While all eyes remain on red-hot NFT avatars like Cryptopunks and Bored Apes, some savvy collectors have been quietly amassing Art Blocks in recent weeks.
The hook? Art Blocks specializes in a revolutionary genre called Generative Art that’s been around a long time but has found new life in the spellbinding world of NFTs. Demand has been insatiable, with several artworks from artist Tyler Hobbs’ ‘Fidenza’ collection being sold for over 100 ETH ($250K) apiece. At the time of writing, the floor price for a Fidenza is 30 ETH ($60K), roughly 176x the mint price of 0.17 ETH when it launched in early June.
Crypto hedge fund Three Arrows Capital (3AC) has reportedly been on an NFT buying spree.
“I like Art Blocks because it is founded by a good person, and it is found by good people,” says Zeneca_33, a Twitter user whose daily Art Block market updates are a must-read for anyone following the market.
Launched in November 2020, Art Blocks is the first platform of its kind to focus on programmable on-demand generative content that is stored on the Ethereum blockchain.
Computers create Generative Art based on an algorithm, and the avante-garde genre has actually been around since the 1960s. NFTs and blockchain technology have enabled generative artists like Hobbs to connect directly with their fans. They also earn more money for their work than in the traditional art world.
On the Art Blocks platform, creators upload a generative script (or algorithm) that is stored on the Ethereum blockchain. When a user decides to purchase (or mint) one of the pieces, a random hexadecimal string (called a seed) is generated. Each character in the seed determines a specific attribute of the artwork (design, colour, background) while keeping to the overall theme of the collection. The random element means that neither the artist nor the buyer knows exactly what the piece will look like until it is minted on-demand, eliminating any opportunities to game the system and giving everyone a fair shot at minting a rare Art Block.
The artists set the mint price and the maximum number of pieces for each collection. The Art Blocks platform retains 10% of the purchase price. Creators are also entitled to a 5% royalty from all secondary sales on NFT marketplaces like Opensea, giving them a source of recurring income. The platform also collects a 2.5% commission on secondary sales.
Exclusive Interview: The Defiant caught up with Art Blocks founder Erick Calderon, known in crypto circles as Snowfro.
The Defiant: How did you come up with the idea for Art Blocks? Tell us about your journey.
Snowfro: Art Blocks was the culmination of many activities in my life. But the one that really, really kind of started the conversation was the moment that I was claiming my Cryptopunks in 2017. I had the luxury of claiming a bunch of zombies, which I knew were the most rare ones still available at the time.
By understanding the blockchain and understanding what smart contracts did, I saw that there was an opportunity there for me to just click the claim button and be presented with a zombie. And so, if the chances of getting a zombie were 0.88%, then that would have been the probability that I would have gotten a zombie. Totally random, without me actively, potentially selfishly, picking the zombies off individually and putting them in my wallet.
I just liked the idea. I just thought that it would be really interesting to be able to give provenance, which in this case means history or tracking, not just the ownership of an NFT. We’ve always seen that with NFTs in general, but I’m talking about provenance in the variability of the generative output. So in Art Blocks, you can prove why the background on one of the pieces is red because that information can be found in the hash stored on the token. And therefore, it gives credibility to each individual unique iteration for that reason.
The Defiant: What makes Art Blocks different from other NFT projects?
Snowfro: I’ve always felt limited with the idea that an NFT would just be like an animated GIF and that’s it. My idea was to get all of the information stored on the NFT so I could actually create an interactive piece as an NFT that would have just as much, if not more, durability than an NFT that uses something pinned on the IPFS network.
Just think about the fact that right now, people are paying millions of dollars for NFTs that are animated GIFs. Fast forward just 10 years into the future and try to play an animated GIF that is playable full screen on a HDTV today or even a 4K TV today. At that time, when TVs are 16K and 24K, that GIF will have to be up-sampled. Whereas, if it’s created algorithmically, it’ll be created at 16K or 24K at the moment of its creation. And at the moment that you’re experiencing it. So, when we talk about Art Blocks and our NFTs being of a higher technical quality, it has nothing to do with the content. Although we’re very proud of the content of our NFTs, it has a 100% to do with the tech from a technical perspective. Art Blocks are more durable and more recoverable than maybe 90 to 95% of the NFTs in the world right now.
The Defiant: Art Blocks have been on a tear for the last few months. When would you say things really started taking off?
Snowfro: We had a really weird moment in March when we suddenly did 10 times more volume than we did in February. Definitely nothing compared to right now. Tyler Hobbs released Fidenza, which really spoke to people in terms of how compelling Generative Art and the variation of the scripts can be. Not that other projects didn’t, but this one just kind of came at just the right time. It also happened right after the Sotheby’s sale, which in and of itself brought a ton of eyes from within and outside of crypto to the art blocks project.
We also got an indirect boost from the success of the Bored Ape Yacht Club. I think for a lot of people that was their first foray into NFTs and just like with anything in the NFT world, it’s cyclical. People were buying apes for 0.1 ETH and selling them a few weeks later for five and six ETH apiece and this is kind of where money flows around the ecosystem. The opposite happened when Meebits launched and $70 million was transferred from the overall ecosystem to the accounts of Larva Labs. For weeks after that, there was very little NFT activity. I mean, I spent literally every last ETH that I had on Meebits. So I am a perfect example of that kind of dynamic.
The Defiant: Any plans for an Art Blocks token?
Snowfro: I think it’s way too early. Art Blocks has evolved so much in eight months, and we’re already way beyond where we thought we would be just two months ago. While I think it’s shortsighted to bring on a token so early on it would be even more short-sighted for me to say I never want a token.
I just want Art Blocks to not be an infant. Yeah. We’re selling a lot of art. Yeah. There’s a lot of secondaries, but it’s still an infant company. We are eight months old and a token is probably more impactful to the overall culture of a company than any cultural initiatives you can take within the company. The token can make or break the overall sentiment of the company. And I just don’t think Art Blocks is mature enough as a company and have our own internal and external company culture solidified enough to be at the mercy of wildly speculative token games. Long-term, being a crypto company and being in the crypto space, absolutely. But right now, I have zero interest in a token.
The Defiant: What’s next for Art Blocks in terms of integrations and use-cases within the Metaverse?
Snowfro: We’re getting there. I have been pitching that idea for a really long time, and I’m so excited because that’s just the natural next step for these kinds of things. We are talking to multiple video game companies.
I’m pitching this concept. In my teens, I bought games on CDs at the store, and then moved on to downloading software and then buying a license for that software. Now we have all these massive multiplayer games and a lot of them are free. My license to play a game can be going to Art Blocks and buying a planet. Then I go to the website that the game is on and by connecting to MetaMask, I have a license to play the game because I have the planet. Next, I’m going to colonize that planet and somebody is going to see that I’ve colonized that planet on OpenSea.
And they’re going to make a bid on my planet because they don’t have time to colonize the planet that I just spent 30 hours colonizing over the last few months. I’m going to say, man, that’s a pretty good bid. That’s a lot more than I paid for it plus I really enjoyed playing the game. So I’m getting paid to do something fun and then sell the planet.
So now, when I go back to that website after selling the planet, I can’t log in anymore because I don’t have a planet, so I have no game to play. I have to go back to an implementation of Art Blocks or something similar, buy another planet, and bring it back to the website. I think there’s something kind of neat about that in terms of the provenance of the variability. And then also the fact that the video game is like your history on the blockchain, and we are just scratching the surface of NFTs being used as a permission layer. To me, that’s one of the most compelling reasons for NFTs. You don’t share your private keys with people, you know? And so you wouldn’t share your permission to get into a building with people.
The Defiant: How do you feel about users fractionalizing Art Blocks?
Snowfro: There’s a very strong line that has to be drawn here between me speaking as Erick and me speaking as Art Blocks. As a platform, Art Blocks is just trying to push forward amazing art from amazing artists and give collectors a new way of minting and collecting art. The concept of fractionalization is not in line with art, with the art world, and the idea of creating beautiful art. We are not necessarily yelling and saying that’s a bad thing, plus it’s ignorant to do so because we literally have no control of what happens with the NFTs after they are minted. But we certainly don’t endorse it.
I would say that, for example, what NFTfi is doing is interesting. They blew my mind with the concept of using Art Blocks as collateral for a loan. And now we have a bot in the discord that shows the activity on their platform. Speaking as an NFT slash crypto enthusiast, I am blown away. I want to endorse money legos and all the really cool stuff that happens with NFTs. I really do. We just want to be very mindful to keep creators’ concerns in mind.
The Defiant: You’ve started testing new auction methods for the latest drops. Was the change simply to avoid the gas wars we’ve become accustomed to?
Snowfro: Even before last week, even though we hated the gas wars and the gas wars were ridiculous and embarrassing and hurting everybody, the gas wars were still the absolute most fair way to distribute the blocks. But recently, a new player entered the game. Flashbots are a way of acquiring our pieces in a totally different, but parallel manner that completely avoids the gas war, so we no longer have a level playing field. Yeah. Some people were more proficient. They could write scripts and they could open more wallets. Now, even people that are very effective at using the Ethereum blockchain are getting pushed out of drops. At the end of the day, we need to find price discovery. We need to find efficiency in this ecosystem. And right now we don’t have that. So that’s what we’re aiming for by testing out different methods until we find the right one.
The Defiant: Finally, who is Vincent Van Dough? He’s certainly one of your biggest fans, having spent millions of dollars on Art Blocks over the last few weeks.
Snowfro: I don’t know who VVD is. I would love to meet that person even if through an electronically modified phone call just to not reveal too much. It’s really interesting to see someone that is finding so much value in these pieces. I think it’s really great.