NFTs and business model innovation for artists:
a comparative case study
M.Sc. Business Administration
Entrepreneurship and Management in the Creative Industries Track
Student: Evelin Müller Student number: 13969994 Date of submission: 23 June 2022
EBEC approval number: EC 20220619120626 Supervisor: Drs. Matthijs Leendertse
Statement of Originality
This document is written by Student Müller Evelin who declares to take full responsibility for the contents of this document.
I declare that the text and the work presented in this document are original and that no sources other than those mentioned in the text and its references have been used in creating it.
UvA Economics and Business is responsible solely for the supervision of completion of the work, not for the contents.
First of all, I would like to thank the University of Amsterdam for the exciting and innovative M. Sc. in Business Administration with the Entrepreneurship and Management in the Creative Industries track. This allowed me to expand my economic knowledge more to creative areas and combine them. The thematic selection of this thesis is a result of this instructive time. I would especially like to thank my supervisor, Matthijs Leendertse, who advised me in basic steps, provided me with insightful feedback and supported my plans and ideas. I would also like to thank my family and friends who stood by my side during this exciting but also tense time. Lastly, I would like to thank myself for persevering through the project and for never stopping to believe in this study. I look forward to the future with great excitement. If we do not stop to understand, we can shape our future – a future in the digital realm.
Table of contents
Abstract ... 1
List of Tables ... 2
List of Figures ... 2
List of Abbreviations ... 4
1. Introduction ... 5
1.1 Problem description ... 5
1.2 Research question and relevance ... 7
1.3 Thesis roadmap ... 8
2. Theoretical Framework ... 9
2.1 Non-fungible token ... 9
2.1.1 NFTs as a speculative asset class ... 9
2.1.2 NFTs as an empowering tool for artists ... 11
2.2 Business Model Innovation in the Creative Industries ... 13
2.2.1 Value proposition ... 17
2.2.2 Customer-relationship ... 19
2.2.3 Channels ... 21
2.2.4 Revenue streams ... 23
2.3 Conceptual Model ... 25
3. Methodology ... 27
3.1 Qualitative Approach: Comparative Case Studies ... 27
3.2 Validity and Reliability ... 28
3.3 Case study selection ... 29
3.4 Units of Analysis... 30
3.5 Operationalization and Data Collection Process... 30
3.6 Thematic Data Analysis ... 33
4. Findings ... 35
4.1 Value proposition ... 35
4.1.1 Cultural value ... 35
4.1.2 Economic value ... 41
4.2 Customer-relationship ... 47
4.2.1 Practical information sharing ... 47
4.2.2 Managing emotional engagement ... 50
4.2.3 Encouraging value co-creation ... 53
4.2.4 Developing intimacy ... 56
4.3 Channels ... 60
4.3.1 Social media ... 61
4.3.2 Traditional marketplaces ... 62
4.3.3 NFT marketplaces ... 63
4.3.4 Fairs and galleries ... 64
4.4 Revenue streams ... 66
4.4.1 NFT business ... 66
4.4.2 Future revenue streams ... 68
5. Discussion and conclusion ... 72
5.1 Significant findings ... 72
5.2 Implications and Future Research ... 74
5.3 Limitations ... 76
Bibliography ... 77
Appendix A ... 87
Appendix B ... 88
Appendix C ... 89
Appendix D ... 90
Appendix E ... 93
Appendix F ... 111
Non-fungible token (NFTs) have led to increasing attention in the art market since the beginning of 2021 and have been studied from an academic perspective, however, more from a financial perspective. This study aims to build on the scarce literature on NFT artists and address the question of how artists innovated their business model through the use of NFTs. It represents a first contribution to the business model innovation literature in the field of NFT artists. For this purpose, a comparative case study consisting of ten artists was conducted, who decided to offer their artwork as an NFT. For this purpose, a document analysis was conducted with regard to four areas of the business model: value proposition, customer-relationship, channels and revenue streams. Mainly articles, blog posts and social media posts of the artists were examined in order to be able to make an overarching conclusion for the entire business model. The study found that artists' business models could be partially automated and partially supported through the use of NFTs. The cultural value of the value proposition could be legitimized and thereby increased in economic value. Customers are increasingly being offered entire experiences rather than mere paintings. Furthermore, the use of NFTs enabled a strongly intimate and loyal community between the artists and the followers. Newly emerged NFT marketplaces and the growing interest of auction houses in digital artists are responsible for the channel innovation. Smart contracts and associated royalties provide artists with a recurring and streamlined income, enabled by NFTs.
Keywords: non-fungible token, NFT artist, business model innovation, blockchain technology, empowerment
List of Tables
Table 3.1: Case Study Template.
List of Figures
Figure 1.1: Everydays: The First 5000 Days by Beeple (2021). ... 6
Figure 2.1: A Sample of Some of the Top 20 Most Valuable CryptoPunks ... 10
Figure 2.2: The Business Model Canvas with highlighted focus areas for this research. ... 16
Figure 2.3: Conceptual Model ... 25
Figure 4.1: Value proposition / Cultural value subgroup code distribution ... 36
Figure 4.2: Anna Dream Brush, Satoshipolis #3/71 ... 37
Figure 4.3: Refik Anadol, Quantum Memories, 2020 ... 37
Figure 4.4: Hackatao, Q+K hacks ... 39
Figure 4.5: Micah Johnson, AkuDreams Akutars ... 39
Figure 4.6: Yam Karkai, Carrier of the elements ... 39
Figure 4.7: Krista Kim Instagram Post ... 40
Figure 4.8: Maalavidaa, Everything Denied ... 40
Figure 4.9: Refik Anadol, Poetics of Data ... 40
Figure 4.10: Trevor Jones Bitcoin Bull... 42
Figure 4.11: Anna Dream Brush, Cutout from Leprecoin ... 42
Figure 4.12: Mad Dog Jones Instagram Post ... 44
Figure 4.13: Mad Dog Jones, Replicator Gen 3 ... 44
Figure 4.14: Mad Dog Jones Instagram Post ... 44
Figure 4.15: About Dataland and Wait List ... 45
Figure 4.16: Customer-relationship subgroup code distribution ... 47
Figure 4.17: Mad Dog Jones Xero Alley ... 48
Figure 4.18: Anna Dream Bush Twitter Retweet ... 49
Figure 4.19: Krista Kim Twitter Retweet ... 49
Figure 4.20: Micah Johnson Twitter Retweet ... 51
Figure 4.24: Fewocious Twitter comment ... 54
Figure 4.25: Trevor Jones Instagram comment ... 54
Figure 4.26: Refik Anadol Twitter comment ... 54
Figure 4.27: Hackatao Instagram comment ... 54
Figure 4.28: Refik Anadol Twitter comment ... 55
Figure 4.29: Krista Kim Twitter comment ... 55
Figure 4.30: Mad Dog Jones Twitter Post ... 56
Figure 4.31: Anna Dream Brush Twitter comment ... 56
Figure 4.32: Fewocious Instagram comment ... 57
Figure 4.33: Yam Karkai Instagram comment ... 57
Figure 4.34: Fewocious Twitter post ... 58
Figure 4.35: Trevor Jones Twitter post ... 58
Figure 4.36: Trevor Jones Twitter post ... 58
Figure 4.37: Refik Anadol Twitter post ... 58
Figure 4.38: Micah Johnson Twitter Post ... 59
Figure 4.39: Anna Dream Brush Twitter Post ... 59
Figure 4.40: Fewocious Twitter Post ... 59
Figure 4.41: Maalavidaa Twitter Post ... 59
Figure 4.42: Channels / Marketplace / Traditional subgroup distribution ... 62
Figure 4.43: Hackatao Instagram comments ... 63
Figure 4.44: Channels / Marketplaces / NFT subgroup distribution ... 64
Figure 4.45: Refik Anadol Instagram Post ... 65
Figure 4.46: Anna Dream Brush Twitter Post ... 65
Figure 4.47: Open Edition Bitcoin Angel NFT with frame ... 68
List of Abbreviations
BMC Business Model Canvas
CI Creative Industries
ETH Ether (Ethereum cryptocurrency)
eWOM Electronic Word-of-Mouth
GIF Graphics Interchange Format
ICO Initial Coin Offering
IRL In real life
NFT Non-fungible token
SCs Ethereum Smart Contracts
WoW World of Women
1.1 Problem description
The reason why art markets survive despite all uncertainties and risks is much disputed. Besides oversupply on the market, market and contract conditions are not always particularly lucrative for artists. Unlike in many other industries, compensation and profit are not the primary goals in this market. At the core of this motivation is the artists’ desire to retain control over their own creative process and everything that goes with it (Menger, n.d.; Robinson & Novak- Leonard, 2021; Rubião, 2018).
Artists have to be entrepreneurs and therefore have to think about a business model in the short or long term in order to survive in a competitive market. Markets develop and change over time due to new technologies and innovations. Just as digital innovations are causing changes in other areas, this can also be observed in the art market, or in the creative industries (CI) in general (O’Dair, 2019). Digital innovations “play a critical enabling role in facilitating business model innovations” (Li, 2020, p. 1). Many researchers and artists have seen a particular new technology as an opportunity to disrupt digital creative industries and get rid of their pain points, which was further supported by the growing virtual world: the blockchain technology and namely, non-fungible token (NFTs) (Lang, 2021; O’Dair, 2019; Patrickson, 2021).
But “WTF is an NFT?” is the headline of an article that appeared in 2021 (Wired Staff, 2021). NFTs, non-fungible token, are basically stored units of data on a blockchain. A blockchain can be described as “a shared, immutable ledger that facilitates the process of recording transactions and tracking assets in a business network. […] Virtually anything of value can be tracked and traded on a blockchain network, reducing risk, and cutting costs for all involved” (IBM, n.d.-b). The stored unit, an NFT, acts as a digital certificate to answer questions such as who owns what, or owned what, as well as who created it, and which one is
the original between copies (see Appendix A). In other words, practically anyone can still view and copy anything on the Internet if they like, the difference is that one can now safely and reliably see who created the item in question, the further ownership history as well as including a mechanism on the blockchain to ensure that artists earn a specific portion with every transaction, for example. Thus, an NFT represents uniqueness and is not mutually interchangeable (not fungible) (Nadini et al., 2021). Cryptocurrencies, in contrast, which are also stored on the blockchain and with which NFTs are predominantly traded, are exchangeable. They represent a fungible token – one Bitcoin or one Ether (ETH) can be exchanged for another (Hägele, 2022). An example of how artists can use NFT technology, which probably also set the whole NFT hype in motion, happened in March 2021. Digital artist Mike Winkelmann, known as Beeple, sold an NFT of his work (see Figure 1.1) for $69.3 million at Christie’s, an auction house.
The work illustrated in Figure 1.1 is a composition of daily artworks of 5,000 days as an NFT.
This sale catapulted him “among the top three most valuable living artists” (Kastrenakes, 2021). Thus, to what extent has his change in strategy, entering the NFT market, affected his business model and is this just a single case?
1.2 Research question and relevance
Blockchain technology allows artists, like Mike Winkelmann (Beeple), to not only become known at a fast rate, but also to generate sales faster than ever before by presenting and selling the works differently (using the blockchain). However, the NFT market is still in its infancy, a market in progress, and therefore not sufficiently researched yet. Researchers suggest further investigating changing business models, NFT production and its adoption in different contexts (Nadini et al., 2021). Li (2020), who examined business model innovations due to digital transformation in the creative industries, explicitly mentions that traditional business models in digital art are no longer valid and must be explored when they have fully emerged. In this context, NFTs are the most recent and highly controversial application case in digital art.
Detailed studies of NFT artists or their collections are still very limited or not yet available (Kampakis & Schaar, 2022; Nadini et al., 2021). Available literature approaches the topic from a financial perspective (mainly due to cryptocurrency hype) or highlights the use of institutions, but not from a business model perspective (Chalmers et al., 2022; Khezr & Mohan, 2021;
Valeonti et al., 2021). As a result of relevance, NFT literature is continuously published.
Further, the number of successful NFT artists in the market continues to grow (Petterson, 2022) and as none of the studies took a holistic approach, as recommended by Li (2020), and examined the impact of NFTs on artists' business models, this work will help to answer the following research question:
RQ: How do artists use NFTs to innovate their business model?
In order to answer this research question, a comparative case study based on the characteristics of the Business Model Canvas (BMC) will be conducted (see chapter 2.2). Further, the following sub-questions will be explored to be able to answer the main research question:
SQ1: How do artists use NFTs to innovate their value proposition?
SQ2: How do artists use NFTs to innovate their customer-relationships?
SQ3: How do artists use NFTs to innovate their channels?
SQ4: How do artists use NFTs to innovate their revenue streams?
1.3 Thesis roadmap
The aim of this thesis is to find an answer to the question of how the use of NFTs by artists leads to an innovation of the business model. In the context of the thesis, the focus is thus on four building blocks of the BMC (value proposition, customer-relationship, channels and revenue streams), which can be found repeatedly in the structure of the thesis.
Chapter 2 starts with the theoretical framework, in which first the available and relevant NFT literature is fundamentally discussed in order to introduce the topic in question. The theoretical framework further deals with business model literature, which ultimately leads to business model innovation in creative industries. In chapter 3, the methodological approach of this thesis is explained and legitimized. A presentation of the ten selected case studies as well as a description of the data collection and thematic analysis is included. The fourth chapter provides the detailed findings, whereby the chapters are arranged according to the conceptual model. In the last chapter, the results of the RQs are discussed and their relevance for academia and society is explained. A final outlook on future research concludes the thesis.
2. Theoretical Framework
2.1 Non-fungible token
NFTs in the art domain are still new, which is why relatively little relevant literature can be found. Nevertheless, NFTs can be conceptualized for the purpose of this paper and relevant studies and common business theories described below set the framework for this paper.
Including the definition of NFTs in the introduction, this work focuses on NFTs that have been
"minted" (created on the blockchain) by artists to fulfill a purpose of their value proposition.
These NFTs can furthermore represent any digital as well as physical object. NFTs can be classified as smart collectibles, for example. The term “smart collectibles” describes NFTs that act as a unique digital key. It acts like an access token to things that are not coded on the blockchain (digital download or physical events). Therefore, it provides more of an identifier than real ownership. Thus, all smart collectibles are NFTs, but not all NFTs are smart collectibles (Fai, 2021).
2.1.1 NFTs as a speculative asset class
NFTs have received a lot of attention due to the public crypto hype, which mainly involved crypto traders and other financially interested parties (Wired Staff, 2021). Consequently, the vast majority of available NFT literature approaches NFTs from a financial perspective. The general consensus of this literature is to categorize NFTs as a speculative asset class (Ante, 2021; Dowling, 2022b; Fowler & Pirker, 2021; Franceschet et al., 2021; Kampakis & Schaar, 2022; Lambert, 2021).
Kampakis & Schaar (2022) evaluated NFTs as an alternative investment by analyzing the NFT Collection CryptoPunks (see Figure 2.1).
Figure 2.1: A Sample of Some of the Top 20 Most Valuable CryptoPunks. Source: Kampakis & Schaar (2022), p. 9 from https://larvalabs.com/cryptopunks.
They proved that, next to other financial assets, the NFT collection would have been the best investment in the period studied. NFT collectibles have a high diversification potential.
The rarer the attributes of the individual NFTs, the more positive was the effect on prices.
Further a price correlation between NFTs with prices of previously sold NFTs in the same collection, which were perceived to be visually homogenous overall could be constated (Kampakis & Schaar, 2022). Therefore, it might be valuable to create a collection of similar images or objects. However, at the end of the study they pointed out that the "volatility, illiquidity, and irrationality of this market cannot be underestimated" (Kampakis & Schaar, 2022, p. 11).
Other researchers that proved the speculation aspect have found a low correlation or so- called "co-movement" between NFT and cryptocurrency markets (Dowling, 2022b). Ante (2021) developed the hypothesis that a price fall in cryptocurrencies, e.g., Bitcoin, initiates increased NFT sales. Further, there is an ongoing debate about the potential overvaluation of
possible correlation between cryptocurrency and NFT pricing – the characterization of NFTs as a speculative asset class – therefore fundamentally questions the market potential for artists.
NFTs are currently characterized by a rather speculative function. It might be that NFTs develop into a dynamic role, and Lambert (2021) specifically refers to the idea of the Omniverse where people live and work in different metaverses. In these different realities they would own other assets next to art in NFT form. A real-life example can be found in the largest blockchain virtual world (or metaverse), Decentraland. It enables buying and pricing of parcels of virtual real estate (NFTs called LAND) which automatically makes the buyer a citizen of Decentraland. Dowling (2022a) discovered in his research that LAND price series are marked by inefficiency but also by a steady rise in value. An explanation for this contrast could be that in early-stage markets, market efficiency is rather slow to emerge, as the adjustment to a suitable price level takes place slowly (Khuntia & Pattanayak, 2018). It is therefore only an assumption to transfer this finding to the NFT art market. Dowling (2022a) makes an interesting point: virtual land has a connection to the real estate market and therefore pricing models can be intuitive. Therefore, „NFTs do appear to be a distinct (and exciting) new asset class” (Dowling, 2022b, p. 6). Although the market still depends on the cryptocurrency market, in his opinion, it probably just needs some time to mature.
2.1.2 NFTs as an empowering tool for artists
Next to the NFT research from a financial perspective, researchers, mainly from the creative and cultural industries, see NFTs not just as an alternative investment asset class. They state that blockchain technology holds the power to disrupt business models, markets, organizational forms, and policy models in the creative industries (Chalmers et al., 2022; O’Dair, 2019). Thus, another part of the research addresses the question of whether NFTs, and more generally,
blockchain technology, can eliminate current pain points of the industry and be seen as an
"empowering tool or mechanism".
Chalmers et al. (2022) investigated the extent to which NFTs can empower CI entrepreneurs. The consensus at the end was that the NFT market is a rapidly growing but possibly stagnating market. NFTs are a new blockchain-based application that may have potential to represent a new revenue stream. NFTs could thus be used to strengthen product longevity through exclusivity and community-building. In other words, products that did not work in the past, could become interesting now. In addition, the NFT market can be empowering in the sense that this market not only creates access to art enthusiasts but further incorporates a new asset class for particularly young investors who are not that interested in traditional art. Therefore, an empowerment through product innovation (scarcity effect), more efficient revenue processes (automation) as well as the development of new target groups (without much effort) could take place. Further, “by enabling the automation of payments, licensing, intellectual property management, contracting and governance, digital content storage and access, blockchain technology also enables artists to set the terms of their market participation” (Potts & Rennie, 2019, p. 1). Crypto art is a way for artists to gain control over their artwork and collect the benefits (Franceschet et al., 2021).
Other researchers argue that these technologies based on blockchain technology are unlikely to empower artists. In their opinion, these technologies are used to financialize digital creative practices and the alleged elimination of intermediaries would only be replaced by an even more complex network of intermediaries, which is furthermore not controlled by anyone.
Thus, the call is made to resist these practices of automation and digital scarcity (Dash, 2021;
Zeilinger, 2018). Likewise, a study examined the average sales numbers on platforms like
democratization of wealth thanks to a technological revolution. They show an acutely minuscule number of artists making a vast amount of wealth off a small number of sales while the majority of artists are being sold a dream of immense profit that is horrifically exaggerated”.
A further debated issue is the high energy consumption of NFTs. However, more sustainable modifications are already being presented and deployed (King & Nadal, 2012;
Memo Akten, 2020). This would ensure that using NFTs can be a sustainable business model.
Although the opposing voices are not convinced of this view (Dash, 2021). Another group of dissenting voices is concerned about the technical structure of NFTs. They refer to the fact that a buyer of an NFT never buys the actual artwork, but a link to a website or server on which the artwork is stored. Therefore, the legitimate question arises, what happens if the company or organization behind the website goes bankrupt (Karapapas et al., 2021)? “It is likely that every NFT sold so far will be broken within a decade” (Lambert, 2021, p. 9) because “[r]ight now NFTs are built on an absolute house of cards” (Dash, 2021).
The question of whether NFTs empower artists stays. Chalmers et al. (2022) were able to answer this question in the sense that NFTs should definitely not be disregarded – but nevertheless with a certain degree of caution. Thus, this study builds on previous studies and examines the innovation impact of NFTs on certain parts of the artists' business model of how exactly NFTs had positive or even empowering effects for artists.
2.2 Business Model Innovation in the Creative Industries
A business model is a “holistic concept” (Osterwalder et al., 2005, p. 10), “a conceptual tool containing a set of objects, concepts and their relationships with the objective to express the business logic of a specific firm. [It has to be considered] […] which concepts and relationships allow a simplified description and representation of what value is provided to customers, how this is done and with which financial consequences” (Osterwalder et al., 2005, p. 3).
Therefore, this model is suitable for this study’s aim to take a holistic approach. The existing business model literature covers mostly the different components of a business model and their characteristics. Ultimately, the goal is to create value and a competitive advantage (Antonopoulou et al., 2014).
However, business model literature tends to be superficial without understanding the role of the model (Osterwalder et al., 2005) which is why Massa et al. (2017) emphasize the importance of determining from which perspective business models are viewed. Business models are valuable in times of emerging technologies which enable entrepreneurs to use new business models, particularly in a market where established companies or entrepreneurs cannot keep up and adapt quickly due to their inertia. Therefore the interpretation of business models as attributes of firms is going to be adopted in this study since attributes are determined empirically, and in this case, artists’ attributes as parts of their business models will be examined, how exactly using NFTs creates or captures value, how artists use this new technology for innovation (Massa et al., 2017).
Artists belong to the creative industries. A detailed overview of what is included in the CI can be found in Appendix B. Artists can be seen as entrepreneurs and accordingly also follow a business model. With the emergence of the Internet, more and more new entrants came to the market and enforced change and adaptation of already existing participants (Swatman et al., 2006). This development as well as other technological enhancements in the following years can be observed in converting business models. Changes in business models can be divided into three categories: cases where digital technologies either automate, support, but not replace, or completely replace a process or activity (Li, 2020; Lindgardt et al., 2015). An extensive study of analyzing over 50 case studies in the creative industries by Li (2020) took
2020, p. 1). Especially nowadays, markets, products, customers are multifaceted and an
“increasing use of exclusivity through personalization, brand extension through association, to dynamic pricing and the pay-as-much-as-you-like models” could be observed (Li, 2020, p. 9).
Fundamental changes in the functional architecture, value proposition and value architecture were the result since traditional business models “were often adapted for new domains or new products in the online environment” (Li, 2020, p. 9). “Moreover, one can see that in many cases, competition is mainly centered on business-model innovation rather than on content itself” (Lyubareva et al., 2014, p. 44). Thus, one can conclude that the content itself, hardly changes. However, it is adapted to new technologies, expanded if necessary, and other more functional components of the business model change (Li, 2020; Lyubareva et al., 2014;
Swatman et al., 2006).
One example for technological change is the digital availability of goods (e.g., music). It changed the way how artists can target their end consumers. Social media made it possible to create and reach an audience without an intermediary. However, artists are still dependent on technical infrastructures provided by platforms and illegal file sharing and copying became a significant issue. Especially for digital artists, these platforms (like Instagram) are ambivalent.
On the one hand they can win their audience more easily through their exhibited works by allowing them to upload their works in a simple and straightforward way, but on the other hand they are not protected from illegal copying and redistribution of their works (Babovict, 2015;
Blumenfeld, 2019; Swatman et al., 2006). Swatman et al. (2006) researched the effects of the Internet on traditional business models and their change into e-business models (in online news and music). In times of massive information availability, they could distinguish an “acceptance of paid content” for online news providers (Swatman et al., 2006, p. 13). This trend might be found in digital art as well, where customers are willing to pay for exclusive and rare NFTs in order to differentiate themselves from other available content and seek other benefits.
The research will take the BMC (see Figure 2.2) (Osterwalder, 2005) as a theoretical application model. It consists of nine building blocks where the value proposition finds its place in the middle and is influenced by the blocks on the left side (the operational side) and addresses the blocks on the right side (consumer facing side).
Figure 2.2: The Business Model Canvas with highlighted focus areas for this research.Source:
This research will take a closer look at specific areas of the BMC to enable a specific but significant analysis of the artists’ business models. Accordingly, since it is beyond the scope of this paper to examine all building blocks of the BMC, sub-questions narrow down four areas of most interest for this paper: the value proposition, customer-relationship, channels, and revenue streams (see Figure 2.2).
SQ2: How do artists use NFTs to innovate their customer-relationships?
SQ3: How do artists use NFTs to innovate their channels?
SQ4: How do artists use NFTs to innovate their revenue streams?
Key partners, resources, and activities are deliberately not included here to keep the focus on the end-product as well as the activities when it comes to launching the artwork on the market. The same goes for the cost structure. Some insights into the customer segments are provided by investigating channels and customer-relationship, which is why they are excluded here for explicit study. The next chapters will provide an insight into the chosen parts for the analysis of the BMC.
2.2.1 Value proposition
The first building block of the BMC under investigation is the artists’ value proposition. Their artworks are at the heart of these propositions. “Cultural value is a multidimensional construct represented by different stakeholders in ways convenient to their individual purpose”, according to Geursen & Rentschler (2002, p. 6). This multidimensionality can be also described with “[t]he value of everything – truth, the good, beauty, existence – is relative to the observer” (Aljena, 2016, p. 47; Dorbolo, 2002).
However, a distinction of value can be made in economic and cultural value. “The physical market determines the work’s economic value; the market for ideas determines its cultural value” (Throsby, 2013, p. 29). Technical skills or talent can help create the actual artwork and thereby create economic value, and ideas and visions behind it drive the cultural value. Not everything that has a high economic value has a high cultural value at the same time (example: TV soap operas with high economic but low cultural value). Throsby (2013, p. 29)
provides further a series of cultural value characteristics with which an artwork can be described in order to grasp the cultural value:
- “Aesthetic value: beauty, harmony;
- Spiritual value: understanding, enlightenment, insight;
- Social value: connection with others, a sense of identity;
- Historical value: connection with the past;
- Symbolic value: a repository or conveyer of meaning.”
Besides the cultural value, the economic value can be described with the price of an object.
Influencing factors on respective price levels (of physical artworks) are “artist reputation, attribution, signs of authenticity, medium, size, topic, and the timing and location of the sale”
(Renneboog & Spaenjers, 2012).
With NFTs, one must distinguish between the technology itself, which can bring economic value, and the item that the particular NFT represents. This may have a cultural as well as an economic value. NFTs are "non-fungible" which implies that the perceived value depends on individual characteristics and thus one NFT is not interchangeable with another one. Traditional paintings can also be characterized as non-fungible. However, a sign of authenticity or a certificate is missing in this case. NFTs provide this certificate of provenance.
The economic value may therefore come from the scarcity effect that NFTs entail (Chalmers et al., 2022).
The value of an NFT, as mentioned at the beginning of the chapter, was largely examined from a financial, i.e., economic, perspective. Thus, NFTs can be considered as assets and the
signals of a social media platform and an NFT marketplace, Kapoor et al. (2022, p. 3) found that “branding and metadata […] have a stronger effect on the value compared to the NFT product itself (image features)”, from which one could conclude that the economic value is significant here. Serada et al. (2021) investigated blockchain use in game design and play and focused on value creation of assets in crypto games (NFTs) – value through scarcity. For the potential user it is important that there is a clear incentive to engage in the game as well as to profit from an ownership of assets in the game. However, the concept of scarcity just makes sense when the demand is significantly higher than the supply, which was not the case in any crypto game by the time of research (Hughes, n.d.; Serada et al., 2021). Concerning scarcity, the question arises if there is already an overabundance of NFTs which could make it difficult to take full advantage of the economic scarcity effect.
In times of changing environments due to technological innovations, it is difficult to create a complete business model upfront and flexibility is needed. However, “articulating clearly the value proposition” is significant (Antonopoulou et al., 2014, p. 10). The next chapter will examine the second building block, the customer-relationship, in more detail.
The advent of the Internet and social media has become an indispensable part of customer- relationship for many companies and entrepreneurs. Social media is a crucial communication instrument and is used for promotion in order to build consumer brand relationships. This is essential to create loyalty among customers (Hausmann, 2012; Kang et al., 2019; Turri et al., 2013). Personal brands can be created by “cultivating affective commitment in consumers [which] requires a self-connection or identification with the artist’s product offering” and
“individuals must feel as if they share a personal intimacy with the artist” (Turri et al., 2013, p. 203). Turri et al. (2013) studied music artists and their created brand relationship through
Facebook. Their concluded implications suggest developing intimacy, managing emotional engagement and encouraging value co-creation. However, in terms of social media platforms a lot has changed in recent years. Thus, Facebook, for example, has become less popular and another platform, Instagram, has become more important in the creative industries. In this context, Kang et al. (2019) investigated 1,000 randomly selected visual art accounts of individuals on Instagram and analyzed their posts to get insights about the relationship of interactions, comments and likes. Overall, they conclude with similar implications as Turri et al. (2013), with the addition of practical information sharing. Hausmann (2012) examined arts institutions’ use of social media for their viral marketing. Electronic word-of-mouth (eWOM) and in addition, “the price of a ticket, the reputation and branding (hence the trustworthiness) of an arts institution or reviews – […] from experts […] but also from ordinary consumers” are important for overcoming information barrier and uncertainty (Hass et al., 2008; Hausmann, 2012, p. 176; Renker, 2008).
All of these above-mentioned arguments about the importance of social media are hardly changed by NFTs. NFT literature in the area of customer-relationship is scarce. However, isolated articles as well as real-life examples already point to the innovation factor of NFTs on customer-relationship. Thus, NFTs can contribute significantly to loyalty marketing. Well- known companies such as “Coca-Cola, Louis Vuitton, NBA, and Nike” are already using NFTs because they are currently relevant, create a common interest, almost like shares of a company, are exclusive, and create a real community of like-minded people better than other loyalty programs (Ambavle, n.d.). An essential part of the customer relationship are the channels through which the customers are reached, which will be discussed in more detail in the next chapter.
Channels through which artists get in touch with their customers and followers are increasingly found exclusively in the online sphere. Some channels have more of a purpose to build a loyal customer-relationship, others to enable revenue streams and the exchange of products. A fundamental change in the creative industries was the appearance of social media, where traditional curators and gatekeepers have become obsolete. “Social media is all about people”, and especially in the arts, it opened the possibility to give everyone access to art, to
“democratize the art experience” (Kang et al., 2019, p. 15; Polaine, 2005).
A study from 2019 assembled an online questionnaire and found that Instagram as a platform is most preferred when it comes to art-related topics because the platform is picture and content driven, supports high activity and enables the possibility to promote oneself in an intuitive way. The investigated artists mainly used their account to share, sell or get to know more artists (Kang et al., 2019). However, limited research is available about how artists use their social media accounts to promote their NFT art. Kapoor et al. (2022) took a closer look at how social media reach, in this case Twitter, affects the value of NFTs as an asset class. They examined Twitter posts associated with NFTs referring to a specific NFT marketplace.
Ultimately, they concluded that certain Twitter characteristics such as username specifics or listed count actually affect the asset value of an NFT (Kapoor et al., 2022; Nadini et al., 2021).
NFT marketplaces take place exclusively online and are most commonly found on the Ethereum blockchain. The process of selling and buying NFTs is often perceived as complicated. NFT marketplaces are there to help with this issue and can be compared with eBay for example (CNBC, 2022). These platforms help “to verify the provenance of digital content” and have other functions that make it as easy as possible for buyers and sellers to keep an overview and, in the best case, to profit from the trades (Kireyev & Evans, 2021). NFT marketplaces can be differentiated into streamlined to augmented marketplaces, whereas
streamlined marketplaces offer a wider range of NFTs as well as basic service and augmented marketplaces are specialized on specific collections but with a more extensive range of services (Kireyev & Evans, 2021). OpenSea is a classic streamlined marketplace, where you can find almost every NFT on the Ethereum blockchain. NFT creators can implement up to 10%
royalties and make their NFT available for a fixed price or a timed auction (see chapter 2.2.4).
The platform has over 1.5 million active users and in January 2022 alone, they recorded the highest trading volume to date of $5 billion (The Verge, 2022). Other marketplaces that can commonly be classified as augmented marketplaces include Nifty Gateway, Coinbase, Foundation, SuperRare and LooksRare. However, some of these platforms have strict rules and barriers to become a member of the community. Thus, a membership is created only by invitation through another member and verification and an approving process through the platform itself (Fazli et al., 2021).
Traditional places for artists selling their artwork are auction houses. One might think that auction houses are not relevant for artists anymore in times of blockchain technology. On the contrary, the until now highest sale of an NFT, “5000 Everydays” by Beeple (see chapter 1) was made through an auction house (Kastrenakes, 2021). Two major auction houses till today are Christie’s and Sotheby’s. Auction houses finance themselves by charging a commission to buyers as well as for sellers for every artwork entering an auction (Ashenfelter
& Graddy, 2006). Further, partnerships between traditional auction houses and NFT marketplaces can be observed, such as between Christie’s and OpenSea. Both sides benefit from it, as OpenSea has access to mainstream customers and Christie’s has access to potential customers who are willing to spend a lot of money on art (Insights, 2021). Therefore, choosing the right marketplace as an artist is an important decision. Whether a business model is
2.2.4 Revenue streams
The fourth and last building block of the business model are revenue streams. Artists often rely on multiple revenue streams in their business model. In this way, their art, their style and their message can be represented through and on different media. Artists can sell their art in traditional physical form, they can make their art available in galleries and exhibitions, where they may receive a portion of the profits, and they can enter collaborations with other brands and artists, which can have a brand-enhancing effect for both sides (Batchelor, 2021). Practical blogs recommend using NFTs in collaborations with other artists, companies, or release GIFs as well as limited edition NFTs. NFTs for social media engagement, thus creating “NFTs which are easily sharable on social media”, can further boost the artists’ range (Chronicle, 2021). A clearly articulated innovation aspect of NFTs for revenue streams is the possibility of smart contracts and royalties.
Smart contracts can be described as "programs stored on a blockchain that run when predetermined conditions are met. They typically are used to automate the execution of an agreement so that all participants can be immediately certain of the outcome, without any intermediary’s involvement or time loss” (IBM, n.d.-a; Patrickson, 2021). Further, these contracts would enable a payment every time an artwork is sold or re-sold (royalties). An automation with royalty payments for example, would free artists from their agencies and allow room for more creative work (Potts et al., 2017). Multiple real-life cases show that it is easier for creators to claim ownership of their works or implement automated royalty payments or smart contracts (O’Dair, 2019; Owen & O’Dair, 2020).
NFTs have enabled "the concept of scarcity in the digital realm for the first time"
(Valeonti et al., 2021, p.1). Valeonti et al. (2021) examined financial possibilities of NFTs for galleries, libraries, archives, and museums. They reiterated that NFTs are a new use case, but
"the financial potential of crypto collectibles is substantial" (Valeonti et al., 2021, p. 13). The main focus are possible revenue streams in the metaverse. Since the decentralized Internet is to come, NFTs, on which everything that users in these three-dimensional virtual realities might own will be based, have enormous potential in terms of what can be generated.
On NFT marketplaces described in the previous chapter, different auction processes, depending on the platform, can be classified. In general, an NFT is created or "minted" by the artist with the help of the NFT marketplace. This NFT can be bought by an interested party which is described as the primary sale. If the primary buyer sells the NFT again, the transaction belongs to the secondary market. From each further sale and purchase in the secondary market, the artist receives a predetermined percentage through the NFT marketplace (royalties) (Khezr
& Mohan, 2021). The detailed process can be found in Appendix C. Thus, five different auction processes (during the primary sale) can be classified on Nifty Gateway, for example (Khezr &
Mohan, 2021, p. 12):
- “Open edition sales”: fixed price and number of editions which will be known only after the sale
- “Open auctions of unique art”: open, price auction of single unit artwork
- “Limited-edition sales using ‘silent’ auctions”: pre-announced number of editions where buyer can bid for maximum one unit and highest bid receives edition one
- “Limited-edition sales using ‘ranked’ auctions”: pre-announced number of editions where buyer bids for one unit and editions are distributed in order of the bids
- “Sales using ‘drawings’”: single or limited-edition item for a fixed price where winners and edition number are picked randomly
Hence, innovation in the area of revenue streams through NFTs and more precisely blockchain technology can already be rather identified from a technical than an economic perspective in the literature.
2.3 Conceptual Model
This research will investigate how artists innovated their business model by using NFTs. Of particular interest are four building blocks of the BMC, which were narrowed down to specific concepts in the previous chapters. A relationship between the concepts used is shown in Figure 2.3.
Figure 2.3: Conceptual Model. Own illustration.
In the conceptual model, the value proposition is divided into two types of values that can be conveyed in the value proposition: cultural and economic value. For the cultural value, the characterization of Throsby (2013) was adopted. The economic value is limited to the scarcity effect of NFTs. The customer-relationship was divided into four subgroups to be studied, resulting from the subdivision of Turri et al. (2013) with the addition of practical information
sharing (Kang et al., 2019) to cover everything from both models. In this study, the decision was made to look into social media and marketplaces – traditional auction houses and NFT marketplaces – concerning channels. The final building block of the BMC, revenue streams, describes auctions, collaborations, and smart contracts.
This chapter provides a detailed description of the research design, the data collection method and explains how validity and reliability of the research were ensured. Further, the selected case studies as well as a corresponding case study template are being introduced.
3.1 Qualitative Approach: Comparative Case Studies
Yin (2018) suggests that questions starting with “how” and “why” are most appropriate for case study research. The research question and sub-questions of this research ask for how artists innovate their business model entering the NFT market with a more detailed focus on how the value proposition, customer-relationship, channels, and revenue streams change.
Therefore, this paper takes a qualitative research methodology approach, more precisely a comparative case study in form of document analysis is conducted to answer the proposed research questions (Saunders et al., 2019). A case study includes an individual NFT artist, and the case study material is collected in text, video and audio format. To explore this further, this paper makes use of models that are already well established in the business literature. The BMC is a strategic management template functioning both as a tool for understanding or planning business models (see chapter 2.2). The basis of data analysis are the theoretical constructs forming the theoretical framework (see chapter 2.3). This deductive approach allows to understand and explain NFTs with already known concepts and leaves room for interpretation and emerging themes. Examining multiple cases enables on the one hand, a deep and accurate analysis of similarities and differences due to the dense data. Thus, “this type of study is considered robust and reliable” (Baxter & Jack, 2015, p. 550). On the other hand, the collection and analysis of the data is associated with a high expenditure of time and possibly costs, which, however, can be kept as small as possible with effective prior planning (Baxter & Jack, 2015;
This approach is suitable for the proposed questions because of the lack of previous studies on artists’ NFT business models. Case studies support considering a current phenomenon in its own context. It allows for a description of general similarities and differences to provide a holistic overview of the area in question. Furthermore, explanatory hypotheses can be created as to why something did or did not work exactly the way it did in a particular context and how the context can be understood in general (Goodrick, 2014; Taylor et al., 2016; Yin, 2018). Such an investigation and comparison of several case studies can generate guidance for an artist for a successful business model in the NFT market or other practitioners and academics in this field, identify specific success factors, or generally reveal observable patterns in this market and its associated stakeholders.
3.2 Validity and Reliability
Validity and reliability are two important concepts for a study because they distinguish how well a measurement is done. Validity concerns mainly the accuracy and reliability the consistency of a study. Validity can be distinguished into construct, internal, or external validity. Construct validity can be established if multiple sources of evidence are being used in order to ensure the correctness of the measurements (triangulation). Internal validity has no significance here since this study does not try to find causal relations. External validity refers to the generalization of the study and reliability confirms whether the study reaches the same results under the same conditions (Yin, 2003, 2018). Furthermore, different biases can occur during data collection. This could lead to a confirmation bias, whereby the researcher searches for exactly the information that seeks to be found. Due to the amount of available data, a well- defined classification should be made. Therefore, a case study template based on the conceptual
investigating multiple sources for one aspect and being transparent on research and coding (Yin, 2018).
3.3 Case study selection
It is vital that all included cases are carefully selected in order to “either a) predict similar results or b) produce contrasting results but for predictable reasons“ (Yin, 2003, p. 46). This research investigates the context of how NFTs changed or innovated artists’ business models, thus the researcher is looking for explanatory hypotheses and therefore for similar results between the case studies. The ten chosen case studies must fulfill three main criteria:
1. Existing artist (who already sold art before releasing NFTs) 2. Time dimension (using NFTs at least since August 2021)
3. Social media presence (on Twitter and Instagram with a minimum of 10,000 followers)
First, NFT artists are chosen who have been artists before entering the NFT market to clearly show how they innovated their business model and are not newcomers in the arts taking advantage of the hype. Second, NFT artists are selected who are already a significant time in the NFT market (because of the early stages of the market at least since August 2021). Third, the chosen artists should have a certain social media presence in order to gather sufficient and descriptive data. Since similar results are sought in the analysis of the case studies and only well-known artists are considered, this study can be considered as a best-practice analysis.
Overall, the researcher tried to implement a diversity mix within the selected case studies, that is that age, gender, region, etc. are considered as well. An overview of the selected case studies can be found in Appendix D.
3.4 Units of Analysis
The units of analysis for this study are different types of documents – social media posts, videos, news articles and their own websites, that describe in any way the artists, their art, their approach to NFTs, their customers, and their revenue streams. The concepts have been operationalized in the case study template (see chapter 3.5). Since there is a vast amount of data available for some artists, secondary data will be sufficient to answer the research questions. This decision is especially applicable for this study because all data found about an artist and their products give insights which can be further related to their business model.
Primary data, in form of e.g., interviews, would imply getting in contact with well-known artists, which is out of scope for the given research conditions (time and capacity). In addition, closely observing their online appearance is already revealing for this research question and further research as almost all NFT activity is done online.
The data collected is stored and managed in a separate database (MAXQDA). All relevant data and sources can be found in detailed tables in Appendix E. References used in chapter 4 will not be listed in the bibliography as they can be found in the aforementioned tables. The evaluation of the customer-relationship was almost exclusively based on the collected social media posts, which can all be found in the Annex. A link to these can also be found in Appendix E.
3.5 Operationalization and Data Collection Process
In terms of reliability, a case study template has been developed for this research (see Table 3.1). It derives from the theoretical framework and the conceptual model discussed in chapter 2.3. This template functions as a tool for the researcher to easily assess the case study
can be compared directly, and patterns can be identified. Further, the template exists to make this research replicable. It is possible to define clear case study questions within the protocol deriving from the research questions, the theories and concepts used. Data collection occurred between April 28, 2022, and May 04, 2022. Due to the varying post frequency of the artists studied, some of the collected posts resulted in different time periods, which are illustrated in Appendix E.
Cultural value - Measured by examining perceptions in articles and blog posts (text, video and images) about what artists try to convey with their artistic activities (values, ideologies, cultural ideals etc.) and how this is perceived by interested parties.
Economic value - Measured by examining perceptions in articles and blog posts (text, video and images) about how artists use scarcity effects provided by NFTs and what opinion they have on NFT business.
Customer-relationship Practical information sharing
- Measured by examining perceptions in social media posts on Twitter and Instagram (including comment section) what general information are shared without addressing the audience.
Encouraging value co-creation
- Measured by examining perceptions in social media posts on Twitter and Instagram (including comment section) about how and with what topics artists address their followers (direct questions, ideas, opinion asking etc.).
Developing intimacy - Measured by examining perceptions in social media posts on Twitter and Instagram (including comment section) about how
intimate the relationship between the artist and the followers can be described and what activities can be recognized to strengthen the relationship.
Managing emotional engagement
- Measured by examining perceptions in social media posts on Twitter and Instagram (including comment section) about what kind of community-building measures can be recognized (proactive interaction, commenting).
Social media - Measured by examining perceptions in articles, blog posts (text, video and images) and social media posts on Twitter and Instagram (including comment section) whether the content is similar on the various platforms and whether a purpose of the platform can be identified (is the same content copy pasted in the same form or are the followers addressed differently?) The results of the customer- relationship can also be taken into consideration.
Marketplaces - Measured by examining perceptions in articles, blog posts (text, video and images) and social media posts on Twitter and Instagram (including comment section) to what extent the artists engage in marketing for the marketplaces, on how many different ones they are represented, and whether they are also actively promoted by the marketplaces.
Auctions - Measured by examining perceptions in articles, blog posts (text,
(including comment section) about used auction mechanisms and on which platforms.
Collaborations - Measured by examining perceptions in articles, blog posts (text, video and images) and social media posts on Twitter and Instagram (including comment section) about what kind of collaboration (with brand, artists, etc.) with what kind of products can be distinguished and with what purpose and future outlook.
Smart contracts (royalties)
- Measured by examining perceptions in articles, blog posts (text, video and images) and social media posts on Twitter and Instagram (including comment section) about new built-in revenue mechanisms using NFTs (examining the financial situation of the artists).
Table 3.1: Case Study Template. Own illustration.
3.6 Thematic Data Analysis
The data collected will be examined as introduced by Braun & Clarke (2006), using thematic analysis. “Thematic analysis is a method for identifying, analysing, and reporting patterns (themes) within data“ (Braun & Clarke, 2006, p. 6). This proves to be particularly useful here, as the large amount of qualitative data collected can be organized into broad themes to identify patterns that can thereby explain or elucidate on phenomena. More precisely, this work can clarify how the business models of artists have changed through the use of NFTs.
Since a clear conceptual model has been developed in this work with the help of the theoretical framework, a deductive approach is chosen for the analysis, since the themes have already been determined beforehand and are not created during the analysis. This is particularly helpful because a new phenomenon is transferred into an already known analysis environment
and is thus better delimited. However, themes that are not listed in the conceptual model but occur with frequency in the analysis will be included.
Braun & Clarke (2006) suggest six steps for thematic analysis. The first step, familiarization, is about reviewing the collected data. In this process, a first overview can be obtained, and initial thoughts can be noted. The second step concerns coding, where the collected data is sorted into so-called codes that reflect the content of the text, video or audio passage. The third step describes the creation of themes, where individual codes are grouped thematically. Since in this work the themes were already defined, this step was performed out of sequence. However, due to the amount of data in the defined themes, it was possible to create subgroups and codes that were thematically grouped together during the analysis. Step four and five deals with checking and adjusting the formed themes. In the last step, the textual data collected and summarized in themes are analyzed and the results are presented, which in the end provide a solution to the research question posed at the beginning.
In this chapter, the collected data of the ten case studies are analyzed in a structured way. The structure is based on the conceptual model developed. Figures and tables are added for further illustration, although it should be noted that the figures (often showing artists’ artworks or posts) are often animations or moving art, which can only be presented here as screenshots.
More detailed information about the data can be found in the Annex as well as in Appendix E.
Slide references (s.) refer to the stored PowerPoint files and page references (p.) refer to the Annex Word file. An overview of all codes and subcodes for value proposition, customer- relationship, channels and revenue streams can be found in Appendix F.
4.1 Value proposition
The concept of value proposition was divided into cultural and economic value in the conceptual model, which was considered during the coding of the collected data. Within these categories and subgroups, individual themes emerged during the analysis of the cases. Of all value proposition codes (490 codes), 64% were related to cultural value and 29% to economic value (with the remainder relating to technical or general aspects of the value proposition).
4.1.1 Cultural value
The value proposition of an artist is created by the artists’ statement and the corresponding artworks which encapsule a specific cultural value. The distinction of cultural values into aesthetic, historical, social, spiritual and symbolic (see chapter 2.2.1) was used during the coding and specific themes of values derived within this categorization during the analysis of the artists’ data. For all artists, aesthetic values could be identified to describe their value proposition. For nine out of ten artists, social values were coded, and for eight artists, spiritual elements were found. Symbolic and historical features were recognized in some cases (see
Figure 4.1). Within these three most frequently found cultural values, subthemes could be identified, which are explained in more detail below.
Figure 4.1: Value proposition / Cultural value subgroup code distribution. Own illustration.
Aesthetic: Creativity and Exploration of the Digital Age
A theme that was found on average most often (32% of all cultural value codes) among the artists studied is creativity and exploration (8 out of 10 artists) of the digital age (7 out of 10 artists). The author has chosen to group these two themes in the aesthetic category, as creativity and exploration is done by or through digital means, looking from an aesthetic point of view at how the future, how a completely digital age, in whatever environment, might look like. The artists depict these themes in their artworks, try to use them to show what is possible with new technologies and are partly driven by this curiosity to discover – discover limitations of art, new mediums, journeys, inspirations, worlds, experiences, perspectives, and alternative realities (Borucu, 2021; Calandra, 2021; MakersPlace, 2021; Psycheincrypto, 2021).
Anna Dream Brush, for example, uses VR technology in combination with classical oil
contrast to "normal" 2D artworks since “the creation process weighs as heavily as the finished product, if not even more so” (MakersPlace, 2021, Annex, p. 18). Hackatao and Refik Anadol are also relying on the digital context and are eager to create “experiences”. “[D]igital may very well be the life itself”, thus these artists try to show the world that technology is not making us “less “human”” but may have the potential to create something fully new (Psycheincrypto, 2021, Annex, p. 78). Figures 4.2 and 4.3 show examples.
Figure 4.2: Anna Dream Brush, Satoshipolis #3/71. Source: Annex, s. 15.
Figure 4.3: Refik Anadol, Quantum Memories, 2020. Source: Annex, s. 7.
In essence, virtual reality is a step between reality and the metaverse many are talking about these days. The artists had to ask themselves, “what is the value I can bring to my community as I activate them through beautiful, immersive experiences” (Estorick, 2022, Annex, p. 98)?
The value provided by these artists is that they are taking their followers by hand and explore these worlds together, show them what could be possible, what technology is capable of, from an art perspective – almost like pioneers (Borucu, 2021; Coin Rivet, 2020; Lok, 2022).
Social: Empowerment and Minority Representation
The second theme (25% of all cultural value codes) is empowerment and representation of minorities. Artists raise awareness through their artworks as well as their artistic statements for problems and inequalities in the world. They disseminate messages to make people aware of minority groups such as black youth, women in the NFT space, LGBTQIA+ people, and topics such as abuse and mental health. However, every artist chooses an area where they had experiences in the past themselves to develop more authenticity. Fewocious is actively expressing topics like gender identity, abuse and the importance of receiving love as a child whereas Yam Karkai started her NFT collection solely because of women’s underrepresentation in the crypto space (Christie’s, 2021; Kurutz, 2021; Lemire, 2021; Pollaco, 2022; Scott, 2021). For example, three out of ten artists (Hackatao, Micah Johnson, Yam Karkai) created collections of similar-looking characters that are ultimately differentiated by various attributes, often randomly selected using an algorithm (see Figure 4.4, 4.5 and 4.6).
Even a look outside the ten cases in this study confirms that there are artists currently creating such an NFT collection based on characters with different attributes (e.g., CryptoPunks and Bored Ape Yacht Club (Coin Market Cap, 2022)). One might conclude, that depending on rarity attributes, the urge for collecting these characters is enabled in addition to an identification process that takes place if the attributes particularly reflect the respective collector.
Furthermore, two artists are using technology not just to raise awareness but to actively create a new space, a new world, where societal problems can be eliminated from the beginning. Krista Kim’s focus is therefore to use the unlimited space in the metaverse to build spaces where mental health issues as well as inequality are not present. She herself was looking
possibilities in the metaverse. Further, Refik Anadol gives machines, artificial intelligence and algorithms the right direction and power to experience dreams, ideas and humans on their own (Calandra, 2021; Estorick, 2022, Horton, 2021).
Figure 4.4: Hackatao, Q+K hacks. Source: Annex, s. 25.
Figure 4.5: Micah Johnson, AkuDreams Akutars. Source: Annex, s. 12.
Figure 4.6: Yam Karkai, Carrier of the elements. Source: Annex, s. 20.
Thus, the artists are either empowered as artists and builders through the technology or empower technology to create artworks and ideas on their own. They all are looking for a better life in the real world – better representation and greater possibilities – although some of them are already putting their efforts more in other realities than this one.
Spiritual: Emotional Awareness, Meditation and Healing
The third theme (16% of all cultural value codes) describes the spiritual value of emotional awareness, meditation and healing. Eight artists express in their artworks or actions the importance of consciousness and meditation in order to heal in different ways. Three out of ten artists (Krista Kim, Maalavidaa, Refik Anadol) have explicitly made it their mission to use displays, colors, lights and animations to offer people a work of art with which they can enter an almost meditative state, ultimately triggering a healing within themselves (Estorick, 2022;
Vapor95, n.d.; Yasar, 2021) (see Figure 4.7, 4.8 and 4.9). Four further artists (Anna Dream Brush, Fewocious, Hackatao, Yam Karkai) now and then depict meditative situations or aspects dealing with themselves in their artworks, but overall do not mainly focus on these elements (Brizi, 2020; Lavania, 2022; NFTexplained, n.d.).
Figure 4.7: Krista Kim Instagram Post. Source: Annex, s. 20.
Figure 4.8: Maalavidaa, Everything Denied. Source: Annex, s. 21.
Figure 4.9: Refik Anadol, Poetics of Data. Source: Annex, s. 22.
What makes the cultural value so exciting in this respect is that one almost gets the feeling that some artists process their inner lives with the help of the artworks. The works of Anna Dream Brush, for example, are strongly characterized by death since she lost her mother recently as well as facing the war in Ukraine. Emotional awareness can be further seen in the works of Fewocious, Maalavidaa and Yam Karkai, depicting topics such as human commodification, objectification or emotional duality (MakersPlace, 2021; Morozova, 2021).
Maalavidaa notes that at first, she mainly created her images for herself and easily uploaded them to the Internet. She then felt gratitude when she received people's approval of