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Why art – whether on canvas, stone or pixels – will never die

TZ APAC’s Head of Growth, David Tng, on how NFT generative art is both a return to the old and a push for the new in the world of art.

Non-fungible tokens (or NFTs for short) have had nothing short of a field year. The meteoric rise of these blockchain-verified assets was headlined by an impressively diverse (and sometimes confounding) mix of digital media including tweets, a decade-old meme and more, often for equally impressive sums. What then, is the next frontier of an already rapidly-evolving artform?

Enter generative art. Unlike ‘traditional’ NFTs, which boils down to unique digital certificates identifying items (usually digital, though that’s beginning to change as oxymoronic physical NFTs emerge) as unique, generative art collections are minted by the very blockchain it’s supported on. 

This means that generative art collections aren’t just identifiably one-of-a-kind thanks to some blockchain wizardry – they’re actually entirely unique and created completely from scratch via algorithm. These digital oeuvres often share repeating motifs and imagery pegging them to the collection they belong to, but no two are the same – and therein lies the value.

We speak to David Tng, Head of Growth at TZ APAC, a company built around supporting the adoption of the Tezos blockchain throughout Asia. TZ APAC helps businesses and creators in the region get a foot into Tezos’ proverbial door – including NFT artists George Galanakis (known as Radarboy3000) and Yazid Azahari, whose generative art collection The Mad Hatters Club is currently hosted on the Tezos blockchain.

What makes NFT Generative Art worth paying attention to?

Simply put, a generative NFT is art created through an algorithm. Creating it is a very co-creative process – the artist creates the algorithm and allows the buyers that mint the NFT to interact with it. The direct result of interacting with the script is that it produces an output that is totally unique to the buyer.  It is this co-creative process that the art world is ravenous for.

To be fair, co-creating art isn’t new. Before algorithms came into play, artists were commissioned to create art unique to buyers. Now, blockchain has added jet fuel to this creative fire. NFT generative art is fast becoming the biggest trend in crypto. The rapid rise is partly due to the heavy demand from crypto-native investors, but more so from the artists themselves, as the new medium challenges artists to push the boundaries of experimental creativity and the definition of art itself.

Take The Mad Hatters Club, featuring a collection of 888 bunnies. The pattern on each bunny design renders differently based on the buyer’s smart contract address (commonly known as a “wallet”). Every bunny is one-of-a-kind. If you own more than two bunnies, the algorithm will “breed” bunnies for you, making you the proud owner of an art piece that continues to evolve in extraordinary ways. The possibilities are endless.

(Related: Luxury brands’ latest obsession? NFTs)

And how does that creativity benefit artists and collectors?

The art ecosystem’s cornerstones are exclusivity and collector demand. And what can be more exclusive than an actual piece of art that cannot be replicated? Collectors can monetize their NFTs by trading or even fractionalizing their distinctive pieces; artists can implement royalties on their creations and keep earning from secondary market sales. The decentralized nature of blockchain also means that distance is no longer an issue. Asian artists can build a name for themselves globally while forming diverse communities with artists and enthusiasts alike no matter where they are.

Is generative art somewhat of a return to “traditional” art then? Will they replace NFTs as we know them?

Art has always been about pushing the boundaries. Take Banksy’s shredding of his infamous art piece “Girl with Balloon”. Banksy put the shredder inside the painting’s frame years ago with a caption that read, “The urge to destroy is also a creative urge”. This creative urge was retitled “Love in the bin,” and is now worth more than double the original version. Italian artist Salvatore Garau auctioned an invisible statue in 2021 by telling the world to activate the power of imagination.

The first wave of NFTs tried to and successfully altered perceptions of traditional art, where even Jack Dorsey’s tweet was considered a masterpiece. It was eye-opening and liberating. These digital assets opened doors to an artistic movement like never before, and generative NFTs are the fuel that is currently keeping the flame burning. 

So the answer to the question is a bit of a yes and no. Yes, generative NFTs are different, but no, regular NFTs aren’t going anywhere. 

Why is generative art so popular?

Generative art is the perfect mix of human creativity and technological finesse. It not only takes coding skills and technological knowledge to create art but also a keen eye for design. While components of the art are automated, the harmonization of the code creates a final product that is unique and beautiful. That’s what draws audiences in, and that’s what has fueled the rapid adoption of generative art. 

There is beauty in this randomness.

The other side of the equation is the value of NFT art altogether. Asia is gobbling up NFTs’ potential as an asset class, and only now are we beginning to explore questions on value, taste, and aesthetics. The top of the wealthiest collectors are bloating the market value by refusing to sell highly sought-after pieces. 

The popularity of generative NFTs, which requires a high degree of technical skill to write code that achieves both variety and consistent quality, is pushing the value further still. The market for this type of art is no longer niche. It is attracting the big boys into the game.

(Related: Are NFTs dead? Christie’s says no with their inaugural design NFT auction titled Furniture unhinged)

But not everyone is as confident of NFTs’ future. Even Beeple thinks it’s risky. Do you think NFT generative art might help?

As a community builder myself who interacts with artists regularly, I can safely say – art will never die. Will NFT prices hit a low point? Maybe, but that has less to do with art, and more with the speculative investment landscape of the NFT art ecosystem. 

The NFT slump earlier this year was a response to findings around the energy needed to mint these artworks, especially when carried out on the proof-of-work blockchain. This created concerns over the sustainability of NFTs and NFT art. Many artists have since found ways to create these sustainably, specifically by leveraging proof-of-stake blockchains like Tezos instead. More artists must advocate for, utilize and educate new creators about clean NFTs in order to keep things going. 

What about NFT-related scandals? How can those be dealt with?

Consumer protection has plagued every sector in our world, NFTs included. In the past year, the security debate has evolved and incidents like insider trading, wash trading (a way for founders to build hype around their tokens), and more have found their way into the mainstream. Market education is key to sustainable mainstream adoption. 

Paving the way for crypto and NFT adoption has to be a joint effort between blockchain protocols, marketplaces, and artists. While blockchain protocols like Tezos can create greener networks, it’s up to marketplaces to increase transparency on their practices, and for artists to commit to adopting greener blockchain technologies. 

Do you think NFT generative art is here to stay? 

Generative art grants NFTs more credibility amongst non-crypto natives as it directly represents the increasing sophistication of digital art. It’s not just about owning jpegs, gifs and collectibles. It’s about true appreciation for the artform itself where the artist only creates a generative script, with buyers creating the visible art and collection. This is a technological renaissance for the art world – a historical moment that will have a profound impact on society, culture and the economy.

As the momentum increases, it’s capturing a wider target audience who may have never been big “fans” of art, but are now getting into the game. Digital art is accessible from virtually any device, anywhere in the world. It is no longer gated behind exclusive auction houses and collector communities, nor reserved for the ultra-elite.

Premier shows such as Art Basel Miami Beach are pivoting to NFTs too. Tezos – consisting of three of the top 20 NFT marketplaces – and a thriving grassroots community of global artists, hopes to act as a bridge between the larger NFT ecosystem and the traditional art world.

To find out more about TZ APAC.