From NFT Colors to NFT Poop: Are We Calling Auto-Generated JPEGs Art? | Hacker Noon

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Edward Moon Hacker Noon profile picture

Edward Moon

Cryptocurrency investor

Let’s face it: just because something comes first doesn’t necessarily mean it should always have value. Naturally, there are some exceptions to this, particularly when the subject is a breakout innovation. Looking at Bitcoin: it is no wonder that it is the base of inspiration that has influenced the creation of pivotal technologies directly impacting commerce and livelihoods in the past decade. There is so much more now with DeFi and related solutions.

Then there are Non-Fungible-Tokens, or simply, NFTs. These assets are taking the world by storm. Undoubtedly, the idea behind this boom is novel. Think about it: the ability to mint unique assets is riding on the transparency and security of the distributed ledger. With NFTs, anyone can mint limited assets and permanently store them on the blockchain for provenance.

Initial experimentation with NFTs can be traced back to 2017, specifically CryptoKitties, which was an immense success. However, it wasn’t until 2020 and this year that NFTs took off, leading to the creation of yet another facet that has exploded to be a multi-billion industry. NFTs are changing the way artists interact with clients. This technology is liberalizing art and breaking down existing barriers. However, the technology is new and open, meaning that everything can spill over.

The Creativity Plateau

Despite great enthusiasm, what is being experienced right now is neither thought-provoking, complex, nor beautiful. If anything, it’s auto-generated pixelated JPEGs and shallow content dominate. This is not even considering the crude caricatures, sophomoric grotesques, and CGI-generated images that appear to pay homage to cryptocurrencies.

Uninspiring as they are, these leering memes, duplicated auto-generated JPEGs, and digital rocks are selling for millions of dollars. The surge in valuation could be partly because of exploding cryptocurrency prices. However, what has emerged is that these NFTs are soaring in pricing due to the perceived association of some limited edition, first-generation, and beautifully crafted NFTs with prestige.

It appears that the $69 million sale by Mike Winklemann, better known as Beeple, inspired many artists, triggering a new wave of creation and opening up new models of content monetization. If anything, international media continue to depict NFTs as an upcoming and daring frontier for content creation. Subsequently, armies of cryptocurrency fanatics and enthusiasts are rushing to make their point clear that NFTs are worth their weight in gold.

The prestige and status that comes with holding rare NFTs make for an attractive mix of social capital, entertainment, and utility, a new model for status-as-a-service.

It stems from the nature of humans as “status-seeking monkeys,” according to Eugene Wei, constantly searching to maximize the social capital aspect of NFTs. The digital existence of NFTs, regardless of their representation, creativity, or even value ascribed, amplifies the situation, making the competition fiercer since they enable users to display their social capital. This social aspect also plays into people’s inherent propensity for entertainment.

What Makes a Great Art Piece?

Despite all the flowery terms woven by NFT enthusiasts, there is a deafening silence on what truly constitutes art. Historically, gifted artists create inspiring work that’s primarily appreciated by all and sundry because of its emotional power or beauty. In the broadest sense, digital art is meant to be a communication channel relaying precisely what the artist wanted. They are shaped by the materials used, techniques employed in bringing it to life, and the ideas and emotions the specific art creates in its viewers. Stunning art helps its viewers emotionally, psychologically, and even financially, especially when it weaves all the seven elements that define a valuable art piece.

The open nature of blockchain means the space is free for all users. Unfortunately, many creators—projects or individuals—are jostling to mint NFT pieces that diverge from what makes up a good artwork. The race to create the “first NFTs and monetize content” is eroding art, channeling in more critics who paint using a broad brush, terming the space as overvalued—and a bubble.

Critics, especially, are confident that the deluge of shallow auto-generated JPEGs passing for digital art would be worthless in a few years to come.

They hold that most NFTs, despite the mega valuation assigned in some instances, are stupid as they have watered down creativity for monetization and nothing else.

Still, they are not dismissing the potential of the space. NFT projects that choose to trail-blaze by creating pieces of art that are distinct and with utility in the real-world will, in the long run, have an intrinsic value—surviving the inevitable crash in valuation.

Typically, a good artwork will integrate elements that are cohesive and seam harmoniously. Specifically, a standout digital art should have just enough details, depict skillful use of light and shadow, ideally have a high degree of realism, and integrate an exciting choice of color.

Most importantly, the piece in question must have an aesthetically pleasing composition and be believable. The merger of these properties forms what’s missing in the current NFT hysteria– aesthetic essentialism.

Emerging NFT Projects with Unique Views

Only a few NFT projects are charting new paths, away from the era of punks and pixelated art. The BitColors project, for example, is introducing something entirely new in the NFTs market. Essentially, the project brings a collection of 1k unique colors as NFTs. BTW, one of them is called #HackerNoon. There is no need to possess rarity tools to determine their valuations, neither are they auto-generated. But this isn’t the only interesting project out there. If anything, value-seeking collectors might be spoilt for choice. 

There is MetaKey whose objective is to link the NFTs and the fungible worlds. Holding any of their interoperable Keys grants access to limited-edition items in gaming, the metaverse, and more. 

The blockchain game, Northern Guilds, is integrating NFTs for players exploring their digital vastness, battling, and conquering enemies.

The Message, on the other hand, is an NFT that’s passing a message to minters of auto-generated, pixelated avatars. The author is auctioning a 640×480 pixel photo of his poop he took in 2004 in a public toilet at a bus station in Rybinsk.

At the same time, The Journey of Stardust is setting its sights on the multi-billion Comic industry by releasing a 100-page collection of Ethereum-based NFTs. Authored by Georgiana-Rada Sleam, The Journey of Stardust is actively linking the craze of NFTs with real-world utility by providing pieces unique to comic fans. 

These emerging projects show that different paths away from the copy and paste era of NFTs do exist. At the same time, they reveal that sometimes utility over money is just as important. Overall, artists reflect the world, and as technology evolves, they must be involved at a fundamental level. However, this doesn’t mean blindly accepting and praising creativity stasis, even if new emerging technologies are the primary drivers.