Is the NFT Hype Justified? 3 Creatives Weigh in on the Trend

Because much chatter about NFTs comes from investors, RADII went straight to the true creatives behind the burgeoning blockchain-based trend

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4:21 PM HKT, Wed September 14, 2022 6 mins read

After Beeple’s highly publicized stroke of luck — selling a non-fungible token for 69 million USD — in 2021, NFTs emerged as the holy grail of the fine art world. The revolutionary technology has the potential to free struggling artists from the old-fashioned, elitist, and money-grabbing gallery system while allowing them to make money and vouch for the authenticity of their digital artworks in a decentralized and secure way.

Even in China, where crypto trading is currently banned, the hype was — and still is — real. We’ve seen tech giants mixing art and ecommerce in NFT exhibitions, fashion shows with models strutting virtual fashion items, and the proliferation of minting platforms betting on the potential of digital collectibles.

On a daily basis, my spam box generally houses hundreds of emails announcing new projects and ‘drops,’ with most of them involving some well-known tech gurus, KOLs, or celebrities. Likewise, new start-ups and joint ventures multiply like gremlins and push creative industries to transit to Web3 — think blockchain and the metaverse.

There’s no doubt that, even with crypto at a low point and the falloff of the global NFT market, an unbelievable sum of money is still being poured into NFTs in China and abroad. The gold rush hasn’t stopped.

Today, much chatter about NFTs comes from its investors — CEOs, CMOs, CTOs, CFOs, you name it — and usually revolves around its countless benefits and the incredible disruptive capacity it presents to creative industries, especially the art market. However, content creators, the true creatives behind NFT projects, rarely get a word in about how they’re truthfully benefiting from the zeitgeist.

This is why we skipped the C-suite and the ‘tech bros’ and talked to three different creatives working across art, design, architecture, fashion, and community building. What they tell RADII reveals a more practical picture of the burgeoning movement.

Han Hui, Artist and Architect

“It’s fast and good money,” laughs Shanghai-based artist and architect Han Hui. The creative finds fulfillment in exploring street art and urban subcultures in acrylic on canvas. Still, he realizes that his computer skills, which he inherited from architecture school, are his strongest suit. Such skills are even more important now that he’s focusing on 3D sculptures and computer algorithms.

“It’s essential to keep a sharp mind and balance art and creativity with selling. With NFTs, I can put a price on my digital works. Sales are good, and the market is heated,” remarks the artist, who dropped his first NFT set on Dionysos, a Chinese marketplace backed by the Shanghai city government and the city’s West Bund Group.

The six digital works were presented inside a ‘blind box,’ meaning that customers didn’t know exactly what they would be getting. All 8,000 copies sold out.

Han Hui

Dumpling Bonsai, a 3D sculpture ‘sculpted’ by Han Hui using Cinema 4D. Image courtesy of the artist

“The market is crazy. Everything was gone in one hour,” says Han, who made hundreds of thousands of renminbi in that single drop. However, the artist is frank about the hefty commission fees. Also, the market is not as decentralized as it seems.

“In China, things happen a bit differently,” he explains. “Unlike, say, OpenSea, which sells the works of many different artists at the same time, Chinese platforms tend to sell the work of one artist in a day. You get 24 hours of exclusive sales on the platform.”

Also, direct deals between collectors (or investors) are not allowed in China. Even so, some find a way around it, such as facilitating transactions via platforms like Alipay, or exchanging NFTs using public blockchains.

Han, who believes that NFT art buyers can be anyone, from college students to stay-at-home moms, suspects that China’s unstable economic environment is responsible for the current NFT hype.

“For now, I feel [NFTs are] something purely speculative. Most customers don’t seem to care about the artwork itself. It’s an investment. People buy because they believe the price will go up. They like to gamble.” 

In addition to working on two other NFT projects, he is currently chatting with an Australian marketplace about future possibilities.

However, he and his former classmates have yet to tap into digital architecture — the artist is awaiting more technological advancements first.

“I still can’t say how architects will benefit from NFTs or the metaverse. I can’t see the future, but these are all new ways to show creativity and art. For now, that’s good enough,” concludes the creative.

Sijia Ke and Shijie Hai, Founders of Studio Office

Graduates of The Royal College of Art in London, design duo Sijia Ke and Shijie Hai returned to China to work in their respective areas of expertise — him as a designer for sportswear brands, and her on her art practice.

In 2021, they joined forces to create Studio Office, which specializes in illustration, animation, graphic design, and video, in Shanghai. One of the design studio’s first projects experimented with NFT fashion.

In conjunction with the virtual launch of Shanghai-based menswear brand Staffonly’s fall 2022 collection, Ke and Hai created a total of 20 3D characters dressed in the brand’s designs and uploaded them to an auction website.

The highest bidder received a PNG animated image of the fashion character — and its a non-fungible token.

Neither cash nor crypto was involved. Instead, customers were asked to ‘pay’ for the NFTs by way of social media likes. Hai explains:

“It was a vanity auction. We created a new currency, the ‘likecoin.’ In today’s world, likes are a currency.”

Even though Staffonly made no monetary profit from the sales of the NFTs, the virtual designs significantly boosted the brand’s online exposure.

“It was a great financial deal,” Ke says. “We didn’t invite just anybody to the auction. They were big KOLs and influencers, and they shared the screenshots and images on their channels. The publicity was huge.”

Hai reckons this is the primary way fashion brands can benefit from NFTs, at least right now: using it as part of publicity stunts to market themselves.

Additionally, both note that more consumers are using NFT fashion pieces as status symbols on social media, or wardrobe filters and collectibles. As ridiculous as it might sound to some, there is a growing demand for better looks online.

“It’s no longer enough to look fashionable offline,” explains Hai. “We also need to polish ourselves online. That’s why some people get a pair of virtual shoes to show off online. It’s a new way of taking a fashion stand.”

The designer sees the value of the trend: “This is how new generations express the full extent of their personalities. They want to look unique online, too. There’s nothing wrong with it.”

Conversely, Hai is skeptical of the so-called revolutionary potential of NFTs in the art world.

“We must remember that NFT is not an art form; it’s a trading tool, a way of buying and selling things online. From the beginning, it’s been about making money. Also, no new art movements are coming out of it. Nothing genuinely interesting or imaginative. We’re still making old stuff, just selling it differently.”

Ke is much more optimistic. To her, artists and creatives must follow advancements and grow with technology to fully understand its benefits.

“It all comes down to how technology will develop to make things more interesting. Nowadays, selling an NFT mostly means selling a PNG file. We are not ready, but we want so much to be ready that we squeeze ourselves into it,” she adds. “It’s about trying and failing. And if you fail, you have nothing to lose. It’s not about having a goal. The only thing we can do right now is to be experimental.”

Caio Lofrano, Web3 Community Manager at Vive Arts

As the artistic arm and metaverse ecosystem of Taiwanese electronics company HTC, Vive Arts is on a mission to empower artists with innovative technology.

The company has partnered with some of the world’s most celebrated artists, including explosives artist Cai Guoqiang, who, inspired by a dream, created a VR display of colorful daytime explosions in the Forbidden City.

In 2018, Vive Arts became Art Basel Hong Kong’s first-ever VR partner and presented works by Serbian conceptual and performance artist Marina Abramović and British-Indian sculptor Anish Kapoor.

“I think artists are restlessly inventive. It’s in their nature. They always want to explore new ways to create and recreate,” says Caio Lofrano, community manager for Vive Arts.

Born in Sao Paulo and based in Taipei, Lofrano focuses on Web3 strategy for the company, and has been heavily involved in the NFT project ‘Timeless Mucha,’ a collaboration with the Mucha Foundation. The independent non-profit organization is dedicated to preserving the work of Czech painter Alphonse Mucha, a pioneer of the Art Nouveau movement.

“We digitalized some of [Mucha’s] artworks to preserve them on the blockchain, and we’ll soon sell them as an NFT collection on our own platform,” says Lofrano, who adds that there will be five drops featuring 99 of Mucha’s iconic artworks.

“It’s a way to bring the Art Nouveau movement to new audiences. People get to learn and understand more about Mucha’s influence in the art we see today.”

According to the community manager, the project has succeeded in attracting new audiences who had never heard of the artist before: “They love to learn how Mucha’s art was inspired by things, from psychedelic rock posters to comics and anime, and Marvel to Sakura Cardcaptor.”

Many artists and fans of Vive Arts gather on Discord, a social platform that was first popular among gamers. Since the advent of Web3, however, the platform has attracted new, niche audiences, including two types of collectors: art collectors who see the potential in NFTs and are eager to tackle the latest trend and crypto collectors with tech or investment backgrounds.

The latter is getting familiarized with new artists and art movements for the first time, and Lofrano thinks that some may cross over to collect ‘traditional’ forms of art. If this is the case, both the collectors and the artists stand to benefit — especially in the fine art world’s exclusive system full of private viewings and A-list mindsets.

For many, collecting isn’t even the end goal. According to Lofrano, the NFT trend is also a way to introduce artists to entirely new audiences.

“It happened to me. I don’t have an art background, but now I love learning about all these new artists, including Mucha,” says the new art enthusiast, who takes pride in his job.

Lofrano thinks that, at the end of the day, the communal aspect of the new NFT market and Web3 space is what’s most important.

“Community is at the core of everything. That’s where blockchain comes from, right? That’s what started the whole crypto and NFT movement. Despite many big shots using all these buzzwords nowadays, it all began with a down-to-earth attitude, with people who wanted to see real innovation and real change.”

Cover image designed by Haedi Yue

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