Are you noticing the Generative art renaissance?

November 11, 2022
“Love of beauty is taste. The creation of beauty is art.”

— Ralph Waldo Emerson

When asked about the value and appeal of generative art, prolific generative art collector, Bonafidehan echoed, “…We may have created something that is truly eternal with culture assembling around the chain. These initial generative art pieces are cultural artifacts that will last as long as the underlying blockchain does, which in turn will last as long as civilization.”

There’s a new art form on the rise — Generative art NFTs. Of course, generative arts are not entirely new; they have been around since the 1960s. But in the last year, we’ve seen a growing demand for this art form on-chain. Leveraging NFT technology, artists are discovering exciting ways to express their creativity — one that’s appreciated by increasing numbers of NFT lovers, gallerists, and auction houses.

What gives this art form its value? Do generative art NFTs represent a paradigm shift from traditional art?

Let’s walk you through your questions.

What is Generative art?

Generative art (GenArt) describes an artwork created by the collaboration between an autonomous system and an artist. Generative artists design these systems around a set of rules and parameters to generate new ideas and randomly combine shapes, forms, colors, and patterns to create art.

Central to the philosophy of this art form is the manipulation of a machine to make something random and unique — beauty from chaos. The purpose is more of an exploration of systems than the production of content.

The most beautiful part of creating art in this manner is that even the artists are astonished by the results, an experience formerly reserved for art patrons and admirers. Nobody, including the collector and the artist, knows the result of the artist’s algorithm; they can only imagine what it will be. Many have argued this to be the true appreciation of art — anticipating beauty before being seen.

In the traditional physical art world, valuing art has always been subjective to how observers view the artwork and how much prospective buyers are willing to outbid each other — a process that has long annoyed art buyers, investors, and auction houses alike. This unobjective process of determining an art’s value translates to the 25.8% annual volatility and inflated prices attached to high-profile art pieces.

Physical art has long appealed as a vehicle for money laundering and other illicit activities. Forbes reports that approximately $6 billion out of the $200 billion spent annually on art is said to be fraudulent or tainted by illegal activity. However, the rise of blockchain technology introduces the much-needed element of transparency into the pot — A lack of which has plagued the art industry for years.

The technology appeals to a wave of artists, and it’s only natural that artists embrace it as an alternative to the inefficiencies of the traditional art world.

The roots of Generative Art NFTs

Georg Nees, “Schotter (Gravel),” 1968, one of the earliest generative arts

Examples of artworks created from generative ideas date to the Middle Paleolithic era. These were usually stone carvings with shapes and patterns carved into them. However, until the 1960s, generative art was not common practice as computers were not yet powerful enough to handle complex algorithms.

As they evolved, these generative works relied on the most sophisticated technology of their time. For example, prehistoric generative art forms relied on carved stones and crude tools; today, this art form relies on algorithms, artificial intelligence, and blockchain technology.

The explosion of NFTs to the art scene in 2021 ushered in the first generation of generative art NFTs — the Pfp Avatars. The first of its kind, CryptoPunks, launched on the Ethereum blockchain in 2017, putting generative art on the map of the digital art industry. A 10,000-piece collection of generative art, each made by algorithmically combining several characteristics like species, styles, clothing, and accessories.

The result?

Some pretty expensive pixelated Punks. And thus, generative art on the blockchain was born.

Many other successful projects have since succeeded CryptoPunks, out of which a good number are literally pictures of monkeys. However, these NFTs aren’t considered “on-chain” as the art itself isn’t stored on the blockchain. When you buy an NFT, you purchase the NFT’s metadata on the blockchain that points to the actual art, usually held on someone else’s computer(an external database). Disappointing, right? We’ll call this off-chain art. Like it or not, this art is prone to hacks and malicious attacks.

There is, however, a form of generative art NFTs that’s truly on-chain. This type of GenArt is fully minted on the blockchain, with its metadata and art stored on it. The original pioneer project, Autoglyphs by Larva Labs, was deployed on the Ethereum blockchain in 2019, capped at 512 pieces in the collection. These NFTs were initially minted on the project’s website for 0.2 ETH. Those who got in at this point are probably flexing on one or two Lambos now.

According to DappRadar, the latest sale from the collection, Autoglyphs #463, went for 460ETH, an eye-popping $1.58M — and pop eyes it did. I don’t even want to get into calculations on the ROI of this sale, but the art industry noticed. They really did. Today, what started with Autoglyphs has developed into a multi-million-dollar space for artists to make creative art built around communities.

The trendsetter — Art Blocks.

Ringers #109, by Cherniak, sold for $7.1 million on Art Blocks

Sometime in 2021, Erik Calderon (AKA Snowfro) and Jeff Davis had the idea to create an on-demand generative NFT platform on Ethereum. So they risked selling some of their previously acclaimed CryptoPunks NFTs to fund their newborn idea — Art blocks. Art blocks is unique as an NFT platform as it doesn’t only sell GenArt, but also hosts the generative code for the artist’s algorithm.

The beauty is in the process.

When generating a new piece of art on the Art Blocks platform, collectors can browse to choose a style they love, pay for the art using ETH, and have a randomly generated version of the art sent to their wallet address. By inputting data from the collector at the point of minting, such as his transaction ID or wallet address, the collector becomes a part of this creative process; they watch the art unfold before their eyes. It’s like paying an artist to paint a piece for you while you watch. But this time, the artist is blindfolded and what he creates is a wonder to you both — A beautiful wonder.

Art Blocks is pioneering a new wave of possibilities for generative arts. The platform has recorded roughly 186,000 all-time transactions and a total sale of about $1.3 billion. Popular collections like Tyler Hobbs’ Fidenza, Ringers by Dmitri Cherniak, Archetype, and Art Block’s CEO, Erik Calderon’s Chromie Squiggle are headlining these figures. These collections have seen seven-figure sales, with Cherniak’s Ringers #109, which sold for $7.1 million, clinching the top position as the most expensive art piece sold on the platform.

Reflecting on Art Blocks’ rapid success, Snowfro noted, “Art Blocks is becoming like a branded gallery, artists are becoming branded artists, and their outputs are highly desirable by people who want to own these pieces. Our vision is to transcend crypto with Art Blocks and community in an essential experience. So many people owning pieces from the same collection gives them much to discuss and connect.”

Learn how to use Art Blocks with this handy guide here.

Another one! DJ Tyler ft Dandelion Wist — the birth of QQL.

QQL mint pass with a floor price of 19.2ETH

On September 29th, top charts across popular NFT marketplaces saw a new visitor whose trading volumes and sales count jumped above the blue chips. QQL, a collaborative generative art project by Fidenza’s Tyler Hobbs and Dandelion Wist, sold out its mint passes, raising over 15,716 ETH (~US$20.3 million) within a few hours of launch. The project aims to further incorporate NFT collectors as part of the creative process by allowing them to act as co-creators of artwork with the QQL algorithm.

While this algorithm is open to everyone, only mint holders have the privilege to turn their creations into official NFTs in the collection. 900 mint passes were sold in a Dutch-style auction that started at 50ETH and decreased over an hour to 14ETH — when the last pass was sold. In total, the project raised about 126,000 ETH from the auctions, equivalent to $16.5 million. And they did this at the height of the bear market, a feat that points to investors’ growing interest in this nascent art form.

Final Thoughts — what does the future hold?

NFT generative art is rocking the digital art world in exciting ways. It is leading to a greater appreciation of art and inclusion on a global scale. The traditional art industry has always been this exclusive playground for the ultra-wealthy, providing an investment vehicle for profits or, sometimes, media for money laundering and tax evasion.

With the rise of generative art NFTs, these lines of exclusivity and nefariousness in the traditional art industry are blurring. Every day individuals can own artworks they love. Art enthusiasts are becoming increasingly aware of this art form, and institutions and various tech individuals are also getting involved.

Just like traditional physical art, generative art appeals as an investment vehicle, and the financial world is noticing. Some companies, like the now-defunct lending platform, Three Arrows Capital, own sizable collections of generative arts as part of their investment portfolio. Three Arrows Capital itself held over ten art pieces from Tyler Hobbs’s Fidenza collection, a couple of Ringers, and Chromie Squiggles, amongst others, totaling over $35 million in value.


The growth of this nascent industry has led to many believing that, at some point, generative art will diverge from the Profile pic Avatars — CryptoPunks, BAYC, MAYC — as a separate category. Maybe even drop the NFT tag.

Should you join in on this train? That’s entirely up to you. But at this point, we’ve seen that generative NFTs are experiencing adoption at an unprecedented rate. As the world’s most prominent traditional art collectors seek an entry point into the NFT space, generative art represents that point of entry— one away from all the mania.

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