring/begging whales, a minnow dreaming of being a whale someday, “food chain” imagery of a whale chasing a shark who’s chasing a dolphin who’s chasing a minnow.
Other animals: Some individual cryptocurrencies have animal mascots that could be drawn on for inspiration. Bitcoin has been referred to as “the honey badger of currencies” (a reference to the “honey badger don’t care” meme), Dogecoin’s logo is a Shiba Inu, and Ethereum has adopted Leslie the Rhino as the mascot for it’s new version that is in the process of being rolled out.
Satoshi Nakamoto: This is the name used by the anonymous creator of Bitcoin. Since the creator is anonymous, there is no official face/portrait of him, and so artwork depicting that persona can range from representing him as an old sage passing down wisdom, to a blank-faced benefactor, to a Guy Fawks/Anonymous mask-wearing rebellion-leader. So art pieces that attempt to capture that feeling of a nameless/faceless individual having a global impact fit well into this narrative.
Coins: Cryptocurrencies being digital means they naturally have no physical representation (the “real” currencies are just numbers in a computer database/ledger). Some have created physical manifestations of cryptocurrencies (from the original Casascius coins, to modern implementations), and some physical “coins” that don’t actually have the value of the currency, but are just “commemorative” coins. But it’s also very common to represent cryptocurrencies as “coins” in 3D renders and visualizations (which get used a lot as blog header images). Coins also can lead to visuals of a common investment strategy, “stacking sats” (referring to slowly accumulating more and more satoshis (the smallest unit of a fractional bitcoin)) with stacks of coins.
Cars: Most specifically Lamborghinis and Telsas. High-end luxury cars are often used as a reference/touchpoint of a thing cryptocurrency investors will buy once their investment pays off (“When Lambo?”, meaning “When will my meager investment allow me to buy a Lambo?” is a common phrase in the community). Artwork featuring high-end cars like this could find good audiences within the crypto community (especially if they cost less than a real Lambo, it could be marketed as the means for buyers to brag they did “buy a ‘Lambo’ with their cryptocurrency investment”)
Moon/Space: Also in the category of “phrases said when dreaming of future riches”, “When moon?” (meaning “When will the chart of the price over time go ‘off the chart’ as high as the moon?”) is another common one in the cryptocurrency community. Hence imagery of the Moon (or Mars) with astronauts/rockets striving toward it will resonate with this community.
Citadel: A walled city/enclave, or castle-like edifice. A meme that captured the imagination of the cryptocurrency community is a vision of a possible future where cities (or city-states, or private islands, etc.) exist that only allow in Bitcoin-holders, and wall themselves off from the rest of the world, where the Bitcoin-holders in the citadel continue to thrive with their new financial system while the outside world crumbles into skyrocketing inflation and debt issues. Pieces showing the possibilities of that sort of vision (as either a utopia or a dystopia!) would appeal to some sectors of the cryptocurrency community.
Logos: Most all cryptocurrencies have a logo that is “theirs”, and is generally accepted as canon, but since nearly all cryptocurrencies don’t have a central company that owns a copyright on the logos themselves, using the logos in derivative artworks is generally fine and encouraged. For options, take a look over here at CoinGecko, and pick any of the coins in around the top 10–20 coins, and if you make a version of that logo in your own style, it will likely be met warmly by that community.
Strong/Weak Hands: An investment term, referring to whether or not an investor can “hold tight” through a downturn in the market. Having a financial portfolio with not-very-promising assets is sometimes referred to as “carrying bags”, and the more worthless (or the more money you’ve lost on that investment) the “heavier those bags” are. Carrying that metaphor further, an investor may “drop their bags” (cut their losses and cash out) if they become “too heavy”, or they may muscle on and hope the market turns and the bags become lighter. So, those who can resist the urge to sell their assets at a loss are said to have “strong hands”. Because cryptocurrency values can fluctuate massively, investors who can resist the urge to sell even through extremely wild swings are said to have hands that are not just ‘strong’, but “diamond hands”. Therefore, imagery with characters overcoming heavily-weighted bags with overly strong arms/hands would fit well with this. Additionally, “HODL” as a text/abbreviation fits into this category too. “Hodl” started life as a meme’d misspelling of “hold”, but has continued as also being an acronym of “hold on for dear life”, so adding that to a piece with the context of “holding tight through bad times” would be appropriate.
That give you some good ideas? Hopefully that gives you enough to jump in and get started! If you are interested in more information about what cryptocurrencies are, or need help getting set up as an artist on one of the NFT marketplaces, feel free to reach out, and I’d be glad to help!