Proof-of-Work: The Bitcoin Artists on Beating NFTs and OpenSea


“Art isn’t a thing, it’s a way,” said American author Elbert Hubbard. For Bitcoin (BTC) artists, the road has been inspired by Bitcoin, its code, its philosophy and its images. In some cases, it’s even inspired by memes. Bitcoin has become a “lifestyle” for some Bitcoin artists that inspires their way of doing business, accepting payments and interacting with customers.

TNZT asked Bitcoin artists what inspires them about Satoshi Nakamoto’s 13-year invention and whether minting a non-replaceable token (NFT) would complement their “way” of making art. After all, an NFT is a unique, digital receipt to prove ownership of a purchase that lives on a blockchain. Surely artists would like to prove that they own the art with which they have toiled?

Lena poses with one of her artworks. Source: justlenasart

Lena, a Bitcoin artist who recently moved from Germany to crypto-friendly Dubai, started creating, painting and printing Bitcoin artworks after diving down the Bitcoin rabbit hole in 2018. She says that while she started her crypto career as a crypto agnostic, Bitcoin changed her approach and eventually took over. She now operates a Bitcoin “maxi style” wallet:

“My mindset changed and I started working on myself, wondering what to do with my life because of Bitcoin. Bitcoin became a lifestyle, so I should put all my savings in Bitcoin.

When speaking to people in the crypto community, she explains that she is a Bitcoin artist, to which crypto enthusiasts ask, “oh, so you guys do NFTs?” She told TNZT that she responds with, “No! Physical art!”

“OpenSea is full of art that isn’t art — I mean, art is always up to the person, but it was too much for me.”

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Numerous artists, however, make a living generating AI artworks and selling or minting them as NFTs on platforms like OpenSea. The biggest stories of 2021 involved collective cartoon chimpanzees – the Bored Ape Yacht Club – and the CryptoPunks, further digitally rendered images or art.

In the 2022 bear market, the hype surrounding NFTs has reportedly evaporated. Still, major brands like Starbucks continue to jump on the bandwagon, while luxury jeweler Tiffany fueled a 1,700% increase in trading volume after an NFT move in August.

When asked whether FractalEncrypt (an anonymous Bitcoin artist) would release an NFT of their art in the future, they told TNZT, “Absolutely not.” FractalEncrypt creates large, imposing and time-consuming Bitcoin full node structures, which it has hidden in locations around the world:

“I made NFTs in 2017/18 and the deeper I explored them the more disillusioned I became. They naturally felt like a scam, and if I continued down that path I would be a scammer in my eyes.

FractalEncrypt explained that the link between the art and the token was “ephemeral at best and outright misrepresentation at worst”. They compare the issuance of NFTs as similar to the issuance of tokens of centralized companies, which can be problematic and even controversial.

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But that doesn’t mean FractalEncrypt has written off NFT technology from the start. Like Lena, the two artists were curious about the Ethereum-based technology when it first appeared:

“An artist who issues an NFT token and sells it to others in the hope that it can increase in value puts the artist in the position of potentially issuing securities.”

Indeed, Wikipedia explains that an NFT is a “financial security that consists of digital data stored in a blockchain.” The US Securities and Exchange Commission is targeting certain crypto projects during the bear market. At the same time, the case between the SEC and Ripple (XRP) regarding the latter’s XRP token rages on.

One of FractalEncrypt’s sculptures. Source: Twitter

BitcoinArt, who chose to remain anonymous, is one of the few Bitcoin artists TNZT spoke to who had also dipped their toes into the world of NFTs. He told TNZT that he managed to sell some NFTs of his Bitcoin-related artworks, but didn’t enjoy the medium or the concept:

“I took some great Bitcoin pictures and wasn’t sure how to TNZT them and someone told me to TNZT on OpenSea, unfortunately they use ETH… But good news is I sold my nfts via Twitter for SATs and I cut the middle man off I hate ETH.”

A recurring theme at this point, BitcoinArt prefers to have one-on-one interactions with potential customers; he enjoys the back and forth that comes from discussing works of art.

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One of the pieces from BitcoinArt, an astronaut in the Bitcoin universe. Source: Twitter

Lena also prefers the personal approach; she bonds with her clients and spends hours sketching, painting and painstakingly perfecting clients’ visions. In Lena’s words, the time spent on her art is a reflection of proof-of-work, the consensus mechanism underlying the Bitcoin protocol. She told TNZT that the process of creating one piece of art is unique and limited — just like Bitcoin — so no NFT is needed. Here’s Lena making a statement with one of her pieces:

Lena makes a statement with her art. Source: justlenasart

FractalEncrypt mocked the “high-time preference culture” foresight in NFTs. Indeed, many of the CryptoPunks’ biggest proponents quickly traded allegiance to BAYC before jumping on the next shiny new collection.

Related: NFT Art Galleries: Future of Digital Artwork or Another Crypto Craze?

Bitcoin, on the other hand, is a movement. Lena stated, “Bitcoin has changed my way of thinking, Bitcoin has changed me, […learning about Bitcoin] was a very, very meaningful chapter in my life.”

Interestingly, a search for “Bitcoin NFT” on OpenSea returns over 70,000 items. For Lena, the door is still open: “NFTs could have use cases in the future, but the way NFTs are now doesn’t feel right,” she admitted. OpenSea has suffered from hacks and laundry trades, but jpegs of seven-figure pixelated images continue to sell. “It feels like a bubble,” Lena sums up.

Conversely, Bitcoin is down more than 50% from its bustling highs of $69,000, and the “tourists” have checked out. In addition, Bitcoin received as payment for a work of art will likely never be hacked or “drained” from a wallet.