NFT projects that actually constitute art

NFT projects that actually constitute art

NFT projects that actually constitute art

The other day, whilst wandering down Edinburgh’s Princess Street, I found myself at the entrance of the Scottish National Gallery. I dived inside, anticipating the elegance of British portrait art intrinsic to the 17th-18th century, better known as the Grand Tour.

Walking among the paintings and peering into immaculate details dispersed across the canvases made me ponder on what motivated these great masters to continue learning and perfecting their creative techniques. Despite achieving domestic success, they still traveled to Italy driven by the desire to hone their craft, and to inherit the style of Renaissance artists, even if it meant living on the edge of poverty. Patiently training oneself to improve as a craftsman can also increase the price tag on your artworks handsomely.

Here, some may disagree, pointing out that the true value of art does not depend on the amount of work or skill involved because it is all inherently subjective anyway. Saying something like, "as long as it invokes emotions from a viewer, it is art."

Although agreeing that a form of artistic expression does not possess objective characteristics, I still don’t understand why we should devalue and neglect the process of creating one. If the greatest artists felt the urge to improve their skills, hoping to achieve greatness along the way, maybe something is there for us to consider after all.

In the world of NFTs (Non-fungible tokens), is there a correlation between an artist's effort and the final artwork price? Which NFT collections can we confidently describe as being art? Let’s dig in.

    CryptoPunks & Bored Ape Yacht Club: Popular NFT collections

    Unlike traditional works of art that are considered valuable precisely because there is only one piece, NFT art can be duplicated to generate a collective tokenised version of the artwork.

    In other words, each NFT represents a part of a grander narrative, typically manifested by a shared aesthetic style, where certain features and characteristics change, but the general tone stays the same. Of course, this is not a rule of thumb, and many NFTs do not follow this trend. However, if we look at the most financially successful ones, nearly all share this particular characteristic.

    CryptoPunks. Larva Labs source

    Consider our first collection of NFTs, Crypto Punks, which ultimately sparked the community's interest, paving the way for the industry to take off. For this, we have Larva Labs to thank, which issued a series of 10,000 images tokenised as NFTs on the Ethereum blockchain. Each digital image was randomly generated from a list of dozens of attributes, resulting in endless different and unique designs: people, zombies, apes, and even aliens.

    And here, you can witness another Twitter sensation, Bored Ape Yacht Club, which, just like its predecessor, is a series of NFT avatars—in this case, taking the form of disinterested-looking apes. Needless to say, like CryptoPunks, there are 10,000 of them, and each one has a randomly generated set of attributes.

    Bored Apes from the Bored Ape Yacht Club - IMG source

    Sure they look different, and with additional perks like the mutant serum, which makes your Ape turn into a zombie, it is very much entertaining but still arguably quite generic in style.

    At the time of writing, the most expensive CryptoPunk #7523 was sold at Sotheby's auction for over $11.7 million, while a rare Bored Ape Yach Club NFT went for a record $3.4 million. So what exactly makes one NFT more expensive than the other apart from having unique features and attributes?

    As you could have guessed, the answer is straightforward: if the community sees it as worthy, then so be it. Now more than ever, the value of artworks springs from the eyes of the beholder. Insane to think about it but back in 2017, 9,000 CryptoPunks were released to the public for free.

    What do we end up with? We have the CryptoPunks collection, which spontaneously gained overwhelming popularity and Bored Apes simply using the established formula to achieve almost the same effect. Does it mean that popular NFT art is destined to solely recycle and duplicate? Well, sort of, but there is hope.

    Hashmasks: Real NFT art?

    If we look at my personal favorite NFT collection - Hashmasks - we can see a different picture. The process of creating 16,384 pieces of art, in my opinion, truly represents how the collective artwork experience benefits from recycling and copying.

    The creation process was distributed among seventy digital artists who created only specific parts of Hashmasks, providing a unique rarity, like eye, color, skin color, and the masks themselves—rather than the whole pieces. In practice, it meant that each artist at some point engaged with every single Hashmask without ever seeing the entire picture. Upon the completion, the creators took it among themselves to fit the pieces together like a puzzle. This is what they achieved.

    Various Hashmask NFTs. IMG Source

    Hashmasks artists were evidently driven by the desire to produce enigmatic art instead of systematic and generic copies. This is where, I think, the difference becomes even more apparent because, unlike other collectibles, where the creators set the rarity of features and themes, Hashmasks went further by adding two additional layers of scarcity. The first one presents a general set of traits, like background, mask type, items contained in the piece. But it also includes implicit characteristics not accounted for, left deliberately for a viewer to find out.

    However, the bold move highlighting Hashmask's uniqueness is that the absolute control over the rarest of all traits - the name - is given entirely to the consumer.
    Hashmasks also recognizes the value of the community behind the NFTs, having launched their own DAO (Decentralized Autonomous Organisation) and forming partnerships with other communities, resulting in generous airdrops for Hashmask holders.

    NFTs at a crossroads

    The current development of NFT art ultimately creates a form of an imitation game, where only themes and attributes are being altered. Meanwhile, the founding premise stays the same, preventing artists from improving and growing any further.

    An apparent lack of creativity, accompanied by massive financial success, only facilitates the pernicious trend where NFT communities are more interested in creating trends and cashing out on them instead of cultivating creativity, uniqueness and craftsmanship.

    If this cycle continues, there is a risk of artistic stagnation and a lack of “real art” in the NFT space, but knowing crypto, fresh creativity, and innovation may be just around the corner.

    This content is for informational purposes only and is not investment advice. You should consult a qualified licensed advisor before engaging in any transaction.

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