We had the pleasure to interview John Crain, the co-founder CEO of SuperRare, a platform for Digital Art Buying, Selling and Auctioning using NFTs on the Ethereum Blockchain. Today, it has become a social network for art creators and collectors, backed by blockchain. Prior to SuperRare, John led product for the ConsenSys as a Product engineer exploring use cases for smart contracts and leveraging open data. This time, we discuss the art space in the crypto sphere, how it has evolved in a very short time, and how much more it can spread. Please take a look.
John Crain（the co-founder CEO of SuperRare）
Interview Date : 11th November 2020
Art Theft and Fraud
Art has not been hacked or laundered on SuperRare, but we have had people take artworks from SuperRare, and create an NFT token on another digital art platform with it. That is very upsetting, especially for the artists because they have been putting a lot of hard work into their artworks. Somebody who just rips them off by taking their work and taking the credit for it, does obviously not feel very good. We have been able to work with other platforms and marketplaces as partners to prevent this from happening. They can take down the fraudulent work from the website, but the interesting thing is that no one can take down the created token on the blockchain. Additionally, since the original artwork is tied to a token it’s very easy to spot a fake.
Nevertheless, what’s very interesting about art concerning crypto is that crypto people love to talk about reputation and identity being really important. That is very similar in all communities, but especially in art, reputation and identity are as big of a part of how the community works. So, that in itself is one thing that prevents large scale fraud from happening. It happens that some random anonymous person takes a screenshot or takes your art, but that is just like a GIF and has no value. I believe that if art platforms and crypto platforms work together, art forgery can be reduced.
Can you make a living on SuperRare with Your Art pieces?
Not everybody makes a living off it, but there are a few artists who can make a living selling digital art with SuperRare. This is due to a lot of the artists on SuperRare bringing professional artists. They probably work with galleries and do most likely do sculpture or oil paintings in addition to their digital work. However, a lot of the galleries were closed due to the pandemic for a good part of the year. So, it was kind of amazing to see them turning to SuperRare, and have this be paying rent for them.
Do You or Your Team Make Art on SuperRare?
I do not personally create artworks and put them on SuperRare. I feel like there would be a weird conflict of interest if I had my own art on SuperRare. However, one of our team members, Zack, who is the SuperRare Roses (Artist/Collector (Roses) & Head of Marketing), does make art pieces and puts it on SuperRare, but he also does a lot of collaboration with some of the artists.
How Big is Digital Art?
Decentraland also has an NFT marketplace, and because we have smart contracts that are on Ethereum, they can integrate directly with our smart contract. So, we do have a couple of such partners. However, we do have some rivals or competitors, and one would be a platform called Makersplace. Another one is called Nifty gateways who also are focused on digital art.
Thus, I think it’s actually a much bigger number of people involved than what most people really think. Also, you no longer have to live by a gallery or a museum anymore. In this sense, it is much easier for people to join. I think the market size is probably in 10,000s of people. I estimate that in the next 5 years, we are going to see millions of people get involved in digital art. The space has become more accessible on the internet but still has maintained its scarcity value to it.
We try to do interviews with collectors and artists on the platform, and one thing we hear from collectors is that “they were kind of always interested in art and collecting art”, but they didn’t know “how to get started”. It is like Bitcoin; Bitcoin taught people about finance who previously didn’t care much because they couldn’t do much about what people in power would decide to do. However, when Bitcoin was released, many people started thinking “maybe I can make a difference after all”. Hence, there are a lot of things that people can relate to with art too, but they just didn’t have the opportunity to do so.
Royalties in Art
There have been a couple of attempts over the past fifty years, to build a more equitable and fair system for artists. In the 1970s, France passed a law stating if an artwork is resold and the artist is still alive, the collector owes the artist some percentage of the sale. However, it never really took off as it was very hard to implement. We took that idea and built it within our platform, and it is an automatic function that will happen whenever an art piece is resold as long as the artist is alive in our system. It is interesting to think about the royalty systems in, for example, Spotify; it still has a delay of sometimes 6 months until the artist receives it. However, on blockchain systems with Ethereum models, it happens automatically within a very short time.
Social Collecting in Art
Art appreciation is more fun with your friends is the premise behind the term Social Collecting. What we set out to build in the first place was a fun and engaging experience for artists and art collectors. We have a fun online community and social places to hang out on. We wanted to take that model and create a platform exclusively for collectors and artists to hang out socially but online on SuperRare.
Art and Gaming are Coming Closer
I think we are seeing an interesting area emerging between art culture and gaming. I think the contemporary art world and the traditional art world is a little slower moving and more well established. However, people are hanging out on Discord at the same time. Thus, we are seeing some edges of the art space and the gaming space aggregating. So, there is some mixing back and forth with some elements and features of both worlds. It is almost like they are building something new.
For example, we have done a couple of different VR art shows where the artists that created VR sculptures have used tools like Unity. Unity is a form of a gaming tool to build a world to appreciate art. It is not a video game, and you are not going to collect coins in VR, but all of the tools that were used to create this artistic experience in VR come from the gaming world. So, you can put on a VR headset, walk into VR galleries, and appreciate a sculpture, for example. I think we are going to see people do such VR visits together as a group in the near future. There might be chatting involved, there might be a live chat as you are looking at a painting, and artists can even record themselves talking about a piece of art. Thus, when you walk into the art world and walk up close to it, the artist’s voice can play and tell you about the work. Doing so is like weaving together some of the storytelling parts of video gaming and the territorial museum experience to create a new genre.
What Will Happen After the COVID-19 Pandemic?
I think it will get back to how it was before the pandemic eventually, where people will actually go to galleries and exhibitions and socialize in real life. Nevertheless, what the pandemic did was pulling art forward a little bit. There are so many artists who work together to create video games and other kinds of digital art, yet it is a rigid line between serious art and video games. Therefore, after the pandemic, we are hopefully going to have regular in-person exhibitions and gallery showings but also see the lines blurred between art and design.
What Do You Want For SuperRare in the Future?
We want to continue to push the boundaries for what people define as art. There is a variety of different types of arts like video, audio, virtual reality, games, etc. and I think we are going to start seeing really interesting mixed media happening. So, we would love to be the platform that facilitates not only the creation of the art but also experiencing the art. I think that is an area where we could really move forward.
Interviewer , Editor : Lina Kamada
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