277: NFT Art beyond Profile Pictures

This is the Monday Medley, a newsletter that goes out, you guessed it, every Monday. I republish it here for sharing and referencing, but if you'd like to sign up you can do so right here:

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Happy Monday!

Just a reminder that this Friday, I'll be doing a Live DeFi Orientation for anyone who wants to learn about getting started in DeFi. There will be a recording if you can't make it!

Alright, on to the Medley, which today is about NFTs!

Most of the crypto hype right now is around NFTs. NFTs are "Non-Fungible Tokens" that usually point to some piece of artwork that's provably scarce. I wrote about NFTs and why they're valuable in a past Medley, but back then the market wasn't anything like it's been in the last few weeks.

OpenSea, the leading NFT marketplace, did over $1b in transactions this month. Last week, it had multiple days with over $100m in transactions per day. The Bored Ape Yacht Club launched a new NFT set on Saturday night, and made $90m in one evening. I actually sold my Ape on Saturday afternoon for 61 ETH, which is kinda insane considering I bought it two months ago for 3.79 ETH.

NFTs are extremely hot right now, but most of the action is focused on PFPs or "Profile Pictures."

It makes sense: PFPs are probably the most scalable signaling tool humans have ever created. If you buy a $200,000 car, only a limited number of people will ever see it. Even if you post it on social media, that picture you post will not constantly be attached to your name.

But if you buy an expensive PFP NFT, you can use that profile picture everywhere. Anyone who sees you on Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, Discord, etc. can see that you have a CryptoPunk, or Bored Ape, or Pudgy Penguin, or whatever kind of avatar you've chosen to purchase.

In that sense, it's not surprising that CryptoPunks have quickly become one of the most expensive asset classes in the world. Nothing else comes close in terms of rarity and the scale at which you can flex it.

The growth of PFPs is fascinating, but I want to talk about another class of NFTs that aren't getting as much attention but which I think are even cooler: Generative Art Algorithms.

Here's an example one that I own called "EnergyScultpure #74." Click through to see it animated, but here's a freeze-frame.

What I love about these generative art projects is that they're a combination of art, math, and the individual who mints them. Most of these generative art pieces are a single algorithm which then interacts with some user data in the initial purchase, to create the piece based on that individual's information at the time of creation.

So the piece is 98% done, but then maybe it incorporates the time of day and your wallet address to finish the algorithm, and what comes out is a piece uniquely based on when you minted it.

EnergySculpture moves through an endless loop of self-mutation, but other pieces respond to external data as well. TalkingBlocks read the Ethereum blockchain and create a visual representation of the current Hash number, so it's constantly changing in unpredictable ways.

GenerativeMasks each have a unique pattern scheme, but then the colors that fill them in change every time you load the mask:

And Roses don't change, but they're beautiful flower designs that were randomly generated when they were minted:

It's all very reminiscient of Godel Escher Bach, and I love them. I think they're quite a bit cooler than most of the profile picture projects.

But most haven't had nearly the same kind of return as the PFPs. Why not? It probably comes back to signalling. You can't really make the Roses your profile picture, nor do you even have a great place to display them. Some people are working on digital art galleries as pieces of the metaverse... but I'm not convinced that people who don't go to physical art galleries are going to be super excited to go to digital ones.

Treeverse has a neat feature built into their game where you can display your NFTs inside your in-game house. Basically imagine if you could show off your NFTs in your Animal Crossing house.

There are also some frames you can buy to show off your art NFTs in real life, but again the ability to show them off is kind of limited.

So I'm curious to see what other ways we find to incorporate non-profile-picture pieces of art into our online identities. I'm sure people will find some neat ways to do it, we just haven't thought of them yet. Social Media banners seem like obvious low-hanging fruit, especially if they can be animated. But where else might we use them?

I'll be interested to see how this space develops next, now that it feels like everyone knows about the Profile Pictures. If you're interested in exploring more of them, the three art blocks collections (Curated, Factory, and Playground) on Open Sea are a great place to start.

Have a great week!


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