“The most popular series of NFT collectibles are algorithmically generated,” Dean Kissick, the New York editor of Spike Art Magazine wrote in an article published in March, as the NFT trend was just beginning to explode. The algorithm was being described as having a negative impact on culture and he’s not alone in his predictions. Many critics affirm that algorithms can do two things: they create poor art and devalue the culture in general.
The issue, Kissick wrote, is “we are seeking too much content that is too fast and this results in an endless algorithmic churning process that creates this paint-by numbers effect. It’s evident in the world of art. On Netflix documentaries. Spotify playlists. Op-ed pages. The latest news. The latest fake outrage. First-person novel that has been well-reviewed. It’s all so boring and boring.”
This was in March of last year and it was long before algorithms began to rule the NFT market and penetrate the boundaries of the world of fine art through auction houses. The last few months–which crypto enthusiasts have been labeling” JPEG Summer “JPEG summer”–saw the growth of hugely popular profile-picture NFT initiatives (PFP NFTs) such as Bored Ape Yacht Club and Pudgy Penguins. These projects capitalize on the popularity of CryptoPunks the series featuring pixelized pictures of punks. They remain the dominant force in an NFT scene. Each of these projects follows an algorithm that is based on algorithms. A pool of virtual assets — different designs, features, accessories and other characteristics are created. They are is then combined by a procedural generation algorithm that generates thousands of distinct combinations.
This form of art-making is, as the PFP project’s creator Franky Aguilar has recently stated, “is a very easy way to generate 10,000 unique images.” It’s evident that the difficulties associated with the creation of the perfect PFP project are not confined to the creative process. But they’ve become the most sought-after objects in the NFT market. Sotheby’s recently recouped $24.4 millions for the set comprising 101 Bored Apes from the Bored Ape Yacht Club collection. Christie’s will launch their own PFP auction next week. From the standpoint of a critic this is the exact issue: the distinction between mass-produced collectibles and art that is unique is almost gone.
The art of algorithmic design doesn’t have to be as simple. A new platform for generative art, Art Blocks, has determined to prove that art created using algorithms can be both complex and truly aesthetically captivating. With Art Blocks, artists upload their algorithms and limit their number of iterations that it produces. Customers select an algorithm with an aesthetic they like, and then create mints each distinct, but generated randomly. It’s a little similar to the “get-what-you-get” gumball machine, with the exception of some treats that come out as the stock option.
Art Blocks isn’t as worried about the future value of NFTs as much as they are concerned with raising the standard of art made by algorithms. “Until today, a [generative] artist would create an algorithm, press the spacebar 100 times, pick five of the best ones and print them in high quality,” Erick Calderon is the CEO and co-founder of Art Blocks, said, explaining how generative artists usually create their art. They then “frame themand display them in an exhibition. Perhaps.”
However, Art Blocks has completely changed the norms of the art of generative. “Because Art Blocks forces the artist to accept every single output of the algorithm as their signed piece,” Calderon declared, “the artist has to revisit and modify the algorithm until it is perfect. It’s not enough to just picking the most effective results. This raises the quality of algorithmic execution, because the creator has created something they are proud of even before they are aware of what’s coming out the other side.”
While generative art first emerged around the year 1960, it’s an art form that is still in its development. Additionally, the top buyers of this art, those who are part of those in the crypto or NFT community, have just beginning to explore issues of value, subjective aesthetics, and taste. For the uninitiated as well as those who are technically adept, there’s a growing curve to comprehend the elements that make quality generative art, such as an intricate code that can achieve the highest variety while maintaining quality.
The focus on quality has paid dividends. The month of August Art Blocks saw nearly 600 millions (184m of Eth) in sales over 51,000 transactions, which included around 12,000 customers. On the 23rd of August, Art Blocks had a highest-selling day when the transactions reached $69 million. Christie’s will offer NFTs created through Art Blocks during the month of October for a postwar and contemporary auction of art. According to a report from Dapp Radar, a data analytics firm that specializes in decentralized applications, the richest buyers in the NFT market (commonly known as “whales”) own Art Blocks items and are, in general refusing to sell. “It is clear that some collections are now perceived as safe assets for storing and gaining value,” the report states, “as is the case of Art Blocks and CryptoPunks where their whales did not reduce their current holdings, but they increased them (in the case of Art Blocks).”
Generative artists are, for their part think that this medium will be around for the long haul. Artworker Tyler Hobbs, who has created work using Art Blocks, said in an email “The majority of our lives are moving to digital spaces that are created using algorithms. Do artists have to fight these methods? It’s better to focus on taking them on for our own benefit.” In reaction to Kissick’s criticism, Hobbs said “I will not claim that all art that is created using algorithms is excellent and that there’s not lots of artists using it for money, which is the case as always. However, if you really know the art, I think you’ll realize that there’s something unique happening.”