What is Generative Art and Why is it Fascinating?

Medium Sep 23, 2021 · 5 min read

Key Takeaways:
– Generative art is rocking the world of digital art, with massive potential for where it can go and what artists can do with the concept. It’s the combination of human creativity and algorithmic generations.
– Blockchain technology has skyrocketed generative art, with pieces picking up massive values, collections built around communities and enticing art holders.
– What started with Autoglyphs has developed into a multimillion-dollar space for artists to create and earn from computer-generated creative-influenced art.
– The space started in the 1950s but has exploded with the help of blockchain and the future is bright with potential for not only visual art but also the creation of music, products, writing, and architecture.

So you keep hearing about generative art, but what on earth is it – and why are people so buzzed about it?

Generative art is the spectacular partnership of human and computer creation. It’s where technology is given what it needs to create unique art with boundaries set up by an artist. It’s not only an exciting concept, but it’s also making massive waves in the digital world – and the amazing value that’s getting locked into the market is incredible evidence of where the industry can go.

In this article, we walk you through the history, present and future of the exciting industry of digital art and why this flourishing market is worth watching. 

The surprising history of this world of modern art 

Believe it or not, generative art is not new. In fact, the idea of art that can create itself came about way back in the early 1950s by Austrian artist Herbert Franke. His form of generative art came from an artistic experiment, where he let moving light play with photography to create random works. He left his camera aperture open (to let in the light), kept his mind open (to let in the exploration) and pioneered a brand new movement of art that is created by itself.

Herbert W. Franke, Dance of the Electrons

Then generative art met computer technology. Artists like Vera Molnár combined creativity with coding (the early kinds of programming language at least) and explored how an artist’s parameters and a computer’s ability can generate art. Basically, they gave computers the framework to follow and within the boundaries, they went and created some pretty cool digital art.

Vera Molnár, Monograph

Okay, so that’s the past. What about the present? And even more exciting, what about the future?

Generative art meets blockchain technology

In the right here, right now, we’re looking at a wave of undeniable growth in how generative art has entered the blockchain world.

Blockchain technology has shot the growth of digital art into hyperspeed. Throwing a much-needed element of scarcity into the pot (the lack of verifiable capped supply being something digital art has suffered from for years), blockchain allows artists to create digital pieces that can claim authentic rarity and scarcity. The limited-edition nature means the individual art pieces can pick up increasing value and blockchain enables pertinent information like true ownership. 

Okay, let’s look at them in action with the CryptoPunks.

The arrival of the Punks put generative art not only on Ethereum but on the map of the rapidly growing digital art industry. CryptoPunks are a collection of 10,000 algorithmically generated art pieces. Each image, unique, was created algorithmically by mixing several special characteristics like species, styles, clothing, accessories. The project creators set the parameters and the algorithm did the rest. And thus, generative art on the blockchain was born.

The collection and minting of generative art 

One of the OG CryptoPunk collectors, Snowfro, launched Art Blocks as a marketplace for creating and selling generative art. On Art Blocks, collectors can browse numerous art projects and buy from collections they like the look of. If there’s availability or a “drop”, they can pay to have a unique minted art piece from the collection.

Artists of the collections set their designs, draw the parameters and let the algorithm do the rest. Part of the charm is that collectors choose, buy and then get to watch the mints unfold as their brand new digital art is created. It’s like paying an artist for a piece and having it painted in front of you. Or a musician composing a unique piece for you and playing it right there and then. But it comes with a neat surprise factor – for both you and the artist. You might know what the parameters are, but you don’t know what you’re going to get. It’s an exquisite execution. And it happens all in real-time.

The possibility of a collective community

Another amazing part of generative art is how scalable it is. This means that it’s easy for an artist to make large collections with every piece being totally authentic, since all that’s required are certain design elements. From there, the algorithm does the rest and mixes them in unique ways. This not only saves time and direct effort but it also means that artists can create communities around collections. It opens up a massive opportunity for artists to gain exposure with a community of support backing, endorsing and sharing their art.

The space also gives room for collectors to collaborate and generate derivative art from one main piece. For example, using a piece you might own like a Squiggle as a background for your CryptoPunk or a Fidenza background for your Bored Ape for your avatar on social media or profile picture.

Is there really a market for this kind of art?

Well, within not even one year of its launch, the nearly 40,000 unique collectors on Art Blocks would generate a whopping $636 million in market volume from pieces minted, collected, and stored, only during the month of August 2021, yes you heard that right, more than 600 million in a single month!

The money that lives in popular collections is also remarkable. The floor for Chromie Squiggles, the original collection on Art Blocks (and also created by Snowfro), sits around 10 ETH (around a cool $33,600 at the time of writing) and if you want a rare Squiggle in your collection, you’re looking at over 2 million dollars a pop.

And the market isn’t limited to Art Blocks. EthBlock.art, Gen.Art and FxHash, are rapidly emerging platforms for artists to create, design, and create algorithmic art as a “collaborative conversation” between creatives and collectors with technology as the backbone of the art. 

Fidenza #938 “God Mode” by Tyler Hobbs acquired for 2500 ETH by CozomoMedici

Where can generative art go?

One of the most exciting parts of generative art is the massive opportunity ahead. Sure, it’s the most common use case at the moment, generative art is not just visual. We could see the creation of algorithmic architecture, physical products, games, clothing and writing. Imagine reading a book that was co-written by a computer. Or attending a performance where dances were choreographed in collaboration with technology. 

If the space continues to expand as quickly as it has in the past six months, we might be looking at a future like this sooner than we can imagine. As it stands, it’s thrilling to see digital artists and creatives given a platform where they can team up with technology to make a living.

If you enjoy learning about creative ways to use blockchain – or maybe you want to buy some generative art yourself – then head over to our School of Block episode on NFT Fractions and Group Bidding.

Keep learning! If you enjoy getting to grips with crypto and blockchain, check out our School of Block video What Are Crypto Avatars?

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