Non-fungible tokens (NFTs) took the world by storm in 2017 following the launch of CryptoKitties. After the launch, CryptoKitties rose to account for more than 10% of all Ethereum transactions. The innovative project enables owners to breed, raise, and trade virtual cats, leveraging elements of generative artwork.
In this article, you’ll learn about generative artwork, why it’s a natural fit for NFTs, and where the movement may head over the coming years.
What is Generative Art?
The German philosopher Max Bense created the first generative artwork in a 1965 essay, where he presented a set of schemas for evaluating aesthetic states alongside a group of formulas for simulating it through “a methodical combination of planning and chance.” In other words, algorithms with random inputs into specific parameters.
When creating generative artwork, artists provide initial instructions and conditions, making them more of a curator than a creator. Then, autonomous systems (e.g., computer programs) create unique and original artwork with each iteration. The result is a limitless collection of artwork sharing common characteristics.
More recently, artists have turned toward artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) to generate artwork. By training AI models with curated data sets, artists can generate unique artwork incorporating various styles in novel ways. These technologies have also produced some of the most impressive generative pieces today.
Generative Art + NFTs
Non-fungible tokens (NFTs) are crypto tokens that represent a unique item. And recording the item on a blockchain provides a tamper-proof mechanism for anyone to verify ownership. They also open the door to unique capabilities for artists, such as charging royalties on secondary market sales and rewarding existing holders.
Generative art and NFTs are digital-native mediums, making them a natural match for many artists. Several of the most popular NFT projects consist of generative artwork. For instance, the first significant generative NFT art collection was the Autoglyphs (above) by Larva Lab, which consisted of 512 static-like black-and-white patterns.
There are two categories of generative NFT artwork:
- Profile Pictures – Profile picture collections (PFPs) are the most ubiquitous and valuable generative NFT artwork. For instance, the Bored Ape Yacht Club founder, Yuga Labs, is worth billions of dollars, and its ape avatars fetch prices in the hundreds of thousands of dollars.
- Abstract – Abstract collections focus on the original premise of generative art by creating different colors, shapes, and sizes as the output of an algorithm. Some of these artworks are interactive and dynamic, adding an element that’s not conventionally possible.
While PFPs have become ubiquitous in the crypto community, the mainstream art world has been more fond of abstract generative artwork. Many critics see these pieces as realizing the original premise of generative art in the 1960s. And some of the most prominent pieces appear in mainstream art galleries worldwide.
Most Popular Collections
Art Blocks is the most popular marketplace for generative NFT art collections. For example, the platform hosts Tyler Hobbs’ Fidenza collection, which has sold for millions of dollars. The platform also hosts the Ringers and Chromie Squiggle collections that have attracted mainstream artists and critical acclaim.
Some of the most iconic projects include:
- Autoglyphs – Autoglyphs is a series of generative art experiments built with creative coding practices. These projects have a total sales volume of over $40 million in recent years.
- Fidenza – Fidenza leverages a smart contract to generate artwork on-the-fly when the blockchain creates a hash. As a result, buyers could not know the appearance until after the purchase.
- Ringers – Ringers is a collection of 1,000 NFTs by Dmitri Cherniak featuring a series of strings and pegs — the most expensive piece in the collection sold for more than $5 million.
- Solvency – Solvency is a collection of WebGL simulations with random attributes seeded by the NFT’s token hash. As a result, each piece has unique features with varying rarity levels.
- Lost Poets – Lost Poets is a collection and strategy game created by artificial intelligence. Notably, the collection had about $70 million in initial sales, making it extremely successful.
Innovation in generative NFT artwork is rapidly accelerating despite the slowdown in the broader NFT marketplace.
Botto DAO is an AI artist generating over 300 art pieces each week. As a decentralized autonomous organization, project participants vote on their favorite pieces each week, and a handful are minted into NFTs. Proceeds from the sales go back to pay the voters for their time – somewhat like compensating art teachers or critics for guiding an aspiring artist.
The future of generative NFT art remains to be seen. As new tools make it easier to create artwork and blockchains expand distribution worldwide, generative artwork has grown to a massive scale.
The Bottom Line
The original concept behind generative artwork is decades old, but blockchain technology and NFTs have brought it new life. Over the past few years, generative NFT artwork has pushed the boundaries of computational art and generated millions of dollars worth of sales across hundreds of collections.
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The above is for general info purposes only and should not be interpreted as professional advice. Please seek independent legal, financial, tax, or other advice specific to your particular situation.