The Future Is Now: Generative Art and NFTs Explained

The Future Is Now: Generative Art and NFTs Explained

Generative art is digital art that uses computers to generate art through a combination of coded rules and randomness.

The Future Is Now: Generative Art and NFTs Explained
Liz Aldrich

Updated Dec 21, 2021

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Middle school might have taught you that math and art are complete opposites, but actually, mix the two together and you get something pretty incredible: generative art.

Generative art is an exciting and fairly new field in art, with the ability to mimic the creation process of nature itself and generate infinite aesthetic possibilities. As art moves completely into digital spaces, and our computers become more advanced in their algorithmic and machine learning capabilities, generative art has exploded. Here's everything you need to know about what generative art is, how to make it, and what it has to do with NFTs.

What is generative art?

The definition of generative is the ability to generate, produce, and reproduce. Generative art, put simply, is art created in part by a machine with the ability to randomly generate shapes, colors and patterns that are arranged into an aesthetically pleasing work of digital art. Generative artists use algorithms, code, and other sets of rules to create a process that a machine, such as a computer program, can then follow to generate new works of art on their behalf. The terms generative art and algorithmic art are often used interchangeably. 

While generative art might sound like a very methodical, predictable method for creating art, it's anything but—especially when artificial intelligence is involved. Artificial intelligence (AI) is used in the creation of generative art, which means that the machine builds on its initial instructions from the artist to create art autonomously from the artist. In other words, the machine is influenced by the artist but functions on a generative process of its own, and this can lead to truly original artworks that surprise even the artist themselves. Add in the element of chance, and the potential outcomes for generative art are infinite.

Elements of generative art

  • Automation and algorithms: The use of machines that create autonomously is arguably the most defining element of generative art. These machines rely on algorithms and code to guide their generative processes.
  • Geometry and repetition: Because generative art is based in code and mathematics, geometry, patterns and fractals are common elements. Repetition is always present and is a key element that sets generative art apart from traditional art—computers are able to achieve repetition in higher quantities and more precisely than humans.
  • Randomness and chance: Despite being made up of repetitive patterns and influenced by a framework of rules set by the artist, the machines that create generative art do their own thing within that framework. Randomness is a key element to generative art—without it, the outcome would be predetermined by the artist. Perhaps the most exciting quality of generative art is the way it can originate work that is completely new and unexpected.

 

Some artists argue that generative art, more than any other kind of art, mimics the creation process of nature itself thanks to this wedding of pattern and repetition with randomness and chance. This is why works of generative art often resemble the aesthetics of nature—the fractals seen in space, the grain found on a piece of tree bark, or the texture of organs found in the human body.

One important thing to understand about generative art is that it's a collaborative process between human and machine, and both play equally important creative roles. The human artist doesn't have complete control over what the machine creates, nor does the machine create independently and without bounds. The former would rob generative art of some of its originality, while the latter (a machine that possesses the innate ability to create) isn't yet possible.

How to make generative art

Making generative art can seem intimidating—do you have to learn code? Do you have to know how to program?

Not necessarily, although it helps. Luckily, there are plenty of tutorials for learning the programming languages that are used in generative art. There are also some tools and applications out there that can help you make generative art without the use of code.

You can use just about any programming language to create generative art. The most popular programming languages used in generative art include:

  • Python
  • R
  • C++
  • JavaScript
  • Processing

 

It's possible to find free tutorials online on websites like YouTube for any of these programming languages. JavaScript and Processing are particularly popular for beginners.

You can also download the Processing application for free, and this is a program specifically designed for the generative visual arts. There's also a C++ toolkit geared towards creative arts called openFrameworks. If you use iOS, C4 is another popular option for creative coding. Finally, nannou offers open source creative coding in programming language Rust.

While you'll have less control over the output, there are tools that can help you create generative art without using code. You can do this in Adobe Illustrator and Photoshop, and you can also search for generative art makers. The results will likely be more basic than what you could create with custom code.

How to create generative art NFTs

Generative art has exploded in the world of non-fungible tokens (NFTs), and learning to create generative art NFTs is one way to profit off the trend. Many of the top NFT artists engage with aspects of generative art—viral sensations CryptoPunk and Cool Cats, for example, generate hundreds or thousands of different unique iterations of the same avatar. Not only are the artists behind these NFTs raking in millions of dollars, but so are some of the buyers who invested in them.

The easiest way to get started on creating generative art NFTs is to create a character with various elements that combine in hundreds or thousands of different ways, the same way CryptoPunk and Cool Cats work. 

  1. Design the base for each element—for example, a head, a face, a hat, arms, a torso, an outfit, and a background. 
  2. Stack on top of each other in layers to build your character. 
  3. Use a computer program to code variations for each element, changing up the color, background design, expression, texture, and more. 
  4. Program your computer to generate all the different characters for you based on different combinations of these elements.

 

These types of NFTs are popular because people can use them as avatars on social media, showing off their NFT collection to followers and adding flair to their online persona. You can also create regular generative art and sell that as an NFT.

Once you have generative art ready, you'll need to actually turn it into an NFT. You can convert your art to an NFT on most popular NFT marketplaces. For example, OpenSea makes it easy to convert your art to an NFT and put it up for sale in their marketplace whether as a fixed-price listing or an auction item. You'll need to open a crypto wallet if you don't already have one so you can pay any fees associated with listing an NFT.

opensea
OpenSea

NFTs

True or False:

Because it relies on recent technological developments like machine learning, generative art is a fairly new genre of art that originated in the early 2000s.

True or False:

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