Fingerprints Of The Blockchain
The generative art revival in Ethereum with Art Blocks.
Generative art is art that has been created with the use of autonomous systems. In the early 60s, the term “computer art” was used interchangeably for it too.
The use at this point converged on “work that has been produced by the activation of a set of rules and where the artist lets a computer system take over at least some of the decision-making”. While the artist sets the rules, the algorithms produce the art.
As the artist Michael Hansmeyer puts it : “The design process strikes a balance between the expected and the unexpected, between control and relinquishment. While the processes are deterministic, the results are not foreseeable. The computer acquires the power to surprise us.”
Bitcoin was the first instance of emerging scarcity and value for an asset secured by and moveable in a network of computers.
Building from it, Ethereum allows for more complex transactions and interaction with the blockchain, the so-called smart contracts. You can create on Ethereum tokens that represent fungible assets and, more recently, non-fungible assets: NFTs.
One unexpected result of having (1) value, (2) flexible contracts and (3) non-fungible assets represented on-chain was the re-emergence of generative art on Ethereum.
The pioneer project: Autoglyphs
Autoglyphs is the first true example of art fully engraved on (and by) the blockchain.
Authored by Larva Labs, the same creators of the insanely popular collectible CryptoPunks — the first NFT on Ethereum — Autoglyphs is less collectible and much more art.
From 10 basic keyboard symbols, beautiful forms emerged from the interaction of the smart contract with the transaction that minted each piece.
It’s like the “fingerprints of the blockchain”, as described by Autoglyph’s Discord member Katasterfoes.
The Gagosian of Generative Art: Art Blocks
The job of a gallery is to offer a platform, curate and distribute artists to collectors. Art Blocks is platform focused on programmable “on-demand” generative content that is stored on-chain.
Some of their early projects like Ringers, by Dmitri Cherniak, are already successes. The price for “floor” ringers is rising (around 2ETH now).
The process for minting an artwork at Art Blocks is the following: you pick a style/artist that you like (and is open for minting), pay for the work (and for the ETH gas fees) and a pseudo-randomly generated version of the content is created by an algorithm and sent to your Ethereum address.
In a certain way, the transaction of the person who mints the artwork — the interaction with the smart contract — is part of the art itself.
Maybe in the future art minted by famous collectors will command a premium.
The art is a sandbox
Putting and generating art on-chain is a way to have, both from a technical and psychological perspective, a valuable and unique good created, stored and secured by a network of computers.
Veblen goods like art and collectibles are natural first candidates to be living on-chain. For an emergent technology to be put to a test, you need to start with assets that initially have low value and build up from there. Demand for Veblen goods rises with price, so they’re perfect candidates for this emergence prototype of storing non-fungible value on-chain.
Once we have a well-built ecosystem, I believe we will naturally move real-world Veblen goods to be tokenized too. This was something that was proposed in 2017, but never got implemented at scale.
The natural next step is going for other goods that are non-fungible and can command high prices: land and property.
One possibility for the future is that we are starting with games and art as a sandbox to build a very large market for assets that have historically been very difficult to become liquid and tradeable.
But this will be something to discuss in another post.