Boy George needs no introduction, the iconoclast has sculpted his creative persona across the worlds of music, fashion and art. Now the “Karma Chameleon” has transformed himself again, this time to become the “Crypto Chameleon” as he “enters the interesting world of NFTs (non-fungible token), far from the snobbery of the art establishment”.
The legendary Culture Club frontman performed his first gig in the Metaverse at the weekend and took the opportunity to reveal his first NFT project, CryptoQueenz.
Boy George has become the latest star to take to the virtual stage of the Vegas City Flamingos Club and emphasised the “potential for surrealist digital adventure” with NFTs and the Metaverse.
The icon of 80s pop superstardom has spent several months creating a series of NFT generative artwork. The digital pieces are based on his Scarman designs and the official drop took place in the premier Opensea NFT marketplace on 1 March.
Each digital canvas is programmed to transfer a percentage of sales to the Elton John Aids Foundation and Shelter charities.
Watch: Boy George explains why he is drawn to the world of NFT art
Boy George spoke to Yahoo Finance UK about his enthusiastic involvement in this digital frontier, where the coders of the crypto “wild-west” meet the curators of the art world.
He said NFTs “are widening the idea of who can sell and who can create a piece of art as well as making it easier for people to express themselves”.
To explain the excitement around NFTs he recalled an online conversation he had with David Bowie in the 90s when many people thought the internet wouldn’t last. Reflecting on that early dial-up chat he said: “But look at us now, we all live digital lives,”
He likened those early days of the internet with the restless energy surrounding the current web3 space, with its NFTs, disruptive cryptocurrencies and the developing Metaverse, that exists beyond the physical world in which we live.
The songwriter said that if Bowie, Dali and Picasso were alive today they would “be in the thick of it and saying they invented NFTs”.
He emphasised that we are now experiencing the early days of a new creative movement, saying: “What is exciting about the Metaverse and NFTs is where it will go, what will it be and what will it turn into?”
This enthusiasm is shared by Justin Sun, the founder of the Tron blockchain, who told Yahoo Finance UK that the “Metaverse offers so many new possibilities by removing all physical limitations and online art exhibitions are so much more fun than physical ones in many ways, for example, people can fly and can interact with a computer-generated environment and other audiences and visitors from another corner of the world”.
Watch: Bowie, Dali and Picasso would be heavily involved in NFTs, says Boy George
Tabish Khan, visual arts editor at the Londonist told Yahoo Finance UK that the art world is starting to take notice of this disruptive technology.
“NFTs are a hot market right now and a lot of artists are dipping their toe into it,” he said.
Lead singer of Russian protest punk rock and performance art group Pussy Riot Nadya Tolokonnikova helped launch a series of NFTs of the Ukrainian flag with all proceeds from the crypto sale going straight to humanitarian and defence missions within the embattled country.
Boy George was quick to follow with an auction of an ultra-rare CryptoQueenz NFT, with all proceeds going to the International Committee of the Red Cross, Médecins Sans Frontières and Voices of Children charities.
The difference between a traditional charitable fundraiser and an NFT one is that the crypto version uses a publicly visible distributed ledger. Blockchain-based fund transfers are fully transparent and all transactions from donor to the recipient can be monitored and traced.
However, NFTs have been met with a mixed reception from the art establishment. “NFTs receive a lot of negative remarks from those in the art world and some of it is justified by their carbon footprint, the scattergun quality of NFTs available at the moment and the often ludicrous prices they are selling for.
“On the other hand, there’s always pushback from the notoriously closed art world to any form of new media.”
He said the new technology was giving the art world jitters of anxiety because “NFTs have bypassed established galleries and collectors, these galleries and collectors were in denial at first, but are now starting to accept them as they try to catch up”.
Sun said the traditional art world is resistant to the changes that NFTs are instigating, “as people are afraid of being obsolete and irrelevant”, but change is inevitable as it was only last year when people in the art world “kept saying NFTs were just a bubble that would burst quickly”.
An NFT is a one-of-a-kind crypto asset which enables collectors to authenticate, own and trade original authenticated versions of special digital goods using blockchain technology.
They can be anything digital from drawings and paintings to music, but they can also be applied to a physical item.
NFTs cannot be replicated or substituted, and can only have one official owner at any given time.
They are stored in tamper-proof digital ledgers on the blockchain and when an NFT is bought, the buyer receives a certificate secured in blockchain technology, which makes them the owner of that specific digital asset.
Watch: Boy George – NFTs will disrupt the established art world
Most NFTs are typically held on the Ethereum blockchain, but other blockchains support them too.
Because of their limited supply, a scarcity is engendered giving NFTs resale value and a price appreciation over time.
Proponents of NFTs say this technology provides the opportunity for digital self-expression and the ability to exhibit work in an art market that is open to a worldwide audience while cutting out intermediaries.
Most NFT artwork has taken on the aspects of the environment in which they exist, so there is a propensity for nostalgic, pixel-based artwork.
But now more exciting possibilities are being manifested with artwork that is created algorithmically by artificial intelligence, such as the Aivatars of American photographer Trey Ratcliff.
There is also a sub-genre of visual representation of the blockchain itself, called “On-chain Art”, such as the CryptoArte collection.
Each NFT artwork in the collection “represents 576 consecutive blocks of the Ethereum blockchain through a meaningful combination of shapes, colours, decorations”, according to the CryptoArte website.
One CryptoArte NFT currently stands at 0.125 ETH (ETH-USD), or approximately £250.
Artists are now experimenting with the form and moving past NFTs that are digital alternatives to artworks created using traditional mediums, such as digital illustration, sculpture and paintings.
The use of artificial intelligence and automated systems in the creative process has been called “generative art” and utilises computer algorithms and large sets of data to independently determine the features of an NFT piece. These artists use coding as well as artistic skills to create their pieces.
NFTs are currently suffering alongside the rest of the cryptocurrency ecosystem, with many fearing the market could be spiralling into the long-anticipated “Crypto Winter”.
Last week the daily trading volume across NFT markets dropped by 76% compared to its peak at the beginning of February.
However, there are risks involved as $1.7m worth of NFTs were stolen from 32 users in a phishing attack on the world’s largest NFT marketplace, OpenSea, in February. In October OpenSea was hacked and $2.7m of NFTs were stolen.
Despite this, global NFT market capitalisation grew from $69m to $16bn in the last year.
Most of the value across all NFT marketplaces is held within PFPs, or profile picture artworks, according to data from NFTGo. This category amounts to 55% of all the value within the market and is the domain of valuable digital assets as Cryptopunks, Bored Ape Yacht Club and Art Blocks.
This is where the real money flows and the success of PFPs suggest NFTs have more in common with collectable trading cards, such as baseball or Pokemon cards than with fine art.
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This is why NFT artists rarely produce singular, unique pieces, but tend to create collections of “unique” sets of 1,000 or 10,000. Creating limited sets of NFTs has allowed for the formation of exclusive communities of owners who are incentivised to promote their NFT to increase its value.
If a community can get a celebrity to buy in, then the value of every NFT in the series sky-rockets. Bored Ape Yacht Club members now include Eminem and Paris Hilton. A more recent NFT collection called World of Women now includes celebrity holders such as Reese Witherspoon and Eva Longoria.
Ownership of a particular NFT grants one access to parties in the virtual and physical worlds. Bored Ape Yacht Club owners get entertained by the likes of comedian Chris Rock and New York indie rockers The Strokes. Bored Ape Yacht Club merchandise always sells out at these events.
This has nudged the interest of multinationals as World of Women, Bored Ape Yacht Club and Cryptopunks could become the brands of the future.
Watch: Boy George on NFTs and the importance of the Metaverse
NFT artist Yam Karaki is the creative force behind the World of Women collection. Karaki told Yahoo Finance UK that NFTs are helping “smaller artists that don’t already have a name in the traditional art world”.
This view is echoed by Stefania Barbaglio, CEO of Cassiopeia Services, who said: “If you are an artist, then crypto is a great place as it offers you the opportunity to actually monetise your creativity and skills, which has not been done before.”
Furthermore, an artist selling their work as an NFT on Opensea will only pay a commission of 2.5% on every sale, instead of the typical 30% to 60% retainment that traditional galleries take.
Sun said: “There is no doubt that NFTs are a new way or additional way for artists to bypass galleries and then monetise their works and artists can also benefit from the revenue generated from every resale.”
The art world has always been in a state of flux and NFTs could be described as the new avant-garde, which is slowly being inaugurated into mainstream culture. At first, the public reacted with disregard and contempt, holding the idea: “How could one possibly put a price tag on a JPEG, when it can be easily right-clicked on and saved to a computer desktop for free?”
But, NFTs could give visual artists an opportunity to claw back the losses sustained by the invention of the internet which saw increasingly diminishing returns for artists as it offered the public free and infinite replication of imagery.
Usage rights violations have always been endemic on the internet. Visual artists were confined to showcasing their skills on web2 online platforms such as DeviantArt, ArtStation and increasingly Instagram and trying to sell physical prints by post or gain ad revenue if they get enough Instagram followers.
However, NFTs are giving a direct revenue stream from consumer to digital artist for the first time and “giving visibility for those artists operating outside traditional art platforms, particularly artists who were working in digital media before the rise of NFTs”.
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