Abstract pieces of art traded for hundreds of thousands of US-dollars with names that mostly just differ from each other by the counting number — this is the trend of generative art NFTs. But what exactly is generative art, how is this brought together with NFTs and what does this trend mean for our conception of the art market? We take these questions into consideration and give an overview of a few generative art NFT projects. But first, let us examine what generative art is.
The origin of generative art
Generative art is an expression currently used a lot in the context of NFTs. NFTs have recently become a new way of owning a piece of generative art, and even a means to create pieces of generative art via smart contracts. The term generative art describes pieces of art that have gone through a generation process by a system that “is set into motion with some degree of autonomy contributing to or resulting in a completed work of art.”¹ Thereby, generative art can be seen as “collaboration between an artist and an autonomous system.”²
Under this definition, NFTs are not the origin of generative art. Instead, an early example of generative art, more specifically of generative music, is Mozart’s “Musikalisches Würfelspiel” published in the late eighteenth century.³
While this is an example of an early piece of generative art, created in “traditional” manners, the blockchain technology enables a new opportunity of creation. Generative art can now be created by running a smart contract. A smart contract is code stored on a blockchain under a certain address — mostly on Ethereum. By sending crypto — mostly ETH — to this address, the smart contract is triggered, and the code stored under the address is executed automatically. Recently NFTs have evolved alongside blockchain technology. A piece of generative art can now be created by a smart contract and be stored on-chain in the form of an NFT directly owned by the wallet address that sends the crypto to run the smart contract.⁴
Generative art as NFTs
Today, the common process of creating generative art is by running a machine algorithm, no matter if it is created as an NFT or not. Minting a generative art NFT adds a level of uniqueness that could not have been reached before. This is achieved by including inputs to the piece of art such as wallet address, transaction ID or gas price.⁴ These parameters are then used to mint the NFT.
The resulting NFT piece of generative art differs from those art pieces created traditionally. There will always exist only one NFT with these exact parameters. Even if another art piece would be created that looks very similar, the parameters included in the NFT piece of generative art would always be different, and so each piece is truly unique. That said, it is valid to question how the created NFT can be something “special” if the same algorithm could be run millions of times and create NFTs that eventually all look similar, even if they’re not identical. But this is an advantage of NFT generative art: a supply cap can be implemented right from the beginning. Take a look at the example projects described below and you will see that only a certain and predefined amount of NFTs can be created that follow the same algorithmic rules.
Traditionally, the art market has evolved to be exclusive with high entry-borders due to the necessary knowledge and investment size required.⁴ The trend towards generative NFT art opens the art market and enables inclusion for people outside of the art-scene and with lower investment budgets. This has also been recognized by big players of the art world and thus, auction houses like Sotheby’s and Christie’s put NFTs on their agenda and started curated NFT auctions. How this will fit with the blockchain paradigm of “no intermediaries” will only be revealed by the future — will there be a mass adoption of curated NFT art auctions or a rejection of intermediary offers in the long term?
Let’s take a look at some of the current generative art NFT projects.
With a total sales volume of more than $994 million, Art Blocks is one of the most successful NFT projects.⁵ The project runs on the Ethereum blockchain, creating abstract pieces of art like the series of Fidenzas, Chromie Squiggles and Ringers.⁶ This project is further elaborated in our blog article “Art Blocks: Unique, Programmable, Generative Art”.
LostPoets is an NFT-based collection game.⁸ The project launched in September 2021 and raised an initial sales volume of over $70 million despite collectors not knowing exactly how the project is going to evolve. By now, Poet owners have the opportunity to name their NFTs and give them stories.
Set up by LarvaLabs, the creators of CryptoKitties, the AutoGlyphs project was one of the first generative art NFT projects.⁹ Today, it reached a total sales volume of over $41 million. The project created on-chain generative art on the Ethereum blockchain. From the very beginning, the supply was limited to 512 NFTs, which have all been created already and are now only available as secondary sales.
KnownOrigin is an artist-driven platform running on the Ethereum blockchain.⁷ It is built for digital creators, who want to trade their art as NFTs. As such, it offers a primary marketplace as well as a secondary marketplace, although art pieces minted on KnownOrigin can also be traded on OpenSea. With a current total sales volume of ~ $26 million on OpenSea, KnownOrigin is still much smaller than ArtBlocks.
What to take away about generative art NFTs?
Generative art as such is nothing new and has been around for centuries in several kinds of art such as paintings or music. What is new is the opening of the art market by making new pieces of digital art tradeable and affordable for everyone capable of entering a blockchain. Still, one has to keep in mind that many of the new art market participants may lack knowledge about the art world. This might lead to a spot where curators will still be needed as intermediaries.
The future will tell what kind of projects will last long and be of interest to the market even after the hype peak. Currently, there are lots of generative art NFT projects and we only explored a few of them in this article. Interested newbies to the art scene should pay great attention to the trends and do extensive research on their own before using the market as an investment opportunity.
Our mission at datash is to become a one-stop shop for NFT data analytics, data extraction and NFT portfolio overview. Structuring the currently widespread and unorganized NFT ecosystem for our users, to empower educated investment decisions. Starting with Flow chain, we will make organized data for all popular NFT contracts easily accessible via our API. Powered by our collected data, we will provide our users with data driven NFT analytics and customizable dashboards to get a comprehensible NFT portfolio overview.
Katharina Zeuch is a venture developer at the Blockchain Founders Group (BFG). Before, she worked at blockchain and IoT related projects. She holds a Master’s degree in Industrial Engineering and Management with a focus on Information Technology. You can contact her via LinkedIn.