Believe in your work. If you believe in it, others will too. This is a very new space, and everyone is trying to find their footing. Let your work be your guiding light.
Many have observed that we are at the cusp of an NFT boom. The thing is, it’s so cutting edge, that many people don’t know what it is. What exactly is an NFT and how can one create a lucrative career out of selling them? To address this, as a part of our interview series called “5 Things You Need To Know To Create a Highly Successful Career In The NFT Industry”, we had the pleasure of interviewingJonathan Rosen.
Jonathan Rosen is a NYC-based language artist who works with mixed-media collage and interactive digital technologies through which he explores his interest in human possibilities. Rosen received a B.A. from University of Florida and a M.S. from VCU Brandcenter for advertising — launching the next 10 years of his career as an award-winning advertising creative and commercial film director. Since Rosen transitioned into visual art, he’s had exhibitions in NYC, Sydney, Taipei, Paris, Hong Kong and recently participated in museum shows in Shanghai, Chengdu, Florida and at the Smithsonian in DC. His work lives in collections around the world — including pieces in the permanent collections of The LiveStrong Foundation, Bloomingdales, Pandora Music, Colette in Paris.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit. Can you tell us a bit about your backstory and how you grew up?
I grew up in suburban beach life in Long Beach, New York. I was a shy and scared kid, but always a big daydreamer. Going to Space Camp in Huntsville Alabama by myself at age 12 was transformative. I learned I didn’t want to be a scientist or air force pilot to be an astronaut, but it laid the groundwork for me to explore new worlds on this planet and the stories floating around in my head. Working in a sneaker store as a teenager led me to Nike which led me to a career as a creative in advertising. It was an exciting and creative career that led to me living in NYC, London, Amsterdam and Sydney. I eventually started directing commercials and short films, which led me to co-founding Lucky Branded Entertainment (one of the first hybrid agency/production companies).
Is there a particular book, film, or podcast that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?
That’s a hard question as there are so many influences I could mention, but if I was being honest with the GenX dork inside me, it has to be Star Wars. I probably wouldn’t have gone to Space Camp, film school and lived around the world the way I did without that film.
Is there a particular story that inspired you to pursue a career in this new industry? We’d love to hear it.
We were close to selling 51% of Lucky to a big communications company and when that deal fell through at the 11th hour it made me reevaluate everything. Who I was as a creative person. My life’s purpose. My contributions to the world. While at the time it was agonizing to go through, it made me yearn to use my creativity and my voice to tell the stories I wanted to share through visual art. So, six months later, I left Lucky and became an artist. The rest is history.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began this fascinating career?
When I first got it into art, I had a bit of imposter syndrome. I didn’t go to art school or have the same art-insider contacts. Then by pure luck I was seen in a small Australian fashion magazine by the owner of the concept store and gallery, Colette in Paris. She invited me to exhibit in November of 2015, which turned out to be a few days after the 2015 Paris attacks. I wanted to cancel or at least delay the exhibition, but she was adamant that the show must go on and that if we didn’t try to go back to a normal life the terrorists would win. It was a very important learning experience for me when it came to perseverance and “rolling with it.” With encouragement from Colette’s owner, I ended up making a new piece titled I WANT PEACE that I created in the middle of the gallery floor and the showcase piece, I WANT TO DREAM (A blackboard people can write their dreams on) had new meaning in light of the attacks. I had some very deep, emotional and powerful conversations with onlookers about how my art has the power to heal and create change. From then on, I was an imposter no longer and truly an artist. Also, Karl Lagerfeld’s tweet that he loved the show didn’t hurt.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
I was preparing for one of my first solo exhibitions and I had canvases all over the floor in different states of progress. I just painted the canvas a bright red and while it was drying, I stepped out to get some food. When I returned there were paw prints all over it. My 3-year-old French Bulldog denied the accusation, but he was literally caught “red-handed.” What I learned from that is not to be attached to perfection because mistakes can be an opportunity for something new.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
My husband and fellow artist, Tom Smith, always knew I was an artist. I had bad handwriting and I couldn’t draw or paint, I had limiting beliefs and could not see the same possibility he saw in myself. After going on work trips to Art Basel with him, I started to be open to the breadth of art in its many forms. Conceptual and language-based art really spoke to me and my advertising roots. So, after one Art Basel trip I made my first piece; I WANT TO BE A ROCKSTAR, made from 800 concert tickets stubs I collected over the years. What I thought was a once-off “hobby” piece quickly got into a group show and sold. The rest is history. I wouldn’t have had the courage to make such a radical and unpredictable career shift without Tom’s encouragement and sounding board every step of the way.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
Yes. I’m debuting my new digital art NFTs out in very public art spaces. First a preview show with W1Curates on the 36-screen corner building facade in the heart of Oxford Street in London. Then displaying them on the 7-story Nasdaq Tower in Times Square NYC. After a year of being stuck inside, digital art was a natural evolution of my practice. Then in the early part of 2021 NFTs exploded, but now that world is vaccinated and getting back outside, I wanted to bring this new digital medium out in the world — and in a big way. My work is about human possibility. The good, the bad and everything in between, so I hope when people see my work out in public that they momentarily reflect on what they want and who they still want to be.
Ok super. Thank you for all that. Let’s now shift to the main focus of our interview. I’m sure you get this question all the time. But for the benefit of our readers, can you explain in your own words what an NFT is, and why people are spending so much money on them?
NFTs (or Non fungible Tokens) are digital artworks that are paired with a smart contract (digital certificate of ownership). The smart contract is “minted” using Ethereum’s blockchain technology which verifies its authenticity through hundreds of decentralized verification checks called nodes. The smart contract is like a certificate of authenticity that usually comes when you buy physical artworks. While there could be many copies of the NFT digital file, it’s the smart contract which verifies the ownership. For example, many people take photos of the Mona Lisa, but only the Louvre truly owns it. The token holder of that NFT is the only one who can resell it.
The NFT industry seems so exciting right now. What are the 3 things in particular that most excite you about the industry? If you can, please share a story or example for each.
- “Gamification” — What I love about NFTs is that it pushes the boundaries of how people experience art and can continue long after it’s created. NFT Gamification comes in many innovative flavors: Coded into the smart contract, artists can create outcome based NFT’s that unlock additional rewards if certain measures are met (like collecting four NFTs from a collection gives you access to a secret NFT) or the artwork can be personalized by whoever is the current owner of the work.
- My NFTs were born out of my interactive mirror series titled Dream Machines. The mirrors are “time-based” media sculptures, as the piece changes for a viewer over a period of time. NFTs can take this type of viewing experience to new levels with work that morphs, degrades and changes over time.
- Like blue-chip art, high-priced and famous NFT pieces are starting to act as collateral in which people can borrow against. This is proving that this digital art form has staying power and a substantial commodity.
What are the 3 things that concern you about the industry? Can you explain? What can be done to address those concerns?
1. Predictions of market & over minting of editions — Current predictions of the market are mixed saying the bubble may have burst while other reports state in early May, over $102 million NFTs were sold in one day. During the peak of NFT hype, marketplaces and their artists were making hundreds of editions of the same NFT. To me creators need to preserve a form of rarity or uniqueness or they will not retain their original value. Personally, I would only collect 1-of-1 unique pieces.
2. Celebrities/Brands — There were a lot of brands and people of notoriety (who are not artists) who got on the NFT bandwagon (and did quite well for themselves). However, the NFTs they created were most often not very good, oversaturated the market and made it harder for underrepresented digital artists to break in.
3. Let the NFTs free! — Currently when an artist mints a NFT (and a collector buys it) on a particular marketplace it is stuck there, meaning it can’t be transferred or resold and put on another platform. So, moving forward there needs to be a solution where NFTs can move freely between marketplaces, while also allowing for artist royalties to go to their rightful place.
What are the “myths” that you would like to dispel about NFTs? Can you explain what you mean?
A lot has already been written about the environmental impacts of NFTs (as well as mining cryptocurrency), so I’m not going to belabor the point. NFTs use a lot of energy, but so do our laptops, our streaming services, our cars, etc. What I do want to point out that in about 6 months, Ethereum (the blockchain technology that most NFTs live on) is moving to a new L2 ‘proof-of-stake’ verification system which will make the energy used to mint an NFT a fraction of what it previously cost and new NFT scaling protocols and ecosystems like Palm and Polygon will make it even more efficient. While this will solve NFTs impact on the environment, we still have a ton of work to do in other sectors if we’re going to solve our planet’s climate crisis.
What are the most common mistakes you have seen people make when they enter the NFT industry? What can be done to avoid that?
- New NFT artists think they can mint a NFT and it will sell. Like any artform you need to give you and your work meaning. Then share that with a greater community until it’s embraced and thus valued.
- NFT Artists should look beyond just the static image or video by pushing the medium and technology.
- Coming from the traditional art world I was only on Instagram. I still have a steep hill to climb to build up my Twitter, Discord and Clubhouse know-how and followings — all of which is where NFT collectors and crypto peeps hang out.
How do you think NFTs have the potential to help society in the future?
Visual artists are not entitled to royalties when their work is resold and goes to auctions. Now with NFT smart contracts those royalties are built in and artists can be fairly compensated, especially when art appreciates over time. However, bigger than just the art world, NFTs have a chance to radically change the web, social media, content, streaming, music and the news. Art is just an early case study on how the world could be tokenized and creators in ALL spaces get paid fairly.
Ok, fantastic. Here is the main question of our interview. What are your “5 Things You Need To Know To Create a Highly Successful Career In The NFT Industry?” (Please share a story or example for each.)
- R&D — I took a good six months exploring the space before I minted my first NFT. Research the art. The collectors. The critics. The technology. Then I took more time to see how I could push my art, so it maximizes the medium. Don’t just drop a drop.
- Your uniqueness is an opportunity — the reason it took me so long to make NFTs is because there were no other language-based NFT artists in the space and I couldn’t imagine how I would fit in. I would have saved myself a lot of time, if I could have transformed my perceived weakness into an opportunity to tell a new story to a new community of digital art aficionados.
- Find collaborators — While I’m tech-able, I still need a coder. You may need a musician, a filmmaker, a 3D artist to bring your creation to life. Don’t be afraid to ask for help, as you will be helping others utilize their skills and hopefully some coin.
- Promote it and then promote it some more — Find where the NFT community is and engage and share your work with them.
- Believe in your work. If you believe in it, others will too. This is a very new space, and everyone is trying to find their footing. Let your work be your guiding light.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
A portion of every NFT sale and resale and resale after that, will be given to do something good in the world for perpetuity.
We are very blessed that very prominent leaders read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them 🙂
Going back to my earlier answer, I’d have to say Dave Filoni. I would love to pick his brain about galaxies far far away.
Thank you so much for these excellent stories and insights. We wish you continued success on your great work!