Generative art is the next frontier for NFT bros

Collecting generative art also gives you entry to a different kind of community. Owning a piece of an Art Blocks project along with dozens or hundreds of other collectors creates a sense of camaraderie. (Of course, there are hierarchies here, too: holding one of Cherniak’s Ringers means you can hobnob with crypto whales.) If that kind of joint ownership doesn’t interest you, plenty of generative artists still make one-of-ones or singular outputs, and do things the old-fashioned way by printing selected works.

It’s easy for buyers new to the field to get distracted by headlines about AI text-to-image tools like Midjourney and DALL-E declaring the “death of the artist.” But the basics of this kind of tech were available to AI art specialists long before last year. While generative artists tinker directly with algorithms of their own making, AI artists use large-scale learning models similar to those used by the likes of Midjourney and Stability AI: Refik Anadol, whose work has been shown at New York’s Museum of Modern Art, cut his teeth in Google’s research labs. Artists like Helena Sarin and Sougwen Chung have long been training AI models on their own drawings, sparking dialogues between the computer’s imagination and their own. Even now, some artists compile their own data sets so the outcomes look more distinctive than the stuff made by the large-scale generative art models. Others pursue DIY approaches to preserve the wonkiness of early AI: the frothy, stippled regions where the computer can’t quite find the borders between elements, which have a certain weird richness to them. They reflect the technology behind the art better than the flawlessness of prompt-based AI.

You don’t need flatscreen TVs all over your home in order to show off generative art. It’s worth seeking out works made with plotters (the robotic hands that execute an artist’s code). While it’s not hard to find high-quality prints, plotter drawings show the traces of the methodical contact of pigment to paper that give digitally native art more material heft. The Brooklyn fabrication studio Artmatr makes souped-up plotters, encouraging generative artists to play with more diverse and complex techniques for turning their code into physical works.

Snapping up a piece of generative art today is akin to owning a slice of artistic (and technological) history. Do a little research. Scroll back on an artist’s Instagram to find out what they were doing before 2020. The longer they’ve been invested in this field, the better the chances that their work will hold up over time.

Brian Droitcour is Editor-in-Chief of Outland
Illustration by Jake Foreman

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