A Conceptual Praise Of OnChain Art

Onchain art is gaining momentum. New tools are popping up left and right. Devs are building new ways to make onchain art. Inscriptions and stamps are further validating the importance of permanence and persistence.

The first argument the followers of the onchain art movement will make is “permanence”. That’s because most of the art being sold on Ethereum is stored on centralized servers, which will eventually go down, and onchain art brings more guarantees to the existence of digital art long-term by reducing dependencies.

source: rightclicksave.com
source: rightclicksave.com

This is of course a powerful argument, and it’s not wrong. The NFT apocalypse might be coming in a few years. We’ve already had cases where creators changed the image in the metadata — collectors who didn’t know about how tokenURI works were baffled. The immutability argument is not hollow.

On another practical point, onchain art also brings interoperability & composability advantages thanks to the global nature of blockchains and the accessibility of onchain art directly from the chain. This feature will probably be more prevalent for gaming NFTs than art NFTs in the future, but it will certainly advance art NFTs too and it’s worth mentioning.

I fully agree with these practical reasons to enjoy onchain art, but this article isn’t about the practical advantages of onchain art.

This article is about the impact of onchain art at a conceptual level.

A Promise For Creativity

The attention span of the modern human is declining. Every digital trend distracts the modern human a little bit more. Popularity is simply transitory. This is especially true in the “digital-plus” NFT space: New metas develop, soar and plummet at hyper-speed. One week, the meta is checkers, another week it's open editions, another week it’s memes, another week it’s ASCII art. Once the meta is over, no one looks back to see whether the art is even there.

Good old shillfest
Good old shillfest

Onchain art challenges the meta-chasing behavior. All tokens carry a code of permanence and provenance of course, but onchain art weaves the fabric of the artwork itself into the cultural legacy. It comes with a promise that, even as the 'meta of the moment' flies away, the art itself remains a constant on the blockchain.

With onchain art, the creative essence is secured, promising that long after the trend has changed, art will continue to exist, untouched on the chain. It’s an “anchor of creativity” in the fluid digital world. It stamps this cultural moment of the blockchain era where the art — not just the token — stands the test of time.

Rebellion of the Artist

Blockchains are inherently designed for financial transactions. Even for NFTs, where the promises of art and culture are made, the medium is mainly used for buying and selling.

With finance, comes speculation.

One of the biggest reasons the wider public hasn’t adopted blockchains after 14 years is the amount of speculation on them. Insiders and scammers make a lot of money in this space while the uninitiated are left at the mercy of a volatile masquerade.

But here we are, once again - artists are taking charge to create actual, real culture. This may sound romantic, but storing art onchain is like painting the blockchain, bringing beauty to this speculative medium. Artists often have to pay the larger gas fees from their own pocket - they are THAT dedicated to the mission of using the medium outside its purpose.

So yes, putting art onchain is “sticking it to the man”. It’s using this ledger not just for financial transactions but for storing art. It’s a direct challenge to the purpose of the medium, which annoys the finance maximalists within the blockchain space.

You can't censor it ;)
You can't censor it ;)

But this is exactly what artists do: We annoy the suits.

Optimized Intimacy

Art has long been a dance of optimization. Whether it's miniature art dating back to prehistory, or “impossible bottles“ of the 19th century, humans always loved the challenge of telling big stories on small canvases.

We can find the same curiosity in digital space if we explore the birth of the Demoscene in the 1980s, where digital frontiers were pushed within the limits of early computing.

Image from Beinart Gallery
Image from Beinart Gallery

Onchain art is the modern heir to this curiosity. The canvas is the blockchain, where every byte comes at a premium. The need for practicality pushes digital artists to get creative and employ various optimization techniques. Here, the artist must balance the aesthetics and economy.

This is why onchain art requires an incredible amount of labor. Despite some of the most outstanding aesthetics you can find in some onchain art, only a minority of the labor is dedicated to visible aesthetics. A staggering amount of work is behind-the-scenes alchemy — transmuting data into its most elegant and economical form without sacrificing the artwork's soul.

A single arm of Pepe takes 1+ hour to optimize
A single arm of Pepe takes 1+ hour to optimize

This is the quiet intensity of onchain artistry. It’s not merely the creation of visual pleasure. It’s a complex mosaic where every tile is meticulously placed to form a harmonious tableau within a limited gallery. To play in the onchain art realm requires a harmony of innovation, where the artist becomes both creator and engineer.

Onchain art is a testament to human ingenuity, a celebration of our relentless pursuit to do more with less, and a homage to the timeless belief that within the tiny, we capture the infinite.

"Clipleft" (the very right) is also animated
"Clipleft" (the very right) is also animated

Runtime Concepts

This is specific to Ethereum (and other smart-contract-based networks), but with a constantly running virtual machine that anyone in the world can maintain, we now have access to an entirely new set of art concepts that can be realized.

This is not explored much yet, but when the art is stored fully onchain, it can be reconstructed (or “painted”) by this global, always-on computer in unique ways. The blocks, timestamps, wallet addresses, transactions, other contracts, DAOs, multisigs, Uniswap pools, and even users’ actions themselves can directly affect the art with no reliance on servers or other trust-based systems.

Runtime (EVM) concepts deserve their own article because the amount of new conceptual fronts blockchain opens is endless.

It can help us explore unique relationships between the artists and collectors, where collectors can interact and influence the art. We can explore how much collectors are willing to care for their art. We can encode “pocket universes” inside the blockchain and explore the concept of chaos and the observer's effect on reality. We can explore collaborative artmaking concepts. We can explore unpredictable evolution. The possibilities are vast, and we can explore these concepts only via fully onchain art because everyone can access them, and they’re automated in blockchain runtime and safely secured by a global, reliable, always-on computer.

How collectors can fight the entropy in Chaos Roads
How collectors can fight the entropy in Chaos Roads


Onchain art has the practical advantages of permanence and interoperability, but it transcends that. It offers profound conceptual value.

Onchain art challenges the fleeting nature of digital trends by ensuring the enduring presence of art. It adds beauty and purpose to a primarily financial medium and embraces the intensity of optimization. Plus, the potential of runtime concepts in the blockchain environment unlocks further interactive, collaborative, and evolutionary art experiences.

As the onchain art movement gains traction, I am inviting artists, collectors, and enthusiasts not only to appreciate its practical benefits but also to embrace the groundbreaking, transformative possibilities it offers for the future of art and creative expression.

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