CryptoKitties, released in 2017 as one of the earliest experiments with NFTs, aren’t just digital trading cards. They’re the output of code that randomizes their cartoon appearances, and potential input for future generations of kitties. They’re pieces in a game where players breed and collect cats, and their smart contracts set the parameters for play, encoding gestation periods to regulate the frequency of reproduction and genotypes to determine how each new kitty combines “Cattributes” of generation zero.
The founders of CryptoKitties wanted to prove the viability of a market for Ethereum tokens. To that end, they attracted people with cute visuals and gameplay. But another, perhaps inadvertent outcome was to demonstrate an affinity between generative art—that is, artwork that incorporates computer-automated systems—and the blockchain. Today, artists are bringing ideas and methods from a long tradition of creative coding to the field of NFTs, and it feels like a good fit. Art made with code is being traded on exchanges made with code. While galleries might worry over how to sell generative work—as software, as prints, or something as else—the vocabulary of NFTs offers a simple solution: collectors don’t buy the system but a token that represents it. Below is a small selection of artists working in this space, some of whom address the relationship between the artwork and its tokens.