Interview with Houda Bakkali: “Crypto art is an unpredictable revolution, a symbiosis between snobbery, speculation and vanity”
Visual artist Houda Bakkali has more than a decade of experience in digital art. Her artwork ranges from illustration and animation to augmented reality. In an increasingly digital ecosystem and in the midst of the rise of crypto art, the artist tells us about her perception of the NFT phenomenon.
What determines artworks’ value?
It’s a good question…, it should be determined by the work’s own value, its originality, exclusivity, the artist’s career, etc. But there are many other factors, where the advertising and marketing behind the work or the artist take a leading role and mark the value of an artwork.
What are the keys to the success of crypto art?
Many times digital art has been stigmatized by the most conservative art circles, precisely because of the difficulty of guaranteeing exclusivity and because of the ease of replication of the artworks. The crypto art promises to open a new window for digital artists so that they can sell their works. But there are many points to be established. There is a lot of noise about crypto art, in fact anyone can consider themselves an artist and easily and quickly upload a work to one of the thousands of platforms that already exist to experiment. There are many loopholes, a lot of terminology to master, etc. Changing the conception of art and its value is not a simple revolution, time will tell if we are talking about a revolution or a passing trend.
There is also another factor that has contributed to the prominence of crypto art and that is the idea of digitization. The pandemic has made us think more than ever about a digital world, which has influenced the boom in blockchain, NFTs, etc.
Do you think that crypto art democratizes art?
Democratizing art is bringing it closer to the public, is breaking elitist barriers to take the work beyond academic criteria. Being able to create societies in which we can all enjoy art.
Internet (and in this I encompass the concept of crypto art), for example, is a fantastic tool to democratize art, as long as we use it judiciously. What we cannot do is convert the word «democratize» into «vulgarize» and “here anything goes”. Today we see platforms without any criteria, without content curation, without coherence. Platforms that only seek to monetize at the expense of the artists themselves. There is a lot of noise and we all seem to be scholars in everything. We need a bit of reflection and calm.
Art is a discipline that is based on the principle of freedom and creativity, but requires respect for its procedures and quality. Those of us who dedicate ourselves professionally to art, not sporadically or as a hobby, invest a lot of time, effort, money and training in carrying out our projects. The intrusion and speculation today are part of the reality of any discipline, but I believe that artists must be much more demanding and we must revalue our works. Democratize yes, vulgarize no. Everything in life requires a certain amount of common sense.
Is crypto art the financial solution for digital artists?
No. It is a business opportunity that we must study and its model well understand. But, it does not guarantee conversion. It seems that there are people who make money from it and that it is a business model in which speculation is at an all-time high right now. But I think the majority of artists will not get rich. The success that we have seen in the last few months in different auctions and with different crypto art sales is an exception. Surely, there will be collectors and investors interested in this concept and if, in addition, the sale of the artwork is supported by a relevant auction house or by platforms with great media projection, the chances of success are greater.
The reality is that the art market, both digital and non-digital, is growing every day. For the majority of artists, selling a piece today is not easy. Regardless of the financial model to which we refer.
What are NFTs and what do they allow?
NFTs are non-fungible digital crypto assets. NFTs can respond to any type of digital good or service or digitized creation, but art and crypto-collectionism has made them fashionable.
The philosophy of these assets is that they must be unique, irreplaceable and indivisible, although salable. Simplifying the process, NFTs allow a digital work to be «authenticated» by means of a certificate containing the most important information about the piece. There remains a record of this certificate that verifies the data of the work, as well as the entire purchase process and saves all the process of both the original creator and the buyers and sellers of the NFTs, etc. Presumably, the record cannot be changed or be deleted as the process is based on a decentralized control system.
NFTs, prevents digital art from being copied?
Absolutely not. They only guarantee that the buyer is supposedly the sole owner of the work. Fact that does not guarantee that this work will not be copied nor does it guarantee its originality or authenticity. And, of course, it does not guarantee artists that their works are protected and free from reproductions or modifications.
What real value does NFTs bring to art?
At a technological and conceptual level it is a great advance, it is the future and the present. But much remains to be studied and clarified. If it survives will depend on how we use and take advantage of this technology in an orderly and non-anarchic way. Our generation is digital. For this reason, we cannot stop betting on new ways of working and generating profits, both in art and in any other field. Always understanding the rules of the game well.
In your case, does the use of NFTs provide you with any differential value?
To monetize my works I do not need an NFT that verifies the authenticity of the work since I work tangible and signed works, with a signed certificate of authenticity. Currently, artists who create digital or non-digital artworks have enough legal resources to authenticate our pieces and guarantee our copyright.
Regarding my non-tangible works, such as AR or motion, the truth is that I do not believe that an NFT guarantees the buyer any exclusivity on the piece once it is published. Although selling an illusion is a very romantic idea. I do not rule out that one day I will try it.
What about copyright and intellectual property?
This is a very important point. The first thing is to be clear about what we acquire when we buy an NFT and to know what asset that NFT represents. When it is created and sold, what is done is transferring the ownership of that token in an exclusive and unique way. But it is very important to differentiate the ownership of the token and the ownership of the “tokenized” content or service.
It is very important to know what we buy when we acquire an NFT and review well the contract where the artist has specified the rights transmitted.
On the other hand, NFTs have the handicap that anyone can take an artist’s piece and upload it to a crypto art platform without restrictions or filters that confirm the authenticity and veracity of the data. How do we track who has stolen our work? Who is responsible for this fact? What legislation should we turn to if it happens outside our borders?
What is certain is that in the field of crypto art there is much to legislate and much to clarify. If the model works, surely the bases will be established to clarify these points.
Is crypto art a trend or a revolution?
Currently, crypto art is an unpredictable revolution, a symbiosis between snobbery, speculation and vanity. Artists feel the euphoria of money and the flirtation of fame. There is nothing more delightful for artists than someone look at them and paying for their artworks. The temptation of ego.
I really don’t know if it’s a trend or a revolution. Time will tell. It is too hasty to draw conclusions. We can be facing the gold rush or we can be facing a new revolution in the art ecosystem. I think it will all depend on how it is used and also how it can help give a new financial dimension to digital products and their ability to revolutionize other industries. The reality is that we are increasingly digitized. Fintech companies are booming, new business models are focused on digital, and traditional businesses are increasingly digitized every day. The virtual is no longer unknown, every day we have it more assumed in our daily lives.
What are the main drawbacks of crypto art?
The first is the technical and conceptual knowledge of the financial model in which crypto art operates.
The second is a clear regularization of the cryptocurrency market by financial authorities and governments.
The third is a clear legislation on crypto art, on its digital platforms and on its protocols.
The fourth is the regularization and monitoring of NFTs platforms, secondary markets and P2P transactions where the artworks are going.
The fifth is hacking, vulnerability, cyber scams, phishing attacks, etc. of crypto art platforms. Of course, plagiarism or replication of the pieces. But this factor is common to every work of art today.
The sixth is that one of the worst consequences of the use of this type of assets and the processes they involve, is the high consumption of energy, what makes us think about its environmental impact.
What is your opinion of the million dollar NTF auctions?
When someone buy something for millions that does not exist in the real world could be snobbery or it can respond to that other reality of the art in which a lot, a lot of money moves and in which there are visionary investors. Currently, the speculation is at its highest point. Absolutely legitimate in the free market we live in.
On the other hand, if someone feel happy investing millions of dollars in an intangible piece of art, he should be applauded. Any investing in art seems exceptional to me.
Will we see any of your artworks on a crypto art platform?
Maybe in the future. Although I have been working digital art for more than a decade, my artwork is focused on traditional financial markets, my clients look for pieces that they can see and also touch. They want original, signed and unique pieces that guarantee a tangible exclusivity.