Rising to the Occasion: The State of NFT Art in 2023 With Jesse Damiani

Futurist and art curator Jesse Damiani explores the lasting impact of Web 3.0 and NFTs on the global art market, and where all this innovation is leading to.

By Stu Elmes


1,400 words, 7 minute read

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The rise and fall of the global NFT hype-cycle was something to behold. A perfect storm of global conditions aligned for one massive shining moment to drive digital art into the stratosphere of public consciousness in a matter of months. With lower interest, the news cycles are asking, “are NFTs dead”?

According to tech futurist and digital art curator Jesse Damiani, maybe not. While many loud voices have been quick to sound the death knell of the NFT, Jesse Damiani has taken a much wider view. Having watched the NFT hype build and then die down from his front row seat, Jesse is more measured in his assessment of the global NFT situation as it exists today.

And, as the many talented folks who have staked a claim in the NFT space redouble their efforts and continue building through the “NFT winter”, folks like Jesse Damiani continue to extol the virtues of the NFT and hold firm to their belief in the paradigm-shifting promise these digital tools have to offer. While the NFT hype-cycle is indeed over, there is still something powerful in the works and interest in moving this technology forward while still exploring its potential at full steam. To hear Jesse Damiani tell it, however, this interest may be manifesting just a little more sensibly these days…

“I think we’re reaching this moment now where people are much more cautious. I think people feel burned by the hype, particularly around the early NFT/Metaverse hype of 2021. I think people were already a little wilier with the generative AI stuff — although of course that’s a whole different can of worms. And so I’m noticing more hesitation and more of a ‘we want to engage, but we want to engage thoughtfully. We’re not going to throw everything at it the way we have during some of these other waves.’ approach.”

The fact of the matter is, while consumer interest may have slowed down significantly, the creativity, innovation, and volume of work in the digital art/NFT space has not, especially on Tezos. And, while the reasons for this are many, one of the primary reasons is this: for a generation of artists, the promise that the NFT holds to empower them, allow them to maintain control over their work, and ply their trade free from the gatekeepers of the traditional art world is just as real today as it was when the NFT hype-cycle began. In spite of the negative sentiment that abounds today, their steadfast belief in the principles that brought NFTs to global prominence in the first place remains.

As far as folks like Jesse Damiani are concerned, the NFT hype-cycle, while not completely irrelevant to the story of the NFT and the promise it holds, is of little consequence to the journey.

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“There definitely was way too much hype, and we knew it at the time. I remember these conversations happening a lot, where it was like ‘This is just functionally just not sustainable. This is not how this ecosystem will sustain itself.’ However, in a backwards way I’m a little bit glad for the hype, because without the hype, I don’t think anybody would have cared.”

With many voices in the art spaces calling for the NFT’s head, it’s all too easy to lose sight of the fact that NFTs and the NFT hype-cycle are — and always have been — two very different things.

“Any time people are bothering to write ‘fill in the blank _____ thing is dead’ articles, in my experience, that is incorrect. When something is dead, you just stop hearing about it. When somebody is writing to tell you something is dead, they have a particular position they’re wanting to express, and it specifically means that the thing is not dead.”

The global art space has proven to be a hugely important one for NFT technology, particularly here in the Tezos space. As a natural fit with the needs of the digital art market (if it can even be said that one existed pre-NFT), NFTs found their ideal use-case enabling digital artists to bring new types of art to market, test its appeal, and finance their careers. The synergy between NFTs and digital art ran a whole lot deeper than just offering artists a new way to sell their work, however, something Jesse Damiani spoke at length about during his recent appearance on TezTalks Radio

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“The idea of inverting some of the broken aspects of the art market, particularly the aspects of obfuscation, the ways in which art works are used for everything from bribes and tax fraud to speculative investing and treating blue chip art the way you would treat real estate investing… There are observable problems in that culture from where I sit relative to the world that I would like to see exist. Even if Web 3.0 were never to eat into that world, and just created a whole separate space where creative people and artists could find new modes of expressing value and new forms of community, then that’s a worthwhile thing. That is solving problems. My belief in those ideas hasn’t changed at all.”

The problems in the “traditional” art world and the ecosystem that exists within it run deep, and date back many generations. As with any such ecosystem, the vested interests within the space have been resistant to the changes the NFT could represent, to say the very least…

“There are these fundamental places where the power structures of the art market don’t want the solutions. The people with the least power — who comprise the vast majority participating in the art market — would want these solutions, but the people with power — who are the smallest in number but have the vastest power and resources- don’t want them. That is a very common and very difficult situation to enact change in. I think that will continue to be a dynamic that will require incredible amounts of creativity, innovation, and finesse to enable the convergences that will occur to occur.”

Here in the Tezos ecosystem, a thriving community of artists, collectors, and enthusiasts have sprung up organically to tackle the challenges of that dynamic. Tezos’ low fees, ease of use, and smooth speedy transactions have made it an ideal place for this art movement to take root. The stunning growth of this community has not only continued as the global hype around NFTs has wavered, but in fact, it’s actually accelerated…

“Tezos has spent a lot of time and energy fostering a really vibrant artist community. Whether or not that community is able to draw in new developers, artists, what have you, is in many ways dependent on that being valued at a sub rosa level. As it stands, it looks like even with the market being down, Tezos still continues to be a place where digital artists gravitate. Part of what makes the future possible benefit so appealing is that there is an inherent risk there because of what it’s challenging.”

As has always been the case with NFTs, the paradigm-shifting promise they have to offer has yet to be fully realized. But that doesn’t mean that we haven’t already seen glimpses of the possibilities this technology presents. This is an ongoing, evolutive process, and one which is already beginning to bear fruit for those who’ve embraced it.

“Part of what’s been so fun about Web 3.0 is that artists really flexed as collectors in a much bigger way than I ever remember seeing in the past. Part of what that enables is means of really using cultural and creative capital in idiosyncratic ways. I’m just really glad to see artists rising to that occasion.”

As anyone embedded in the world of NFTs and digital art here in the Tezos ecosystem will tell you, there are big changes coming. And with forward-thinking folks like Jesse Damiani doing their part to help blockchain technology and NFTs move that change forward, the post-NFT winter world that is currently dawning could make those changes clearer for the rest of us in the very near future. And if you didn’t already know, the Tezos art scene is full of bright and talented people like Jesse.