What is Generative Art NFT? Inside the algorithmic art revolution

In short

  • Generative art uses machine learning and the natural randomness of the blockchain to create striking, unpredictable art.
  • At the height of the NFT boom, over a billion dollars worth of generative art was sold.

Non-Fungible Tokens (NFT) took the world by storm in 2020, generating billions of dollars in profit for artists and collectors alike. Much of the work sold at first was standard fare: digital transmissions of old masters, eccentric photography, paintings made via iPad.

Soon a new breed of digital artists began to experiment with the form and produce art that was more closely related to the digital world in which it was sold. Some artists offered elaborate VR art “experiences”, others designed artworks that could be computationally described by blockchain “metadata”.

Another group latched onto a half-century-long artistic format that had long been neglected but seemed the perfect foil for the bustling market: Generative Art.

What is generative art?

Developed in 1965 by the German philosopher Max Bense, generative art arises from algorithms programmed to specific parameters by engineer-artists. The artist defines the general process—what colors or geometry can be used, for example—then feeds the algorithm arbitrary quantities; whatever comes out is the generative work of art. Generative NFTs are much the same, and many include additional components of “randomness” related to blockchain mechanics, smart contracts, and the “mining” of NFTs.

Generative art was ideal for creating large NFT collections reaching tens of thousands or even millions of unique works. Unlike profile picture (PFP) collections like Bored Ape Yacht Clubhowever, generative art is also better received by the art establishment; they are seen as a way to finally make use of the generative works dating back to the 1960s, and many are featured in the meatspace galleries.

Did you know?

The first ever exhibition of generative art was held in Stuttgart, Germany by Georg Ness. Believed to be called ‘Generative Computergrafik’, the exhibition featured decidedly sci-fi works featuring repetitive, somewhat eerie curves arranged in large grids.

How do NFTs work with generative art?

Generative art NFT projects use EthereumThe defining characteristic of: The smart contract.

Smart contracts are pieces of code that execute themselves when certain external conditions are met, making them ideal for developing randomized, computer-controlled art. Sending cryptocurrency to a smart contract – which exists as a kind of blockchain-based escrow position – activates it, running code that results in generative art, which is then credited to the wallet of whoever activated it.

Take the example of Art Blocks, a hugely popular NFT marketplace for generative art, which earned almost $1 billion for artists in 2021. Art Blocks’ offering includes works that use a random “hash” generated when NFTs are added to the blockchain (the hash is a unique alphanumeric code that serves, to put it simply, as a kind of online address for an asset).

In one highly subscribed series, Fidenza, buyers won’t know what their chosen piece will look like until the hash is generated at the time of purchase; the Fidenza smart contract will feed the string of digits and numbers into the Fidenza algorithm, creating something surprising and unique.

Did you know?

The first major generative art NFT project was Autoglyphs, a series developed by Larva Labs, the company behind another pioneering series called CryptoPunks. Autoglyphs are a collection of 512 strange, static black and white patterns developed on the Ethereum blockchain itself and have reached a total sales volume of $41 million.

An example of generative art that goes beyond smart contracts is the Solvency project, which uses an AI engine called a “GAN” – a generative adversarial network – to create textured moving images based on photographs. GANs illustrate the generative process by pitting two artificial intelligences, the “generator” and the “discriminator,” against each other: the generator tries to produce images that mislead the discriminator into confirming them as real, and the discriminator tries to catch the generator. The result is a learning process that creates ever scarier real-life shows.

Who works with NFT for generative art?

  • Autoglyphs – the first on-chain generative art on the Ethereum blockchain produced by CryptoPunks creators Larva Labs.
  • Fidenza – a generative art series created by artist Tyler Hobbs; individual works in the series have sold for millions of dollars.
  • Art blocks – a generative art marketplace that hosts the Fidenza, Ringers and Chromie Squiggle collections.

Where to buy generative art NFT

Most generative NFTs can be purchased on standard platforms such as OpenSea and Nifty Gateway; there are other more specialized platforms such as Art Blocks, Gen.Art and Brain Drops.

The Future of Generative Art NFT

Although 2022 saw the bottom of the NFT market, NFTs gave generative artists a showcase and an audience after being largely ignored for over 50 years.

Generative artists like kvix_studio continue to create fascinating and often hauntingly beautiful works. Meanwhile, Ethereum competitor Tezos launched a generative art platform Fxhash in 2021, expanding the market even further.

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