“3653” by Moonbirds

The Ten-Thousandth 10,000 Generative PFP Project

Another day, another generative PFP project. Are they pushing the space forward, or pushing crypto off a cliff?

Jun 1, 2022 Art

4 months ago

I’m edging towards the cliff, about to reinvent the genre. I’ve decided to cash in and catch the big 10k generative art NFT wave. How hard can it be?

My toolset is firmly in place: I’ve watched at least two dozen YouTube videos on how I can make big $$$ (note three dollar signs) by Creating a 10k Generative Project like CryptoPunks.

Yes, time to leave my crypto wallet open and creativity at the door because I’m ready to make mad gainz (ca$h). All I gotta do is create something that looks like a cross between Bored Apes and CryptoPunks, generate ten thousand of them, and then soon I’ll be riding around on SpaceX with Jeff Bezos while high-fiving Richard Branson.

The Idea: MMA Curie

MMA Curie Collection by Harmon Leon on OpenSea

My generative art project will consist of a single avatar: a pixelated version of radiation theorist/Nobel prize winner Madame Curie. But not just any Madame Curiethe legendary scientist will have the body of a FOX sports MMA announcer. There will be various backgrounds, like backdrops of floating hearts or cascading dollar bills.

TEN THOUSAND OF THEM!

Still, as I start to paint by the numbers, I have to ponder: Are generative art projects pushing us forward or pushing us off a cliff?

To Know Your Future, You Must Know Your Past

In layman’s terms: Generative art is a project that is created with the use of an autonomous systemnowadays, that leans towards a computerwhich independently generates features of an artwork that would otherwise require decisions directly made by an artist (or team). So, instead of an artist (or team) painstakingly constructing 10,000 different Bored Apes, the artwork elements are plugged into an algorithm and the generative system produces 10,000 Bored Apes.  

This is part of a long lineage. In the late ‘50s artists and designers began to experiment with mechanical devices and analog computers. The concept of generative art took off in the ‘60s when early digital art pioneers like Frieder Nake and Herbert Frankeboth mathematicians interested in computer sciencecreated the Bored Apes of their day, which involved a pen or brush guided by a computer across drawing paper. Engineers, mathematicians, and scientists were needed to generate the work due to the powerful computing resources that were required. 

Smashcut to Modern Times: Enter CryptoPunks.

In 2017, Larva Labs founders Matt Hall and John Watkinson built a generative algorithmic engine that could produce thousands of different pixelated punks and randomly assign each punk a unique characteristic. 

CryptoPunks used the Ethereum blockchain to create digital collectibles with provable ownership. They pioneered the space, opening the floodgates for other projects. That’s  why crappy-looking pixelated art can be yours for $761,889 (or 605 ETH). But with the CryptoPunks came a gold rush-like dash towardsfor cash- for- anything PFP projects; and, especially for, CryptoPunk doppelgangers.

LET’S HEAD TOWARDS THE CLIFF

To non-crypto people, 10k generative projects are the stereotype of NFTs, which begs the question: Does an oversaturation of generative projects make it hard for the mainstream to fully understand why digital art has value?

WhaleShark, the legendary collector who has amassed one of the largest and most valued NFT collections in the world, sees the short-term good in the 10k-sphere. “Generative art projects are very likely the Trojan horse that will introduce and onboard a new generation of digital art collectors,” he said. “While this period in time is challenging for those who see longer term value in NFTs, it bodes well for the industry to have more people acquainted with the technology and what it is capable of.”

Whale Shark has previously pontificated that 99% of NFT current projects will fail – and he points toward generative projects as an example. “With the growth of so many 10K projects recently, it is inevitable that they will form much of that 99%,” he opined. “There might be a few exceptions such as 10K projects that have historical value, or 10K projects that evolve their use case (3D avatars) and merge with the metaverse.” From an investor’s perspective, WhaleShark feels that creators are going to make a lot of money on portrait-based projects in the short-termbut with that comes a price.

“Generative projects, particularly PFPs (Profile Pics) are the most basic and fungible-like use case of NFTs. So it’s no wonder why they have found popularity with a largely crypto-trading originated fanbase,” he said. “In looking at the fervor of PFPs, the predominant collector and investment thesis is profitability, which inevitably will fall away once the popularity and market plateaus.”

Those behind the art have a different story. They contend that we’re in the midst of a 10k creative renaissanceone whose iceberg tip has just been scratched by an 8-bit pixel.

“Woman #7941” by World of Women

“Woman 2819” by World of Women

“10K projects will keep existing, as long as they have different stories to tell and communities to unite,” observed Adelina, the Director of Communications for World of Women (WoW), whose NFT community thrives on bringing diversity into the scene through collaborations such as with Billboard’s Women in Music Awards. “They are our digital identities,” she added. “They represent values we share.”

“It allows one to unite with like-minded people. To be part of a community where you feel you belong.” Adelina believes there’s room for everyone in the 10k market, but insists, “Those who have something to say, a vision to share, will always have a special differentiating factor compared to those who just try to copy and paste what others do.” 

Richard Powazynski, the cofounder of Woodies, a 10k project that has a trading volume of over $11 million dollars, believes that the overall quality of generative projects will improve, and parallel the demand created by a changing market.

“Once more time has passed, and we have a variety of key projects to look at that have been successful and have longevity, we will then be able to track those journeys and see what it was that led them to where they are,” he said.  The application of a historical lens, he believes, will help orient new projects. Powazynski sees fear of change as a driving force that hinders non-crypto people’s ability to understand the value of generative art. “The space still being so new, he said, “and a lot of people not fully understanding the intricacies of generative projects means there is a lot of potential for that.”

Many creators profess that 10k generative art projects–as we currently know them under the CryptoPunk model–are something very specific to this era that will evolve over time.

“0N1 #3147” by 0n1 Force

“0N1 #0056” by 0N1 Force

Henry Finn, the project manager behind 0N1 Force, a collection of 7,777 generative lo-fi style characters hand-drawn by artist IMCMPLX, believes that 10k projects will be one of the entities that bridge the physical and digital world, easing us into the metaverse. “It truly is the first marriage of technology and art,” he said. “If you think about the saying ‘the medium is the message’this is truly kind of a new message that humanity is creating.”

“Human beings are an avatar species,” Finn stated. “The 10K generative art projects really brought that to the forefront…It’s an art project that allows people to project their cyber identities into these iconic images, whether it’s a Bored Ape or CryptoPunk, or, in our case, 0N1 Force.” Finn later observed that, “Artists are truly affecting the values of the overall industry. The generative part allows for more people to participate in these kinds of art projects in a way that has never been done before, that only technology could allow you to do.”

OVER THE CLIFF

If you look under the hood, CryptoPunks’ algorithm generates “an empty 56×56 pixel image/canvas and then composes one part after the other on top all the way from face to hair.” Back in the luddite days of 2017, here’s roughly what the extensive coding involved.

For better or worse, the generative process is now stupid easy. If we’ve hit an apex with generative art projects, it’s typified by the crazed ease with which any simpleton (or non-simpleton) can now generate their very own 10k collection. Video tutorials that trumpet creating a 10k collection with…NO CODING…are almost a genre unto themselves (remember to smash that like button).

Even instructional videos from those archaic NFT days of 2021 still involved a little bit of coding (copied from a GitHub page)as well as downloading two applications: Visual Studio Code, and Node JS. Now, any potential 10k auteur, like myself, can use a platform such as Minitable where coding and applications are completely removed from the equation.

One minor hiccup for the extremely lazy: You still have to create layersyou know, the artworkin, say, Photoshop. But don’t worry, there are YouTube videos that will walk you through how to create NFTs, despite having zero art skills, by directing you to sites where you can download free png layer attributes. And then it’s just click-and-drag the layers. Again, stupid easy. (Admittedly, Minitables is pretty flippin’ cool.) It makes my heart go out to Larva Labs, meticulously plugging in code by 2017 candlelight, to bring us the original CryptoPunk 10k project.

Now, quicker than you can say ‘“10x profits,”’ Mintables generates a 10k project in mere minutes, allowing for a sea of hackneyed derivative projects to compete alongside Unofficial Punks, NFT Bored Bunny, CrypToadz, CyberKongz, and other insane derivative shit that looks like a lot of other generative art derivative shit. (Did these people even put any effort into these “original” ideas?)

“Justin Bieber Punk” by Unofficial Punks

Is this a sign of a creative reawakening, or yet another step closer to the cliff?   

“The automation of this generative technology was inevitable,” WhaleShark said, “given the amount of attention and money that have been thrown around the space.” Unsurprisingly, the collector believes the market is oversaturated, especially since the use case of these NFTs is to generate profit over art.

“It is inevitable that the market will fall out once the demand and liquidity dries up in this segment of NFTs,” he said, and in my head, I imagined the next batch of knockoffs: CrypToadz.

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Powazynski offered a different take on this extreme automation: “To describe the creation process as ‘easy’ is an oversimplification,” he said. “The amount of time, energy, and emotion that goes into creating these projects is like nothing I’ve experienced before. Everything is exacerbated by the speed at which the space moves – coupled with the overwhelming pressure and level of expectation.”

Powazynski sees derivative 10k projects as a direct consequence of limited supply and high demand for blue-chip NFTs. He emphasized that successful projects need time to develop brand loyalty and that in order for it to stand out from the pack, it will have to operate on a higher level of creativity that clearly pushes innovation. “Projects just don’t have time to establish themselves,” he said. “And developing brand loyalty requires time. So naturally those that missed out will look to other projects.”

Finn feels this derivative bandwagon is driven by creators who take advantage of the impulse humans have to want to latch onto something familiar. “Art is supposed to reflect who we are as a species, and there’s a lot of 10k projects that don’t reflect that at all,” he said, then added, “most of them are overwhelmingly hollow and meaningless. Instead of thinking, ‘How is my art original and exciting to ‘me,’ some of the creators are thinking, ‘What buttons can I push that will open up their wallets?’”

 An upside: Powazynski believes that this current oversaturation will drive more innovation and require projects to execute at a higher level to stand out from the pack.

Case in point:

ALMOST EVERY HORRIBLE 10K IDEA ALREADY EXISTS

Sure, it’s easy to talk the generative art talk, but can I walk the generative art walk?

With 5 minutes of my life to spare, it’s time to create the ultimate worst 10k generative project known to humanity. You know, something truly horrible–to exhibit alongside CyberKongz–while the market is still hot on PFPs.

 Time to brainstorm.

10k Colonel Sanders? Maybe, but too dystopian being that there’s a good chance KFC will probably do their own version in six months. (Oh wait, it’s already been done.) Perhaps something vile that will repulse peoplesuch as ten thousand generative Joe Rogans? No, that too already exists, and it was done non-ironically.

Same with a generative art Bill Cosby (ugh) and a generative art Tucker Carlson (more ugh).

In this creative renaissance, pretty much every horrible idea imaginable already exists and can be found for sale on OpenSea. So, I go for something obscure – a 10k  generative art project based on a famous Swiss psychiatrist…except…ugh! Someone already beat me to the pixelated Carl Jung punch. (Same goes for Ernest Shakleton.)

The fact that there is already a pixelated Carl Jung collection might not be the sure sign that generative projects have officially gone off the cliff, but I’d wager it means we are at least inside the gift shop for this inaugural eraright before going off the cliff.

Thus, after much deliberation, I settle on creating my MMA Curie 10k collection.

So Where Do We Go From Here?

WhaleShark, the orator of all NFT collectors, sees only a handful of 10k projects retaining value in the future. He views 10k and PFP projects as the base use case of NFT technology; starter kits, if you will, which tap into the predominant collector mentality for profitability, and not societal integration and expansion.

In the whole NFT realm of things: “Generative projects are more similar to tulips than anyone is willing to admit,” WhaleShark asserted.

In an ideal generative art world, Powazynski would love it if the mainstream focused less on how much Paris Hilton paid for a Bored Ape and more on generative art stories that focused on technological innovations, the formation of inclusive communities, philanthropic efforts, and the opportunities that NFTs are unlocking through collaboration and networking overall. “The current narrative of the NFT space for those on the outside needs to be better balanced as the mainstream coverage of Web3 focuses mainly on flipping PFPs for huge gains and portrays the space as a get-rich-quick pyramid scheme,” he told me.

Adelina also affirms that NFT skepticism can be diluted through educating people on projects that have a long-term vision and deliver on their promise. “People will learn to be more selective with the type of projects they want to support,” she said. “As collectors get more and more educated, it will be easier for them to pick collections that they think have potential.” 

 Most creators are in agreement that generative projects are the genesis of numerous things to come since they’ve already led to new forms of community and storytelling experiences.

“The ones that do it successfully really truly birth an energy that is not found in any other industry,” Finn mused. “There’s a common excitement that we can use this technology to kind of evolve us into the future,” he said. “We’re just at the beginning of the beginning in what we will see in generative art.”

And, with those wise words echoing in my ears, I watch my 10k MMA Curie project generate within minutesbringing me the same sensation as throwing spaghetti against a wall hoping that one will be a Bored Ape that writes the complete works of William Shakespeare.

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Harmon Leon

Harmon Leon is the the author of eight books—the latest is: 'Tribespotting: Undercover (Cult)ure Stories.' Harmon's stories have appeared in VICE, Esquire, The Nation, National Geographic, Salon, Ozy, Huffington Post, NPR’s 'This American Life' and Wired. He's produced video content for Vanity Fair, The Atlantic, Timeline, Out, FX, Daily Mail, Yahoo Sports, National Lampoon and VH1. Harmon has appeared on This American Life, The Howard Stern Show, Last Call With Carson Daly, Penn & Teller’s Bullshit, MSNBC, Spike TV, VH1, FX, as well as the BBC—and he's performed comedy around the world, including the Edinburgh, Melbourne, Dublin, Vancouver and Montreal Comedy Festivals. Follow Harmon on Twitter @harmonleon.

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