Why Is NFT Art Ugly? Answered

Is NFT art ugly?

Is NFT art ugly or is it not? Designers opt for quantity over quality and use algorithms that aren’t concerned with looks to add characteristics to their designs.  

When you look at this CryptoPunk, you probably don’t think, “Wow, what a stunning piece of art, it must be worth millions.” Well, this generic pixelated NFT character sold for an eye-watering $7.58 million

Art critics also take to mainstream publications like the Guardian deriding the artistic merits of projects like Bored Ape Yacht Club. More recently, the project Pixelmon was derided by NFT collectors and skeptics alike when it released concept art that looked like a crude, early 1990s video game. The artwork was so bad that it spawned meme NFTs and even a song.

 So is NFT art ugly? And, if so, why?

It’s Onchain

NFTs exist either on-chain or off-chain. The former means the token exists solely on a blockchain, usually Ethereum. The latter means some or all of the token’s data exists on a server and not on a blockchain. 

Creating NFTs on-chain limits how much detail creators can add. This constraint explains why on-chain NFTs look pixilated and ugly at first glance. These types of NFTs are usually a raw set of pixels or SVG files to keep file sizes down.  

The CryptoPunks is an example of a popular on-chain NFT that uses raw pixels. Its value lies in the fact that it was the earlier successful NFT project on Ethereum, and it’s useful as a picture-for-profile. 

These days, some NFT creators overcome on-chain limitations by exporting some data off-chain using IPFS. The contract is hosted on-chain, but the art is distributed like a torrent.  The Bored Ape Yacht CLub project is one example

Purists dislike off-chain NFTs. Holding some data off-chain the NFT becomes less secure as it’s no longer held on a 100% decentralized network, so designers sometimes settle for an uglier but more secure NFT by staying on-chain. 

It’s Generative Art

Digital artists Georg Nees and Frieder Nake proposed the concept of generative art in 1965. Later, English software artist Adrian Ward offered this definition of generative art:

“Generative art is a term given to work which stems from concentrating on the processes involved in producing an artwork, usually (although not strictly) automated by the use of a machine or computer, or by using mathematic or pragmatic instructions to define the rules by which such artworks are executed.”

It basically describes art that uses computer code and algorithms to create random pieces. It’s also popular with some NFT artists, creating on-chain piece, like Dimitri Cherniak, creator the Eternal Pump, and Snowfro of the Artblocks.

Each of their computer-generated artworks is unique and underpinned by a smart contract. Creator Erick Calderon, aka, Snowfro wrote about Chrome Squiggles, “Consider each my personal signature as an artist, developer, and tinkerer.”

In this case, beauty lies in the eye of the coder and those who appreciate generative art. 

Beauty lies in the eye of the coder and those who appreciate generative art

It’s akin to post-modern, which some baulk at and others pay a premium to collect.  To learn more, read about the work of the best NFT artists.

The Vale of the NFT Lies Elsewhere

Not every designer aims to create something that looks like the Mona Lisa of the blockchain world. Some projects create NFTs to build a community for their fans and collectors or because it represents an item for a Web 3.0 play-to-earn game. Let’s consider what gives an NFT, no matter what it looks like, value:

Scarcity: NFTs are unique, and blockchain technology almost guarantees their authenticity; this can tip the demand vs supply balance in favor of demand.

Read our guide to NFTS and artificial scarcity

Community: The NFT community has grown into a multi-billion-dollar market where ‘hype’ around certain collections can lead to the value of NFTs skyrocketing.

NFT community
The NFT community has grown into a multi-billion-dollar market

Utility: An NFT might not look great, but it might serve a useful purpose; for example, if you own a Crypto Barista, you can get discounts at Coffee Bros stores. 

It Really Is Ugly

Not every NFT project delivers on the hype or roadmap and sometimes they release NFTs that the NFT community hates. Pixelmon is one such example. The Pixelmom mint earned creators $70 million in revenue for a project billed as a triple AAA NFT game. 

Minters were outraged when the project released artwork from their game that looked like crude video-game concept images from the 1990s. Zachxbt, a creator behind the project, apologised on Twitter for the shoddy artwork.

Fans continued trolling the project on Twitter and creating knockoff memes poking fun at its crude artwork, particularly the Kevin NFT.

The NFT’s Traits Are Rare

The CrypToadz, this collection is comprised of 6,969 ugly-looking pixelated toads, and some have sold for over $50,000

This collection is comprised of 6,969 ugly-looking pixelated toads

Each Toadz has a unique set of characteristics, and these randomly generated traits are one of the reasons for the ugliness found in the NFT space. 

CrypToadz #1804 is one example of how computer-generated characteristics often create ugly but very valuable NFTs

If you have a collection of nearly 7,000 CrypToadz and you need all of them to have slightly different characteristics making sure all the traits fit perfectly on a toad would be a lengthy and costly process. 

The best fastest way to add new traits and accessories to NFTs like the Toadz is to use an algorithm that adds rare and common items to the NFT without asking an artist if it looks nice.

For example, when I first looked at CrypToadz #1804, I saw what you’re seeing, an ugly pixilated toad with seemingly not much going for it. I certainly didn’t think it would be worth $4,000.

However, we’re overlooking crucial traits that give this Toadz value. For example, its ‘Mysterious Hoodie’, its ‘Thick Square’ eyes, and ‘Toadenza’ body shape are only found on 1% of CrypToadz.

The algorithm gave #1804 some incredibly unique but ugly characteristics. However, the importance of scarcity overshadows the Toadz’ ugliness and makes it extremely valuable.

CrypToadz #1804 is one example of how computer-generated characteristics often create ugly but very valuable NFTs. 

Examples of Good Looking NFT Art

If you want to enjoy NFTs that looks visually pleasing, follow the work of digital artists like Mad Dog Jones, Beeple and XCopy. Mad Dog Jones, for example, regularly shares his creations for free on Instagram while Beeple posts one new piece of digital artwork (some of which later become NFTs) on Twiter.

Mad Dog Jones is best-known for Replicator, a cyberpunk artwork, and NFT. It spits out or produces one NFT per month with a limited supply of approximately 220. The Replicator sold for $4,144,000 in 2021. Jones said about his creation:

“REPLICATOR is the story of a machine through time. It is a reflection on forms of past groundbreaking innovation and serves as a metaphor for modern technology’s continuum. I’m interested to see how collectors will respond as the work evolves and the NFTs in their possession continue to create new generations.”

Final Thoughts On Why is NFT Art Ugly

NFT often look ugly at first glance. The CrypToadz won’t be displayed in the Louvre anytime soon, but not every project is about the artwork. An NFT can be valuable because of utility, community, rarity, or some other use case. If you really want good-looking NFTS, then stick to generative art or works by the likes of Beeple or Mad Dog Jones.