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What Is Generative Art?
Generative art is a category of digital art in which algorithms help artists create individual pieces through a process of randomness. The results can be both expected and unexpected. It is characterized by a repetition of patterns, shapes, colors and motifs, which are generally random since they are created by an algorithm. The artist defines the colors and geometry that are to be used and the algorithm generates the art.
In short, generative art is not unlike prompt writing for AI tools.
We will dive into AI-generated art in an extra section below.
A Short History of Generative Art
There is contradictory information on when exactly generative art started and who pioneered it. Some claim it was created in the 1950s by generative art pioneer, Herbert Franke, with photography experiments. Abstract painter, Harold Cohen, is another name that pops up in connection to generative art. In the late 1960s, he was one of the first people to generate paintings with computer-controlled robots.
In 2014, Kevin McCoy, a digital artist, minted “Quantum,” an NFT of an abstract image generated with code. In 2017, the famous CryptoPunks was launched on Ethereum by Larva Labs. Paying homage to London’s early 70s punk scene, the 10,000 unique randomly-generated 24x24 pixel art images featured humans, zombies, apes and aliens. They were free to mint and the first digital art collection that was:
Self-custodied on an Ethereum wallet
Tradeable on the Larva Labs marketplace
The rest, as they say, is history. CryptoPunks inspired the ERC-721 standard and composability for NFTs.
How Does Generative Art Work?
Blockchains allow us to create verifiably scarce digital assets. Small wonder that generative art moved to blockchain technology, which enables artists to confirm the authenticity of their creations. All generative art pieces have three elements in common: algorithms, geometry and randomness.
Artists create the “rails” for algorithms to do their magic. For instance, an artist defines the colors, patterns, geometry and other parameters the algorithm should use. A random quantity of artworks is defined, and the computer code then runs the necessary iterations and creates the artworks.
On the blockchain, this piece of code generating the art piece is executed by sending funds to the smart contract that contains the parameters. Since a smart contract is nothing but a piece of code that executes when it is triggered, the process of minting is triggering the smart contract to run the code and generate the unique NFT.
From the artist's perspective, the process is almost identical to creating generative art without a blockchain. First, they find a suitable blockchain, then establish a series of traits and variations for the NFT collection, and lastly, they copy the smart scripts into your NFT design to create new variations of NFTs.
How Can Computers Generate Art?
Just like humans train their creativity for thousands of hours during a lifetime, algorithms can do the same.
(For proof, just compare the drawings of a three-year-old with that of an adult.)
A computer can be trained on image data with a technology called General Adversarial Networks (GAN). These GANs work in a pair of two artificial intelligences: a “generator” and a “discriminator.” The generator produces images. The discriminator determines whether they are real. When the discriminator “catches” the generator creating a “fake” image, it “wins.” That way, the generator is trained to create ever more realistic art.
Fun fact: In CAPTCHAs, you are the discriminator. You are telling the AI which images are real, thereby helping it to distinguish real pedestrian crossings from fake ones.
What Are Art Blocks?
Art Blocks is the leading generative art platform. It hosts some of the best-known art collections in these circles, such as Fidenzas and Ringers. The platform is both a launchpad and a curation platform. It was founded in 2020 by Snowfro, a digital artist considered an “OG” in the NFT art space. He owns over 60+ CryptoPunks, including seven Zombies, two Apes, and a partial claim to one of the nine Aliens — the rarest CryptoPunk character.
Snowfro launched Art Blocks as the internet’s first marketplace for on-demand, on-chain, generative media. The platform’s first launch was Chromie Squiggles, a generative art project Snowfro developed. The current floor price of Chromie Squiggles is over 10 ETH, far above the original 0.035 ETH mint price.
Art Blocks splits its collections into:
Curated collections: the highest level of collections, which are small in size and have a low number of listings.
Playground collections: not vetted by the curation team and open to artists that previously had a collection approved by curators.
Factory collections: limited vetting with several new drops per week.
Art Blocks offers different projects, with those of popular artists selling out quickly. The sales process works almost like a vending machine: buyers pay for a mint and do not know what they get until the NFT is minted. The art piece is both unique (1 of 1) and simultaneously part of a larger collection: 1 of 1 (of x).
Popular Generative Art Tools
A list of some of the tools and resources used by generative art creators include:
openFrameworks – An open-source C++ toolkit for generative and algorithmic art
Another popular tool for creators is Async Art. It enables artists to create generative art on Ethereum without using code. Creators can simply upload their assets and set rarity percentages and are good to go.
Popular Generative Art Collections and Artists
There are several noteworthy generative art collections and artists.
Autoglyphs is an “experiment in generative art” created by Larva Labs in 2019. Glyphs were minted with a creation fee of 2 ETH, which was donated to 350.org. The project is capped at 512 NFTs.
These were the first-ever collection on Art Blocks and serve as the platform’s public representation. They were created by Snowfro and are randomly generated squiggles of color in nine different schemes. Chromie Squiggle #3784 was sold in August 2021 for 750 ETH ($2.4 million at the time).
Fidenza is an algorithmically generated collection with “unpredictable, organic curves” that was created by Tyler Hobbs. The rarity of the piece is determined by the mix of the elements it contains. One piece sold for 1,000 ETH ($3.3 million) to pseudonymous NFT collector and thought leader Punk6529.
The artist and graphic designer uses generative adversarial networks to create his artworks. His Nude Portrait #7 Frame #64 sold for 630,000 GBP in March 2022.
The most important generative art marketplaces are:
Art Blocks hosts several top collections such as Fidenza and Chromie Squiggles. It is used by popular artists for releases and secondary sales alike.
Gen.Art focuses on a membership approach. The platform has 5,000 standard member passes and 100 Gold member passes, which are prioritized for mints. According to Delphi Digital, it generates significantly less trading volume than Art Blocks.
Fxhash trades generative art on Tezos. Many Art Blocks artists also have collections on Fxhash. Delphi Digital quotes between 1,000 and 3,000 active daily users on Fxhash.
What Is AI-Generated Generative Art?
This is probably the part of generative art you are familiar with. Tools like Midjourney and Stable Diffusion made a splash in 2022, thanks to their ability to turn text into stunningly beautiful artwork. Another lesser-known tool is Eponym, developed by the art platform Art AI. It can create artwork from text and turn them into NFTs. According to the developer, the AI is inspired by different art genres, subjects, and styles.
A few AI generative art collections are:
Metascapes: Rare AI-generated NFTs based on photos taken from some of the world's most impressive locations.
Artificial Intelligence Art: An NFT project that uses neural networks to generate art in a variety of genres.
AICAN: The first and only AI artist trained on 100,000 of the greatest works in art history. Its works have been a permanent fixture in museums, galleries and art fairs around the world.
Although AI generative art has become fairly popular, it is yet to penetrate the NFT market. This is curious since problems like distinguishing quality from mediocre work should not be exclusive to human-made art. It remains to be seen if Midjourney NFTs become a thing in the future.
You can generate an AI profile picture or any other AI art piece by using a prompt or uploading an image. This new AI NFT generator works approximately like popular text-to-image generators like Midjourney, DALL-E, and Stable Diffusion. Simply put in a prompt that describes the image you would like to generate and mint the NFT.
Binance is the first crypto company to give users the opportunity to mint their own AI-generated NFTs. The initial launch of the Bicasso Beta was too popular for the 10,000 NFT mint limit, which was sold out in a matter of hours:
At the time of writing, users are required to join a waitlist for future mints. However, the Bicasso AI NFT generator may not be the last AI-generated NFT art we have heard of.
What Is The Future of Generative Art?
Generative art is very much a work in progress. On the one hand, it has existed for several decades and has even penetrated the crypto mainstream at the peak of the NFT hype. On the other hand, AI generative art has spread like wildfire and wowed people with its photorealistic creations. But somehow, these two have not merged yet.
Regarding generative art in crypto, a few trends may emerge. First, communities around popular collections and artists are forming. For example, Art Blocks allows collectors to mint hundreds of unique versions from a single artistic theme. This is great news for artists, who can build communities around different themes.
The appeal of NFT art as a store of value for high-net-worth (HNW) individuals is growing. A survey by Art Basel and UBS shows that 50% of all art HNW art collectors plan to buy digital art in the next 12 months:
While only a fraction of those will buy generative art, its unique appeal is bound to attract some attention.
Moreover, the composability of generative art will likely allow it to play a bigger role in the future and function as a financial primitive. NFTs will get more financialized in the future and generative art can become a part of NFTfi and DeFi. Collections could even become building blocks for other collections, games, or even AI-generated art.
The biggest question remains the role of AI. It is not a stretch to say that artists that crack the code to use AI for generative art on the blockchain can be expected to cash in nicely. Even though beauty is in the eye of the beholder, some AI-generated pieces look a lot better than human-made art. Still, this has not translated into AI NFT collections. Yet.
So, is generative art a future hype?
Hard to answer. Art is a sector that cannot be dissected logically. A few fundamental trends like the growth of AI and NFTs hanging around bode well for the niche. But it is still very, very early days for generative art.
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