Generative Art NFTs bring new heat to Crypto Winter
Amidst the frigid conditions of the ongoing crypto winter, non-fungible tokens (NFT) trading volume has dropped significantly since the third quarter of last year. While the NFT boom led to a wave of popular PFP projects and multi-million dollar JPEG sales, these trends became less productive as the NFT market seemed to lose momentum.
But in late September, an artist made $17 million selling coin cards for his new generative NFT art collection—a promising sign that interest in the NFT market had been rekindled by these algorithm-based designs.
Tyler Hobbs, the artist behind the collaborative generative art experiment, sold 900 of these mint passes, each priced at 14 ETH (about $18,729 at the time). The project highlighted the concept of crowd curation into a generative art collection – the QQL algorithm is open to the public, but only coin pass holders can make their favorite creations as NFTs and become part of the official collection.
“I believe the value [of the collection] is around the collector, contributing to the work itself and becoming part of the story of QQL and the line of artwork that evolves over time,” Hobbs told CoinDesk.
Hobbs is known for generating buzz around an NFT project and has become a household name in the generative art NFT space. His flagship NFT collection Fidenza was minted in June 2021 via the generative art platform Art Blocks, and in the months since has continued to grow in popularity. In August 2021, Fidenza #313 sold for 1,000 ETH ($3.3 million), and according to data from NFT marketplace OpenSea, the collection’s trading volume has increased to over 53,000 ETH, or about $82 million.
Hobbs joins a growing number of NFT artists and collectors embracing algorithmic art and the evolution of digital art making.
What is generative art?
Generative art is a method of creating work based on a set of instructions, whether analog or computational. As the art form has expanded, it has embraced the use of autonomous systems or algorithms to randomly generate content.
Recently, NFTs as a medium of artistic expression have brought this type of work and the artists behind them out of the shadows.
Jordan Kantor, artistic director of Art Blocks, told CoinDesk that generative art has been showcased through drawings and paintings throughout much of the 20th century. Nevertheless, art movements of the 1960s, such as minimalism, along with the expansion of artificial intelligence and computing, helped propel generative art into the modern NFT space.
Specifically, he said Web3 technologies have “allowed significant changes in the history of generative art,” opening up new avenues for artists to create and monetize their work. This includes building new tools for art creation, finding new ways to reach out to communities, and developing new – and possibly fairer – economic models.
Kantor added that merging generative art algorithms and blockchain technology could help artists create “self-reflective work” that “easily fits into the histories of contemporary art.”
Merger of generative art and NFTs
As generative art continues to evolve as a medium, so too have the ways it has been used by NFT artists to enrich their communities and breathe new life into their artwork.
Emily Xie is the artist behind the Art Blocks collection Memories of Qilin, a code-based generative art project inspired by traditional East Asian art. Each output in the collection is an exploration of cultural folklore that leaves interpretation to the viewer.
“Part of the storytelling in the series is this idea of collectivity and collective consciousness. We as a community decide the meaning of these pieces,” she told CoinDesk.
Xie, who studied art and earned a master’s degree in computational programming, has combined her two areas of expertise through generative art NFTs, and her Memories of Qilin collection has amassed a total trading volume of 3,055 ETH ($4.8 million) on OpenSea .
“I wanted to do creative coding whenever I could, but I never imagined that there would be a way to actually make a living from my art. So when I discovered NFTs for the first time, it became possible,” Xie said.
Xie also noted that NFTs have helped new generations of collectors and creators discover generative art.
“[Generative art] has a very deep, rich history, but I think it’s been on the fringes of the art world for a very long time. What’s interesting about generative art in the context of NFTs is that this medium has pushed generative art out to a wider audience,” said Xie.
Auction houses note a “resurgence” of generative art
While NFT platforms such as Art Blocks or OpenSea have loads of generative art collections on their platforms, traditional auction houses have also taken notice.
Christie’s, the 255-year-old auction house at the forefront of the NFT boom, recently established the NFT division of the auction house called Christie’s 3.0. The first NFT collection was a series of artworks by 18-year-old visual artist Diana Sinclair, consisting of five still works and four generative art videos.
Nicole Sales Giles, director of digital art sales, told CoinDesk that generative artwork appeals to more “tech-savvy” buyers looking to expand their art collections with intricate pieces.
Auksjonshus has also been successful in bringing together classic works of generative art and new algorithmic designs.
In April, Sotheby’s held a $2.3 million sale of generative art, showcasing the works of artists Vera Molnar, a 98-year-old generative artist who began her career in the 1940s, as well as Charles Csuri, an artist who appeared on 1960s and which is credited with pioneering computer art and technology. The list included several other artists, including Hobbs.
Of the collectors who bought these works, 69% were new to Sotheby’s and over a third of the bidders were under 40.
“[The sales data] shows that there is a real revival in this category. It’s always been difficult to understand, mainly because of the coding and the artist’s creative process that can get very ‘techy’ for more traditional collectors,” Michael Bouhanna, co-head of digital art sales at Sotheby’s, told CoinDesk.
Bouhanna noted that while there is an increase in generative art sales and a greater focus on showcasing this type of digital art among auction houses, there is still a need to educate collectors about the richness of this artistic medium.
“We really need to raise the awareness of all types of collectors about this movement. So we’re doing that through panels, creating relationships with some of the best collectors in the space and continuing to sell new and younger artists,” says Bouhanna.
Generative art initiates conversations about creativity and collaboration
While conversations surrounding NFTs have shifted to focus on long-term utility, proponents of generative art NFTs praise the unique creative process that occurs between the artist and the collector. Hobbs explained that this is one of the reasons he chose to make his QQL algorithm available to the public for free.
Some might argue that this diminishes the value of the generated artwork entering the official NFT collection. However, Hobbs sees it as an opportunity to inspire creativity in the community where he grew up.
“Even if they could never afford a mint passport, they’re able to create beautiful works of art with it, and they become part of the artistic conversation,” Hobbs said. “And in their own way, they have influenced the story of QQL and the final set of artwork.”