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NFT Culture Series Ep. 3: Erick “Snowfro” Talks Art Blocks, Squiggles, and Beyond

Sep 14, 2021 ·

By Tom Shaughnessy

The Delphi Podcast Host and GP of Delphi Ventures Tom Shaughnessy sits down with Erick Calderon, a.k.a. “Snowfro,” founder of Art Blocks, a platform focused on genuinely programmable on demand generative content that is stored immutably on the Ethereum Blockchain. The two discuss Art Blocks from the artist and curator perspective, how generative art is minted, CryptoPunks, and much more!


Show Notes:

(00:00:00) – Introduction.

(00:00:22) – How Erick got started in crypto.

(00:04:41) – Erick’s thoughts on CryptoPunks.

(00:08:36) – The gap between 2017’s generative art and today’s.

(00:12:49) – Owning fractionalized rare Punks versus whole floor Punks.

(00:19:26) – Erick’s thoughts on DAOs.

(00:23:28) – Erick’s thoughts on controlling the hype around Art Blocks.

(00:27:44) – Art Blocks from the artist’s perspective / Curating Art Blocks.

(00:35:26) – Decentralizing the curation process in the long term.

(00:42:26) – How art is minted on Art Blocks.

(00:51:17) – How Erick decides when code for generative art is finished.

(00:57:36) – Rarity versus aesthetics.

(01:04:18) – What will keep interest in generative art long term.

(01:13:04) – Multichain NFTs.

(01:17:17) – Erick’s thoughts on being early/late in NFTs.

Interview Transcript:

Tom (00:00:00):

Hey everyone, welcome back to the podcast. I’m your host, Tom Shaughnessy. I help run Delphi Ventures and I co-host the pod. Today I’m super happy to have Erick, also known as Snowfro, the founder of Art Blocks. Erick, how’s it going?

Erick (00:00:12):

Going well. Thank you very much for having me. I’m super happy to be here.

Tom (00:00:15):

Yeah, man. Art Blocks is known everywhere. You guys are really changing the space. I’m excited to have you. Let’s start off with a little bit of how you got started in crypto.

Erick (00:00:26):

Yeah. I got started in 2017, actually in new year’s Eve, 2016. I had this burning desire to own a whole Bitcoin by the beginning of 2017. That quickly led me to discover Ethereum because I’m coin base. There was two things, Bitcoin and what seemed like a cheap knockoff of Bitcoin, Ethereum, because it’s like, well one is hundreds of dollars and one was seven. And so at first I ignored it and then I was like, “Okay, well I should learn more. There’s a reason why it’s on here.” And discovered the concept of a smart contract and I just Bitcoin blew my mind. No question. And then smart contracts blew my mind. The idea that you could assign instructions to money, it just, man.

Erick (00:01:14):

So one of the first things I did, which was experimental, I guess, is I created a smart contract and deposited 10 ETH to it. And my best friend had a baby. And so I basically said, “Okay, I’m going to deposit 10 ETH into the smart contract and she can’t touch it until she’s 18. And so you set the-

Tom (00:01:34):

[crosstalk 00:01:34] college is paid for.

Erick (00:01:35):

Yeah. Well, I mean, we’ll see because we still have a log time to go, but you set time in seconds. So it was 600 million seconds or something like that. And so the smart contract basically says that on the kid’s 18th birthday, at the moment that she turns 18 to the second, she’ll be able to unlock 10 ETH. And it sounds super reckless now, but it was less than $100 worth of ETH at the time. I thought ETH was going to be worth a lot of money. I didn’t think it would be worth $3,000 to $4,000 this quickly though.

Erick (00:02:06):

I mean, I just didn’t. But I had also only just gotten started in the crypto space. If I did, I… I mean, I think at one point I did have 1000 ETH when ETH is $7. I probably would’ve just held onto that ETH instead of spending it on all the different things that the DAP websites were showing as proof of concepts for crypto at the time. But yeah, I mean, I got really excited. I still look back at that proof of concept as something that blows my mind. The fact that this money is there, I’d love to start a little website where people could do this for their kids or their friend’s kids. Obviously, it just feels very different to be able to give someone 0.001 ETH or 0.01 ETH now for $100, but it felt more substantial back then.

Erick (00:02:54):

One of the many things that I blew my ETH was claiming CryptoPunks in 2017. I was browsing Reddit, I saw a post, got really excited about it, jumped over to the Lava Labs website, realized that my Ethereum wallet was not synced because back then there was no MetaMask. There was my crypto wallet, but I was going to put a private key into my crypto wallet. I just didn’t… It’s like I’d already been scammed a couple times by this point. And yeah, I claimed a bunch of CryptoPunks that further blew my mind, provable ownership of a digital asset, holy moly. Smart money, smart assets, like time locks. My brain exploded. And so here we are today, four years later, had one overarching desire, especially during 2017 watching all the Altcoin stuff.

Erick (00:03:52):

And that was to create a use case for crypto that was compelling to the outside world, really not perpetuating the square peg round hole that you just saw so much of, not because people are malicious, just because they were just excited and nerded out on crypto like I was, we were all looking for really cool things to do with crypto. But I saw enough of them that I was just like, “Okay, well I want to do something with crypto and I want it to be really big, but I really, really will have this one rule,” and it’s that it does not present any opportunity for someone to say, well, you could also do this without a blockchain. And it’s tough to find these use cases. So yeah, four years later launched Art Blocks. It’s a hobby.

Tom (00:04:42):

Erick, it’s got to be annoying though, for people on Twitter to say all these CryptoPunks guys got lucky. I mean, you literally blew a good chunky of stack four years ago. Like four years is a world ago in crypto.

Erick (00:04:53):

Yeah. I mean, it was $35 worth of ETH to claim and at that point… I mean, I’m a huge generative art nerd, right? So I question if they would not have been generative, would I have claimed? I don’t know, because I actually saw them as really cool works of art as a generative art project. The Lava Labs guys are brilliant. They’re able to pack character and emotion into this 24 by 24 pixel image and pack it into 10,000 unique 24 by 24 pixel images. I was blown away by that and blown away by the ownership potential. But yeah, I still claimed all of them and I was like, “Man, I just blew $35.” It still felt weird because gas was not cheap.

Erick (00:05:44):

I mean, it sounds really cheap now because 1 ETH is $35 but back then it was a lot. And I don’t resent the comments about people that were there early. I mean, it depends on what point you are in your life, but my whole life I’ve noticed that some people were there before others and it does feel like some of them got lucky, but also if you look at the people that held onto their Punks this long, it really requires an insane amount of conviction, especially in 2017 where nobody could have even guessed that it was going to get this crazy to have kept those Punks. So cheers to those people that not just bought them, but even in 2020 when you could sell a crypto punk for $2,000, $3,000 saying, no, I’m sticking to this.

Tom (00:06:35):

I mean, it’s a really good point because, I mean, everyone always… I mean, I laugh when I see people on Twitter and they’re like, oh, too many OpenSea notifications, let me raise my ETH threshold, to 1ETH to 5ETH so it doesn’t get hit. But on the flip side, if your entities are hitting that and you sell to your point, you lose the entire opportunity to hold something that could be extremely valuable.

Erick (00:06:58):

And if you believe that this is the beginning of a new revolution in digital ownership and in particular with generative projects, a new revolution and individuality, and being able to have a chard of something bigger for an often times affordable price, I mean, CryptoPunks were free. CryptoKitties were 0.01 ETH or however much. I can’t remember how much CryptoKitties were, it’s been a while. But those things made individuality affordable. And anybody that was early on that felt that same bug, that same intense validation just holding on. And of course, sometimes there’s offers that is really hard to say no to. It gets harder. The more Punks you sell, it gets harder to sell them.

Erick (00:07:57):

And obviously you all want to have babies, but it also feels nice when they get to go to new hands and new people. The number of holders of Punks has increased from, I think it was like mid nine hundreds last year to like 2,500 accounts plus. And that’s pretty special considering there’s only 10,000 and many of us have multiple Punks. So you have 2,500 people in this world that get that have this proof of individuality that didn’t really exist before, and I think that there’s something more special there.

Tom (00:08:28):

No, I agree. I have a lot of questions for you on this. I’m sure everyone’s up to speed on NFTs and generative art given this third episode in the series, but why was there such a gap between the generative art of 2017 and now generative art popping off? Why did it take four years to be extremely important, I guess? And I’m obviously missing a lot of the history that you went through, but what are your thoughts there?

Erick (00:08:54):

I mean, I think there was a big gap in everything in 2019, right? Or between 2017 and 2021. In 2019, a lot of us nerded out at NFT.NYC for the first time meeting each other after being on discord for a really long time and just nerding out about these 24 pixel characters. And I left there with this crazy extra vigor towards the space. I don’t know what I was going to expect. I don’t know if I just thought I was going to be talking to a bunch of turtles or something. I just really felt when I left there, I was like, “Man, I just talked to a lot of humans and those humans are great. And I think that the space is going to explode.” I wouldn’t say that things were nonexistent during that time, but there’s a lot that didn’t happen during that time.

Erick (00:09:53):

There wasn’t these huge ups and downs and hype cycles that we’re seeing right now. What did happen was the release of Autogillies, the ability for CryptoPunks to start gaining a bigger audience. And I personally, during that time, came home and spent. I actually took some money out of savings to buy a bunch of Autogillies and CryptoPunks, because I was a like, “Man, people really don’t understand what they’re missing out on here.” The people that were dumping auto lists for $50 or $500 or whatever, they made a bunch of money. So great. That’s fine. But it just seemed like it was short-lived. The long term vision of this, I felt was going to be really important. So I think there just wasn’t a lot during that time. There was a lot of firsts and those firsts proved interesting and viable.

Erick (00:10:42):

And so maybe it took a lot of those firsts also to inspire people like me to finally pull the trigger. I started developing Art Blocks as a concept the moment I was claiming my CryptoPunks and I started developing it as a platform, the beginning of 2018 on Ethereum. At the end of 2017, I was developing as a platform where I was going to start my own cryptocurrency called Art Blocks and Masternodes, if you remember Masternodes in 2017.

Tom (00:11:09):

Yeah. Way back.

Erick (00:11:11):

When art project was going to be equivalent of a Masternode, and that was going to control these artworks and the outputs of these artworks. It’s really weird concept that we actually will probably go back to in Art Blocks, not Masternodes. But the idea of having these projects that are meant to react live to inputs instead of permanently securing them as an NFT.

Erick (00:11:37):

But yeah, so in 2021 a lot had happened. Super rare known origin. People had been buying generative art for years without knowing it was generative or caring. I mean, in those platforms hashtag generative might have been a tag and on Twitter hashtag generative might have been a tag, but people were just overlooking that. They didn’t realize that they were buying generative art and that they already loved generative art. And one of the things I think Art Blocks has done is kind of bring that to the forefront and bring that to the table and say, “Hey, look what this art is created by typing words into a script, instead of with a brush on Photoshop in comparison to digital art.” And so I think a lot of things came together at the same time. I think the advent of more PFP projects are also generative because nobody is making 10,000 unique images with a paint brush. Nobody is. And if they are, that could be a really cool project anyways, if somebody had. Well, I guess, Damien Hirst was 10,000 handmade unique pieces. So that’s cool. Very generative-ish. But yeah, no, nothing really-

Tom (00:12:49):

Erick, I mean, just before we get into the generative side, I have one Punk question for you given how long you’ve been here. So I always go back and forth a lot on whether I want to buy the floor of something or whether I want to buy can on most cases, but or whether the rarest is kind of the play. And the curve ball that I always get is an investor infractional and I love the idea for fractionalized NFTs, but I guess the thing that I always struggle with is fractionalizing a SuperRare Punk increases the addressable market from say 10,000 to infinite. But on the flip side, you don’t really have that sense of ownership, right? Like, I don’t own one Punk or I don’t own a squiggle. So you lose that, but you get the financial upside of the rarest version. I don’t really know where I’m going with this question, but I guess I would love your thoughts on the communities/speculative angle of the fractionalized version. And I’d love for you to frame it as if you’d ever consider fractionalizing some of your own.

Erick (00:13:48):

Well, first, I will ask you this directly. As owner of a fraction of a Punk, does that entitle you to print it and frame it and hang it on your wall as if you own the… I mean, anybody can write, click save and print and frame, but do you feel that owning a fraction of a piece of art entitles you to right click, save as, print and frame a as if you own it?

Tom (00:14:10):

That’s a really good question.

Erick (00:14:12):

Yeah, because I don’t know-

Tom (00:14:12):

To be dead honest, I’d say unless I own a good chunk of the fractionalized shares, I’d say probably not.

Erick (00:14:18):

Right. But at the same time, fractional ownership enables people to have that little connection to the piece no matter how small that fraction is. So I don’t know the answer to that. I have my own vested interest. For example, I own 10% of an alien that I purchased as a result of a very last minute semi irrational and incredibly reckless-

Tom (00:14:47):

Rational in hindsight. It’s all good.

Erick (00:14:50):

Yeah. Decision that some people in Flamingo now made and I don’t control that alien. I don’t have it. I have no way of accessing it unless I convince seven other people to send it somewhere. And actually I think now it’s a lot more than seven, but it was at one point. And if you think about that, I want to be able to print my alien and put them on my wall, but I don’t own them completely. I’ve always had this dream of having a CryptoPunk museum because I do have one of every attribute CryptoPunks where I would just hang all the attributes, but then there would be this one at the very end with a big question mark on it and it’d be the alien because I don’t actually own an alien.

Erick (00:15:27):

And so does 10% allow me to do it? I mean, technically I’d say that Flamigo DAO should maybe give leasing rights… No, they don’t have to charge for it, but say, okay, at any given moment, any of you 10 holders can hold it for one-tenth of the time and can show it, but then you should just take it down because that’s what would happen with a real piece of art, right? Like if you fractionalized a real piece of art, you couldn’t shred it into different pieces. You would actually just kind of rotate it amongst all the fractions. So there’s something really interesting there to be discussed and I think that there’s opportunities for platforms to essentially kind of delegate temporary ownership to owners of fractions or shards of a piece, especially higher end pieces to say, “You are currently the owner of this piece, you’re currently in control of this piece,” and do that in a decentralized way where you know when your turn’s coming up and you know when your turn is over.

Erick (00:16:19):

And then for your second part of your question, I mean, I believe as a crypto Lego building block nerd that fractionalization is incredible and exciting and amazing. As an artist, I don’t know how I feel about it. I feel weird about the idea that especially in generative art, when we’re creating non-fungible tokens and then the re-fungibizing, if that’s even a word, feels counterintuitive to me. But I’m also speaking as someone that has been around long enough to own full pieces. And you look right now and if you want a Chromie Squiggle, it’s like $30,000, like that’s not fair. That’s completely absurd. And the fact that somebody might want to feel like they have a piece of that, not even from a financial perspective, but I genuinely did not buy that alien as a fraction from a financial investment perspective. I just wanted my little piece of the last thing I didn’t have in the Punks collection.

Erick (00:17:21):

And I think it sucks if you can’t have access to some of these things. So I think fractionalization is great. It’s just weird as an artist and you’ll speak to a lot of artists that feel the same way. There’s a slight discomfort. And then there’s other artists that are like, “Absolutely not, I don’t ever want to see myself fractionalized.” Not that they can do anything about it, obviously. And then there’s artists that are all about it and really excited about it and creating bundles for fractionalization. There’s beautiful things happening in fractionalization, for example where you’re seeing people that fractionize in Art Blocks collection send the tokens to the artist as the equivalent of the 5% royalty. And so if the idea of secondary market royalties is participating in the success of your work and the future success of your work, having that 5% of the tokens is exactly the same as having the 5% royalty for each transaction.

Erick (00:18:14):

So, I mean, that’s beautiful and that kind of stuff will turn an artist into being a believer in fractionalization, right? Like, “Hey, I’m the artist and I got to have a little bit of this as well and participate in my own success. I think that’s great.” But only time we’ll tell what fractionalization really does and what it really looks like in the art world and just how Art Blocks just had two months of massive FOMO and speculation induced by markets and induced by, again, speculation. But that’s not our target as a platform. That’s not our goal as a platform. We need to see what happens with fractionalization, DAOs, governance, not in a time of madness, but in a time of calm and reflectiveness.

Erick (00:19:01):

Like the bear markets that everyone kind of dreads, unless you’re a developer, and then you’re like, “Oh my God, I can’t wait for the next bear market.” Like, “This is when we’re going to build and discover and get to know ourselves and see how people really act when they don’t have this potential FOMO of two Xing to 100 Xing over the course of a weekend, which is this expected result of crypto right now.

Tom (00:19:23):

That’s an incredible answer, Erick. And I guess the thing that I go back and forth with on fractional purchase of fractionalized NFTs is the community side of this. I’m with you. I love the idea that I could own part of something and be part of a community. Like buy part of an alien. It could be in that community or buy part of a perfect spectrum squiggle and be in that community. But to your point, I go back and forth on that. Like everyone’s able to use the likeness, but at what ownership level do you need to feel like you’re a part of the community to promote something? I guess that’s an individual question for the masses, but are you bullish on DAOs and communities coming together to use the likeness to promote projects or do you think that may be more of a dream?

Erick (00:20:12):

I’m super bullish on DAOs. I’m 150,000 times more bullish than I was last year at this time on DAOs. I still think it’s early. I still think there’s a lot of uncertainty and a lot of questions around longevity and what the future is going to look like. But I do think that if Art Block has taught us anything it’s that communities have this way of sprouting around group ownership of something. Obviously CryptoPunks was the first to do that. But just the fact that Art Blocks has for a lot of drops, not everyone, but a lot of drops. You look and they’re a little bit more personable or they come from an artist that has a nerdy background or whatever it might be. But for a lot of drops, you find this factory of community sprouting. It’s like every drop, especially early on in Art Blocks Curated, right?

Erick (00:21:07):

We had curated drops and then immediately after the drop or during the drop, there’s a channel and everyone’s yelling about their pieces and, “Oh my God, mine is this.” And “Oh my gosh, mine’s blue. And I love blue.” And some people were buying every curated drop and so they all participated in that. But then you come back to that channel two weeks later, three weeks later, and you would have a dwindled group of people that have really not stop talking about that drop since the drop itself. And curating sets that look good together and curating pieces with other sets that look good together, and just you basically have the devoted supporters of each of those artists. And sometimes they’re shared across different art categories or art projects.

Erick (00:21:47):

Sometimes there are people in our discord that only post on one artist’s channel ever and that’s their entire engagement with the Art Blocks community. That factory of communities sprouting up after that is something really new and something really special. It’s something that happened with Punks. It’s happening with the Bored Apes. My God, that community is insane. And so there’s no reason why that wouldn’t apply to DAOs and fractionalization as well. The difference, of course, is that everyone having an individual item is what gives everybody in this internet world a sense of individuality.

Erick (00:22:21):

And so you are going back towards a DAO structure or a governance structure and in the sense that you don’t have that one piece of the community that makes you unique, but when you start seeing derivatives of art pieces, like for example, if one day a hyper pipes squiggle becomes the entire reason for a DAO to get together by one piece and that’s their grail piece, well maybe there can be a derivative piece made by another artist that takes that squiggle and derives something that is individual to each member. And that’s the membership token of the DAO and that now everybody has their individual component again. Well, it’s hard to say now. It’ll be really much easier, I think in two or three months if we can sustain this level of sanity that I think is starting to come around for our crypto community. This will be a really interesting conversation to see in two or three months.

Tom (00:23:16):

Yeah. Erick, the thing that I’m getting out of what you’re sharing is pretty authentic. I love it. You mentioned earlier, spending a ton for a squiggle which you created, and we’ll talk about, is expensive. And you’re talking a lot about the craze or right now, which you want to die off a little bit so we get back to building. It’s got to be hard to take the view of, “I want who authentically build this, but also I don’t love the craze.” I guess, how do you deal with wanting to build for the long term, but I guess maybe pumping the brakes a little on just the crazy hype that we’re seeing.

Erick (00:23:55):

Yeah. I mean, I never want to be directly pumping the brakes, right? That feels like it’s not me personally in my position to do that. And the last thing I want to do is cause panic. It’s more like we know that the brakes are going to be pumped because it’s… I think there’s something that we can all agree on very straightforward. The more expensive the starting price is of a piece, whether it’s on Art Blocks or on the secondary market, the less X it can possibly ever have. In other words, if you can buy something for 0.1, it is much more likely to 100 X or 1,000 X than something that you can buy for one. Period. It’s just like there is actually a ceiling in the amount of money in the world and the amount of money in the NFT ecosystem and as you approach higher prices, you are closer to that ceiling. That’s a fact. I’m not trying to be philosophical here. You are closer to the final ceiling.

Erick (00:24:54):

If you can’t see that when the entire space, and I’m not talking about just Art Blocks, I’m talking CryptoPunks, I’m talking everything, starts hitting this really close to what I consider to be just a actual ceiling, and you think that it’s impossible for that not to be sustained forever then, I don’t know. I mean, I think you have something looking back to do. I mean, I encourage everybody to look at the chart of every single crypto platform ever from 2012 probably, whether it’s an Altcoin, a major platform. I mean, other than the really big ones like Ethereum and Bitcoin that have had local highs and lows and then keep going higher and higher and higher, it would be really difficult to think that Art Blocks could somehow be a unicorn and simply just go up forever.

Erick (00:25:52):

There has to be a retrace. There has to be a point where everyone realizes, “Hey, this is getting a little hot and we need to take this step back.” So we don’t intentionally do that. A lot of people think that the Dutch auction was a way for us to intentionally do that. It’s not at all. The Dutch auction has many purposes. And as you can see in today’s drop when the Dutch auction is not… When a drop is not being fueled by speculation, the price of the piece just settles up the base price of the piece and everybody just goes on with their day and they can buy it if they want. I mean, we want Art Blocks in the end to have multiple projects mintible on the platform at any given moment like we did for so many different months.

Erick (00:26:40):

And that is a signal to me that speculation in FOMO is no longer dominating what we’re doing. And if that’s the equivalent of pumping the brakes, then that’s the equivalent of pumping the brakes. Our intention has not been to hurt anybody buying at a higher price. I paid double the mint price for geology runners because I really wanted that piece of art. I’m just as guilty as everybody of probably making irrational spending decisions. So it’s not like we’re sitting there going, “Haha, look at all these guys blindly…” No, we’re doing it too. We’re in this space, but there’s a key differentiation. We’re doing it because we love the art. And if there’s speculative potential, great. I encourage everybody to make as much money as they can in this world. But please don’t count on that when interacting with, not just Art Blocks, with any NFT project out there. You just can’t. It’s just impossible for everybody to win.

Tom (00:27:40):

No, that’s a very clean answer and I appreciate that. I’d like to dive into Art Blocks a little bit on just the Genesis, the goals. I mean, for those who aren’t aware of what Art Blocks is, I’ll give a brief overview, but you guys are a platform focused on programmable on-demand generative art. It all start on a theorem blockchain. When people pick a style, it’s randomly generated using an algorithm on smart contracts and you get the resulting piece. And I read that right off your website. So I’m not some type of genius here or anything. But you guys have a really interesting design because… There’s a lot of obviously fantastic artwork on Art Blocks, but you guys have different ways for artists to post.

Tom (00:28:24):

Like you have a curated section, you have a playground section, a factory section which offer different levels of entry for artists to get involved. I’d love for you to give, I guess the vision from the artist’s perspective on using Art Blocks. And if you could dive a bit into the curation aspect, that would be really important because I think people are… Because people look to Art Blocks and they say, “Hey, if this is on Art Blocks Curated, has to be legit.” And that’s kind of a mental model that people have, which is very powerful.

Erick (00:28:52):

Yeah. It’s powerful. It’s also a little scary, but I do think that’s why we have professionals on this board of curation to pick these projects. For an artist to deploy something on Art Blocks, there’s two reasons. I mean there’s probably multiple. One, they’ve been in the generative space for a long time and before Art Blocks started showing explosive growth or showing that artists could make a ton of money, artists looked at the method of creating a gap to an otherwise unlimited algorithm, which is what generative art is. Before Art Blocks or other projects like Art Blocks, you as a generative artist would create a script and if there’s artists that did not follow this procedure, please ping me and tell me what you are. But for me as someone that was always writing algorithmic art and come in, creating with code, you write a script and then you press space bar to refresh and refresh and refresh. And you just look at the outputs completely randomized.

Erick (00:29:48):

And then you’re like, “Oh, I don’t like when brown and red go together. So I’m going to write an extra line of code that says, if background color is red, then foreground color cannot be brown. And then you press a space bar and then you haven’t seen any of those two that you don’t like. And so you keep pressing the space bar and pressing the space bar and then you run into something else where it’s like, “Well, this cloud overlaps the mountain, but it looks like it’s on top of it or something.” So then you write some more code to really kind of, and I’m oversimplifying it, but to really get the outputs to where you want it to be.

Erick (00:30:14):

And then once you get it to that point, you’ll press the space bar and save each of 100 outputs, look at all of them and decide, this is the one that I want. The one, the five, that I’m going to put forward. Putting forward a piece means posting it on Instagram, Twitter, submitting it to a show, submitting it to a contest, giving it to your gallery that represents you to print and frame and hang on a wall or show it an opening.

Erick (00:30:38):

What happened to the script after that was that it was just still there. So there was this ephemeral quality of never ending art that could be produced from a specific algorithm, which in one way is really beautiful. But in another way it’s like there’s just this unlimited, it’s like a whole. And so I think one of the things that drew artists to Art Blocks early on before it was huge profit potential is the idea that they were able to prove a screen printer will do an addition of 10 screen prints and then destroy the molds, which they may not videotape themselves destroy the molds.

Erick (00:31:19):

But if you documented the destruction process of the set of screen print… Screens, sorry, not molds you. If you document the destruction process of a set of screens, yes, you can always go make the screens again, but you document that those 10 screen prints are the only 10 screen prints that are ever going to exist. In generative art, there wasn’t really a good way to documenting that. You don’t just delete your code off your hard drive. That’s weird because you spend a lot of time on it and some artists will reuse specific aspects of it. And so what Art Blocks did was allow artists to commit to code in a finite way and because they had to commit before they saw what those outputs are, they had to really manipulate that code and tweak it and massage it into getting it to a point where every single output was perfectly identical.

Erick (00:32:09):

That, I think was, and continues to be the compelling reason why Art Blocks artists like generative artists are interested in deploying on Art Blocks and as is very expected soon to be other generative art platforms because it would be really wild to think that there will the other beautiful generative art projects out there and generative art platforms, which we welcome into the space.

Erick (00:32:31):

So that’s the main reason why I think people were there in the first place. Your second question about curation. So we early on realized that we were getting beautiful submissions and then we were getting good submissions and some mediocre ones and some sometimes we even thought, “Oh man, this shouldn’t even be on Art Blocks.” And we had to make a very early decision to make sure that we were a platform, not a gallery. And that has changed now. But early on the idea was anybody that makes anything that’s algorithmic, especially if you’ve been doing this for a while and never really had a stage or a theater for it. Like we want Art Blocks to be your stage in your theater. We want you to have this opportunity to put your stuff out there the way that I think generative art lives happily. But we wanted to make sure and distinguish the pieces that really stood out.

Erick (00:33:24):

So we created a board of curators that has grown from 10 to about 25 people. And these people are collectors, artists, people from the traditional art world, people that have never opened MetaMask or had a Ethereum wallet, gallerylists from the traditional art world, investors in Art Blocks, investors in NFTs, DAOs, Flamingo and the Lao or both… Flamingo, sorry, is a curator on Art Blocks.

Erick (00:33:50):

To help differentiate the pieces that it’s not that they’re better, but the ones that better take advantage of all of the features that Art Blocks does and creates for artists to be able to really shine in the generative space. So those pieces are the ones that we call curated. And then just to kind of button this up, then there’s two other sections. We have the playground and we have the factory. The playground section is very straightforward. It’s any artist that was previously curated gets badged as a playground artist. So in our current website, there’s a dropdown for that. In our new website, it’s actually just a badge. And that badge says, “Hey, this artist previously achieved curation status.”

Erick (00:34:31):

And then we have the factory. And the factory originally was just that. It was just placed for just generative art, for people to literally just put their scripts out there especially projects that would be submitted to the curatorial board that did not get accepted as curated. We still wanted to host the art. It’s beautiful art. It might just not be able to handle 1000 iterations or it might not have a technical proficiency or it might have whatever else just didn’t meet that curation board standard. And so the factory has some of my favorite Art Blocks pieces of all time. And is there really good example of just the variety of what you can get in the generative art world from artists that are brand new to generative art that created their first script after learning about Art Blocks versus artists that have been generating exceptional creative code examples for years or a decade.

Tom (00:35:22):

I really love your answer. I also like that you have these three different formats for artists because you’re not cutting off a good supply of good potential artwork that can come to you. You’re opening the gates a bit. So I want to preface my next question with, you have other ways for artists to post such as the factory or the playground if they’ve already been curated before for the playground specifically. But I guess for the curated side, if we have to pinpoint there, like you’ve grown the council or… Sorry, the curators to 25 to decide, but how do you think through that long term?

Tom (00:36:00):

An outsider would say up these 25 people are deciding what’s good, but on the flip side, people like me, I kind of like that. You know what I mean? You guys are experts. How do you think through decentralizing that versus having the control? Because at some point that council gets too big where the coordination just becomes a problem we see with crypto projects today.

Erick (00:36:19):

Yeah. I think that’s a really good question. We absolutely want to decentralize Art Blocks. I’m too much of a decentralization nerd not to do that. I’m just not in any rush whatsoever. We are hitting landmines every single day as a platform. It is just absurd to me to some things that require instant decision making. It is absurd to me to hand that over to a group of people that may or may not be there because of the speculative value of their decentralized token. And while I think we are absolutely almost there in terms of the ecosystem and decentralization, I don’t think that Art Blocks is anywhere near at a point of letting everything happen in a decentralized way.

Erick (00:37:00):

If you take a step back and you look at the curation board, when I first came up with the idea of the curation board, I was thinking, “Man, okay, this is going to be a smart contract. We’re going to make these rules. If you vote yes, you have to purchase the piece. If you vote no, you can still purchase it, but you’re going to have to fight with everybody else in the mean time. If you vote yes and you don’t buy the piece, you get three chances. And after you do that three times, you’re out, whatever.” I think there’s something beautiful about being able to put these rules into place that would essentially enable transparency in a way that just doesn’t happen in the curation world.

Erick (00:37:36):

The problem is, like I said earlier, a lot of people don’t even have wallets. And to be fair, Art Blocks has just grown way faster than expected and we just haven’t gotten to a point where we can do that. And also the idea that an artist would… I mean, a curator would’ve to spend $75 to $100 every time just paying gas fees to vote yes or no, was just out of the question. So yes, there’s L2 technologies that are going to enable us to do this and we will absolutely embrace those and when the time is right, we will decentralize curated. But I think something that’s really important that I’m really excited about, and I can’t commit to a certain timeline for this, is decentralizing the factory. It would be really nice for the community to decide what they want on the factory. When I said earlier we’re shifting from a platform to a gallery, not on purpose, but we have finally started saying no to some projects that have approached us for the factory. And it feels awful.

Erick (00:38:31):

That’s not the intention or the point of Art Blocks. The problem is that our pipeline is too big. There’s too many artists. There’s too much really great work that we want to put out there and eventually something has to give. So it would be really nice just because I feel like everybody at Art Blocks is just a really nice person and I feel like I have the best team in the world. It would be really nice for us not to have to be the chucks. But like for the community to vote and say, you know what? I really just don’t like this and I don’t want to see this on Art Blocks.

Erick (00:38:59):

So when there’s a governance token on Art Blocks, it could be a year, it could be 10 years, literally it is the last thing on my plate right now that I’m concerned about. You can count on the fact that the first thing that that governance token will do will be allow people to either just vote people into the factory or just more likely based on people’s timeframes and timelines and busyness, reject projects from the factory using a unanimous vote of… Not unanimous, but using majority vote of the token holders.

Erick (00:39:34):

So if the community feel strongly enough that there’s a project coming into the factory that they just don’t want to see, they can petition for people to vote against it. And I think that’s okay. I think that’s fair but we’re just not there yet.

Tom (00:39:50):

No, that’s a fair answer. I like that you guys are thinking about allowing the globe to curate. And I also like that you guys ultimately don’t want to be the arbiters, especially on the factory side in the short term, it’s a big undertaking. And I also agree with you on the token. I mean, if you have a project like you guys are just growing so quickly, you don’t really need token incentives right now to fuel that growth.

Erick (00:40:15):

We don’t. We don’t want the token to be related to that growth. If our goal is to transcend crypto, which it is very much our goal, the early adopters are the people that are minting Fidenzas and Ringers for $200 and $300. If you look at a Kickstar campaign, we didn’t have to raise capital or give people equity. People early on realized the value of these pieces either because they really love them or because they saw the potential future speculative value of art. And they minted the pieces and they already have a huge upside to when we transcend crypto and the regular mint space folks join. But I think it’s really weird to think that you’d have a governance model in place that is controlled by a very specific component of the population.

Erick (00:41:05):

We have to be pretty real in that the crypto space is male dominated. It’s incredibly severely male dominated as is the traditional art world. And I think that for Art Blocks, there’s a lot of things where you’ll see that we want to just make sure that we don’t miss an opportunity to change something or to do something differently. And here’s one way that Art Blocks can do something differently, is wait till the ecosystem matures a bit. Wait till we’ve transcended the crypto speculative nature of NFTs because that is a bad taste in a lot of people’s mouths that don’t like NFTs fairly.

Erick (00:41:45):

And then figure out a decentralization model that includes everybody, not just the people that are here right now. And again, for the people that are here right now that would yell and say, well, but we’re here supporting now, we should get some reward. Your reward is everything that’s happened in the last six months or 12 months of Art Blocks and having been around early enough to participate. And I don’t feel like I’m granting you that reward. I think the community is granting itself that reward. And I’m very proud of that.

Tom (00:42:19):

I really like that. Everything you’re saying is authentic long-term planning out side of hype and I respect that. I want to go back for a bit. There’s a lot that happens in crypto that’s under the hood. I don’t think people knew to the space understands what happens when they submit a transaction on Ethereum or consensus mechanisms. And they don’t really care about how L2 work, they just want it to work. But the way generative art is created is phenomenal. It’s groundbreaking. Can you just walk through the quick process of how an art is minted based on the algorithm. And I know you went through the iteration process before for an artist to create that algorithm, but what actually happens when somebody hits mint on Art Blocks.

Erick (00:43:04):

Beautiful question. So Art Blocks at a smart contract level is actually not rocket science at all. We are storing an algorithm on a blockchain as basically proof of the algorithm, proof of what the instructions are to produce the thing that appears on your screen when you mint. That algorithm is stored one time at the root level of a project and becomes imitable over time. The moment someone presses the mint button with their minting is not an image or specifically an output from that algorithm, they’re actually minting a set of variables in code. It’s a very short string. Well, it’s kind of a long string of characters. It’s 64 characters, zero through nine and A through F which is a hexesible character. And it’s a string of characters and that’s string of characters controls what the algorithm shows.

Erick (00:44:05):

So to make it incredibly straightforward simple, if the first character in your string of characters is a 1 and the algorithm reads, and it’s waiting for this input for that first character in the string, and the algorithm says if the first character is a 1, background color will be white. If first character is a 2, background color will be green. I’m really oversimplifying it. That’s the very root of what’s going on. Now, you take that and extrapolate it into shapes and colors and gradients and patterns and motion and that’s what you’re looking at in an Art Blocks piece. An artist is taking instead of just the first character and picking the background color, they’re taking 16 characters and creating what’s called enterpy or a bunch of randomness out of those characters that controls the outputs of each piece.

Erick (00:44:59):

What makes Art Blocks special is the determinism of those outputs. In other words, every single time you run the information stored on your NFT token, because your token in the end is… Well, sorry, NFT is a token, sorry. When you run the variable stored on your token against the script that’s stored on chain, the output should be identical every single time in every single environment. And this is special because for example, right now we’re seeing 8K televisions, in 25 years, we’ll see 24K televisions, or I don’t know, maybe a 100K televisions. And one of the really important things about Art Blocks is since you are generating the finished product onto your screen at the moment that you’re viewing the piece and you’re running an algorithm, that is listening to variables stored on your token, that algorithm is running at whatever the resolution is that your screen is at that moment.

Erick (00:46:00):

So if I’m looking at it on my phone, it’s running at 800 by 800 pixels. If I’m running it on 100K TV, I don’t know how many pixels that’ll be. Let’s say 25,000 by 25,000 pixels, I have no idea. And the algorithm will produce the exact same results. So if a line is this thin on a small screen, it’s going to be this thick on a big screen because it’s going to scale with the size of the canvas. And that’s a really important component of Art Blocks. If you look at the most expensive animated gift in NFT space today, in 20 years, it will either have to be up sampled to fill screens of the future, or it will be shown with a huge frame around it on screens of the future. It’s one or the other.

Erick (00:46:45):

And up sampling, I think by that is going to be magical and it’ll probably be perfect and it’ll probably be even meet the artist’s standards. But the fact that an Art Blocks piece is running in the way that it’s running in your browser or on your TV or on your phone means that that is not one of the features that we’re concerned about for the future of generative art on screens and devices where they’re meant to be shown

Tom (00:47:14):

Jesus. That’s fascinating. I did not know that. Wow. So when you’re viewing Art Blocks code, or if I’m viewing a squiggle on, let’s say this 24K TV of the future, I’m not viewing some static file, I’m viewing… What exactly am I viewing?

Erick (00:47:33):

It depends. So we do store static images because a lot of marketplaces are looking for an image to display on a page to show a bunch of mint. So whether it’s CryptoSlam or OpenSea, if you’re looking at all the thumbnails, there is an image that’s necessary. Otherwise, your computer would burn down running 30 iterations of the Chromie squiggle script at any given time as you’re scrolling through it. It’s just computers aren’t anywhere near powerful enough to do that safely or comfortably or smoothly. So obviously we do render and store an output of the script and that’s something that we’ve really honed. So when I say Art Blocks smart contract is not rocket science because it’s not. The work that our developers have put into creating this backend that 1000 mint can be rendered in less than one minute, let’s say that a drop is cell and not instantly, is pretty special. It’s pretty unique and that’s something that I think that we’re doing a really good job on.

Erick (00:48:29):

So separate that image, which is static, which is going to look rainy in the future if people are looking at that same image, what you’re looking at on your screen when you open a Chromie squiggle in what we call live view is you’re looking at the live script running in your browser. If the screen is supposed to have a red background, you’re looking at the algorithm reading that token ID and saying background color red, because the token says that. And proof of that with the Chromie squiggle is that if you click on a Chromie squiggle, which this is something that’s really wonderful when people haven’t really realized this yet, if you look at a Chromie squiggle in live view, it just looks like a static image.

Erick (00:49:10):

And then if you click on it, you’ll see that it starts going through the color spectrum. It becomes animated. That animation isn’t a gift just like running through the frames. It’s actually the algorithm changing the colors of each individual circle in the Chromie squiggle in a sequence to create this pattern. And to further that, if you think the pattern’s moving too slowly, you can press the arrows up and down on your keyboard and speed up the animation or slow down the animation. And if you really like to see a Chromie squiggle on a medium gray background, you can press the space bar button 10 times and change the background color of the squiggle that’s animating on to get to the background color that you desire. It’s the idea of creating the squiggle as a static element and then letting people interact with it versus just when you mint a Chromie squiggle and it just becomes instantly animated was intentional.

Erick (00:50:02):

It was there to surprise people and to really drive that point home that when you look at even a static project on Art Blocks, let’s say like, one of my favorites is elevated deconstructions, right? If you look at elevated deconstructions on OpenSea, that thing is a very static project, it doesn’t move at all. But every time that you load the full token image, not the thumbnail page that shows all of them, but when you open the image and load it, you are looking at your computer, running that code and creating that exact same image in that smaller window at the time of viewing the piece. And the squiggle being animated furthers that. It just demonstrates what you can do with code and with algorithm, and we’re really excited about those components.

Tom (00:50:48):

No. God, it’s a fascinating answer because it’s just so different from, I think, what people think is a static image. And I love the viewer. I’m always hitting space bar to try and find a Fogo that perfectly matches the black background. Me and one of my partners, Colly Bee, that’s what he’s known as, we frequently look for one. I didn’t know about the arrow keys speeding up the speed of the animation though. That’s pretty interesting. That’s pretty cool. God, it’s a really cool answer. And I guess the other question you is, so you are the creator of Chromie squiggles. And the question for you is like, how do you, as an artist decide, “Hey, this is what I want to run with?” There’s so many variables for you to create something. It’s literally overload out of all the infinite opportunities for you to create artwork. How did you eventually settle down and say, hell, this is the code I’m going to run with squiggles?

Erick (00:51:48):

I’ve been following generative art for a long time. I’ve been creating code based art. Some of it generative, some of them not for a really long time. And even as long as I’ve been doing that, there is a very much a sense of imposter syndrome when you compare it to some of these masters like Dimitri and Cello and Tyler and Alexa. As much as I’m proud of my Chromie squiggle as an artist, I still feel this imposter syndrome because it is something that… It’s my craft, it’s my baby. My Chromie squiggles are my babies. Every single one of them is special to me. But I have not dedicated my life the way that these guys have dedicated their lives to generative art. I’ve been following it maybe longer than they’ve been creating it, but I still have not been creating it.

Erick (00:52:42):

So for me to come in and create this piece, which I’m very proud of, it’s hard sometimes to consider it as a work of art. Because originally when I created the Chromie squiggle, it was a demonstration of what could happen with Art Blocks. So my brother created Genesis, the project number one on Art Blocks way before I even created the squiggle as a demonstration of what Art Blocks could do, as a demonstration of what deterministic casius can do to control the output of a visual algorithm. And I wanted to demonstrate it even further. And so I started tinkering first. The first squiggle was actually created on Three.js. Three.js is just a different library for three-dimensional graphics. And little by little it was migrated. Then it was migrated to processing.

Erick (00:53:29):

In fact, my brother helped me take my Three.js code and convert it into processing. Then eventually as I started launching Art Blocks, I then took my Three.js code and converted it into P5.js because I felt like that. Even though P5.js and processing are very similar, my brain melts with processing. I just can’t manage that code, whereas Three.js and JavaScript in general and P5.js I understand pretty well. So to answer your question though, when do you know what… Okay, so I wanted to demonstrate… I mean, with the squiggle, it’s very straightforward because it was originally a tool, not this art piece. I wanted to demonstrate that you could have almost infinite variability with the source of a Hash.

Erick (00:54:18):

And so to do that, you start to realize, okay, every point on a squiggle can be positive or negative and it can be any of 100 points actually that it’s decimals. So between 20 and negative 20 with decimal places, it can be anywhere along those lines. If you have 12 points and each of those can have almost infinite point locations, you already have an almost infinite place to prove variability of an asset or of an art piece. Then the starting color is really important because you can show that something starts with a specific color, the spread, which is how fast it goes from red to green. All of a sudden I just started adding things specifically just to show the variability of a Hash. I’ve always been driven by gradients. I love rainbows. I love bright colors. And so obviously that’s reflected in the work. And I’ve just always gone out of my way to demonstrate that type of life or happiness. And so it was driven by the… That drove a lot of the Chromie squiggle development.

Erick (00:55:31):

And then finally, because I love the idea of the zombies and the aliens and the apes I wanted to add Slinky and Hyper and Hyper-Bold and all that, because I felt like that’s something that as a participant in the CryptoPunks Discord of three years was one of the things that drew the excitement of the community, is by adding these things that we call features that are just not as commonly available as others. The end result was this thing that was originally meant to demonstrate individuality is meant to be as stupid simple as possible. It doesn’t get simpler than a little squiggly line.

Erick (00:56:09):

But then I realized, because I created the squiggle in 2018, then spent two years looking for squiggles in other applications and realized that the squiggle as stupid simple as the squiggly line is, was not something found commonly in culture. We just don’t see a lot of it. And I started thinking like, anytime, I’d see something close, because there are some squiggly lines that have gradient in them. I’d be like, would you confuse that for a squiggle? And the answer was no enough times. So I was like, okay, yeah, I created this for a utilitarian reason, but now I’m realizing that it actually has an identity to it that feels unique and it feels like it stands out and it feels that if you saw a squiggle, especially for us NFT nerds.

Erick (00:56:56):

Right now if you see a squiggly line, you might first think, is it a squiggle or not? And at that point I went from thinking… I lost a little bit of my imposter syndrome and just decided, hey this is art, not as demonstration of the power of what NFTs or Blockchain or Hashes can do, but a demonstration of how something so simple and clean can actually stand out and be visible and be recognizable to the general public. Sorry. I kind of rambled a lot there, sorry. But yeah, that’s [crosstalk 00:57:27].

Tom (00:57:27):

No. You didn’t ramble at all. The rambling is awesome because I love you unpacking your work, which really set the stage in a really cool way. And I guess my other question for you on squiggles and just generative art in general is, I guess, there’s a big difference between rarity and aesthetics in a way. Sometimes they’re not linked. The example I’ll give you is, I think the normal squiggles look amazing. Trust me, I love full spectrum. I love perfect spectrum. They’re incredible squiggles. And I mean the other point here is like end project, like the spinoff of loot with just straight numbers. You could mint generative art off those numbers, but I minted a gen art piece off mind end which not rare and I got a very rare output for N-word, I think it’s called. So it doesn’t always line up one to one on rarity and aesthetics. I’d love to get your take on that. And I’m not asking you to give price predictions on what’s more valuable, but I’d love your take on, I guess, how you think the community views rarity versus the visuals.

Erick (00:58:32):

I think this is multifaceted. I think different people are driven by different things, 100%. And so I still owe the community a floor squiggle competition that I had promised a long time ago where people would submit floor squiggles because I still just love squiggles, floor squiggles. I love the basic squiggle. And I wanted to do that to emphasize how much I actually just love the regular squiggle. So if you’re driven 100% by rarities, there’s nothing wrong with that. There’s just people that like to own and things that are more special and more unique. Now the chunkers like the bold squiggles, I love the way they look too. So there’s something special there too. There’s people that collect just the bolds because they just love the way that they look more than a regular squiggle and that’s okay. And they happen to be more valuable.

Erick (00:59:34):

I think there’s just a lot of different collection attitudes. There’s people that collected hundreds of floor Punks and then there’s people that collected only the high value ones, the rare ones. There’s people that only made purchasing decisions for Punks based on really weird combinations of Punk characteristics, and there’s people that literally just bought the cheapest Punk on the market. It depends a lot on your speculative nature. If you’re driven literally by the speculative component of NFTs, there’s a chance that you might just be buying a lot of the floors and that’s okay.

Erick (01:00:09):

If you really just want to get into NFTs and you see a floor squiggle that you think looks really good, then you might buy that and become more personally attached to that. And maybe even get it tattooed as has happened already, which is just mind boggling to me, but very flattering.

Tom (01:00:27):

Erick, whenever somebody gets tattoo for a project that is such a bullish sign. I can’t tell you how many times that’s played out.

Erick (01:00:33):

It’s so wild, man. It’s just like one of those tears in this whole experience.

Tom (01:00:38):

Rabbit community. Yeah.

Erick (01:00:39):

I would never forget that moment when I saw that tweet. I was on another call and I just looked at my phone. I was like, that has to be fake. Oh my God, that’s really real. So yeah, I think features are really fun bonus of this whole space, but I don’t think they should be the driver. There are some incredible Fidenza and Ringer sales that are happening based on floor models. People just really like that specific one and it doesn’t have rarity. Then you have other things, like for example archetypes. I love floor archetypes. I really like the cubes. I think that it was a really smart move to make that specific component more rare. I think that in another world where it wasn’t generative, or it can still be generative but without Art Blocks, let’s say Chatel was creating archetypes and others for let’s just say SuperRare.

Erick (01:01:39):

As an artist, he might have just chosen to mint 20 archetypes what we consider floor archetypes and put them on SuperRare. But if he felt that the cube was more special or more dear to him, he would’ve only minted three. The difference is that he would’ve minted those three at a significantly higher price, thereby stating this is what I like better and this is more dear and more special to me. Whereas, even though that’s inferred when an artist creates a programmatic rarity in a piece, it’s not this statement of this is a more expensive piece and therefore it’s more rare. Everybody has the same chance of minting that piece during the drop, and then after the fact, those pieces become more rare. The most expensive single NFT that I ever bought in my entire life was an archetype cube, by far significantly more than any others.

Erick (01:02:30):

I remember sitting there with my wife and she was like, “Is this really…” And then she just reached over and like hit my mouse and clicked submit. And I was just like, oh my God. And this is way before the hype. An archetype cube at that point was like $20,000, $27,000, an insane amount of money for us to spend on one thing. But that also validated something there, where the only other thing I’d ever bought that was over $1,000 was a car. And it’s not like we were just to a point financially in our lives where we could just blow money, but it felt like the right decision. And it helped solidify a little bit of this thought that one day unique and highly visible Art Blocks pieces would garner really high prices based on the fact that they are popular. They’re more visible, more popular and therefore more desirable by a group of people that thrives on an internet based on their avatar being something that represents them and their individuality and their originality.

Erick (01:03:37):

And so that was a moment where I was like, “What? That’s nuts,” and then, “Okay. All right.” And now obviously if you look at it from a financial decision, it’s probably a good financial decision, but I could care less. Like my archetype cube is one of my most prized possessions. I don’t know if that answers your questions, but it shouldn’t be the driver. It can definitely appeal to some people more than others though.

Tom (01:04:03):

No, it does. And it’s always worth the memory of your wife freaking out. I’ve had my girlfriend freak out and I’ve bought some NFTs too, so I get it. Yeah, it’s always exciting. Like, hey, I spent X on Y and they’ll be like, what? But it’s exciting. I guess one of my last line of questions for you is on… I’d go all day with you, but I wanted respect your time. But the community aspect is interesting here. And I don’t mean to boil this down to a bad question, but I’ll play a little bit of a devil’s advocate here. What do you think will be the claw or the hook that gets people to stick around for squiggles and archetypes and Fidenzas two years from now?

Tom (01:04:47):

Suzu had a really good tweet a couple weeks ago or days ago, I forgot, it was too many, where he said most people want the most important cultural aspects of a culture. For Ethereum that will be probably Art Blocks artwork, right? But the other thing is there is a lot of hype right now. It’s not like you can go use your squiggle and play AXY. It’s a very different use case. But with that, how do you think people will stick around for pure generative art if it’s not usable, but it’s obviously gorgeous. Where do you see that playing out?

Erick (01:05:23):

The future-

Tom (01:05:24):

It’s a tough question. I don’t mean to log [crosstalk 01:05:26].

Erick (01:05:26):

Yeah. I mean the future is very uncertain. I’ll preface this by saying that and to all of my Punk family, please, if I’m wrong here, just yell at me. But I swear that there were full weeks that not a single message was sent to the Punks Discord during the course of 2019 and 2020.

Tom (01:05:55):

Jesus. [crosstalk 01:05:56].

Erick (01:05:57):

And if it wasn’t a full week, it was a couple of days at the very least. And I know that because the moment that I built my CryptoPunks collection, and I was already there every single day from basically right after I claimed, but then I had this zealous desire to get an alien. And I literally thought that the day that I didn’t check discord was going to be the day that somebody posted an alien for a cheap price or an affordable price and I was going to miss it.

Erick (01:06:23):

So I was there every day, every single day. And in no way does that correlate with the value of CryptoPucks today. In fact, it is counterintuitive, like you said, that was not too long ago. It is counterintuitive to think that something created in 2017 and in 2019, nobody, but maybe a handful of us was nerding out about this, where we could go full weeks without even saying anything because there wasn’t really that much to talk about. There wasn’t that much going on in the NFT space and our Punks weren’t going anywhere and people weren’t necessarily buying them. The people that were there that are there today still, and that were there in 2017, not everybody has the privilege of having been there to claim. And there’s nothing against that.

Erick (01:07:16):

I do think that there’s this weird bias towards people that were there at the claiming. I think it’s a really cool thing that we get to nerd out about that. But whatever, any anybody that joined the CryptoPunk family, even at the crazy prices of last week, to me is a visionary in terms of what they see in the future of this stuff. And yeah, I fully expect it and I am seeing the Hype come down a little bit on Art Blocks and I think that’s okay. I think, first of all, our goal with the platform is to have 30 projects open for minting at any given moment, maybe 100 one day. That can’t happen with the Hype. But even in times of Hype, if you have 30 projects open for Minting and all of them sell out at the same time, we’re once again reaching that fundamental gap of what can actually exist in terms of financial liquidity.

Erick (01:08:12):

There’s only so much money. There’s only so much ETH in the world. So I think that we’re going to go through a lot of cycles. I think that we’re going to see, especially now, I mean in 2018, or ’19 I was pitching to Matt Hall, “Hey, I want to make some stuff. I’m too embarrassed to even share what I was wanted to make with CryptoPunks.” And he’s like, “Yeah, it’s kind of early for us to give you the right to do that.” And I actually very much respect it. I was actually bitter at the time. I was like, “What? I have this things, no one’s really talking about them that much. I have these ideas and I’m a businessman-“

Tom (01:08:50):

Discord’s dead. I’m building. Yeah.

Erick (01:08:51):

Yeah. Things have changed. I have somebody reaching out to me on discord that literally made a squiggle dress and is literally wearing it regularly, including going to be wearing at NFT.NYC. And as these elements become recognizable in society beyond just our NFT nerd space, the conversation will continue. And if it doesn’t and if the NFT space collapses, man, people are yelling about Art Blocks volume being down, people were buying a CryptoPunk for 150 ETH one day and 99 ETH the next. Like, it’s okay, this is part of what we’re experiencing. And the people that are buying at higher dollars are experiencing much higher risk, but hopefully they’re in a position financially to take on that higher risk.

Erick (01:09:49):

And the people that are feeling shut out from the industry now, either they wait around until some other new project comes around that becomes more affordable or they wait around for the economy to sizzle out a little bit and people just start making more rational choices and decisions and purchasing. And once again, I am very guilty of making very irrational purchasing decisions. So I’m not putting myself superior to anybody else in this space. Literally buying geometry runners, three of them off the secondary market for 10 to 12 ETH each. That is a very irrational decision that I made, but I really just wanted one of those pieces. I don’t think that’s sustainable. I bought those very well understanding that it was very likely that they could potentially continue to go up, but it was also very likely that they could go back down.

Erick (01:10:32):

And we just need to all understand that if we are in it for the art, there’s a meme in our discord all the time people say I came for the flip and I stayed for the art. It has been said so many times and it literally is the encapsulation of what we’re doing right here. We are thinking maybe to a fault that we are creating a new generation of art appreciation. We are creating a new generation of superstar artists. Sorry, we are not creating them. We are amplifying them. We are giving them a place. We are giving them a home. And if there’s lows, let there be lows. We will build better. We will build more.

Erick (01:11:17):

Artists will have to start doing better and creating better art. If artists start putting stuff on Art Blocks and it doesn’t sell, other artists are going to take that as a signal of like, “Ooh, I better step it up.” And trust me, no matter how slow Art Blocks is right now, even if Art Blocks went to not selling a single piece in the next week, there are artworks coming down the pipeline that you and I would look at and be like, “I’m going to buy that,” regardless of whether Art Blocks is selling or regardless of whether there’s FOMO and Art Blocks right now, because it’s genuinely mind blowing art.

Erick (01:11:55):

And that’s all we care about on this platform, is that we constantly provide artists with an opportunity to share their incredible talent with a new community, a new audience. And I think we’re doing that. And I think we’re doing that pretty well. And I think we’re doing that well, regardless of the hype. In fact, man, I think I might have mentioned this in discord a couple times during the hype times, like we are not having fun. The Art Blocks team during these crazy times, we are not having fun. It is not fun at all. In fact, it’s awful.

Tom (01:12:29):

[crosstalk 01:12:29] on the inside, but it looks amazing on the outside.

Erick (01:12:31):

Yeah. It’s awful being called greedy and cash gravity because we’re trying to control gas wars and trying to control speculation and whatever. It is just awful. Let us get back to where we were. And in the meantime we are not changing our MO, we are moving forward with just providing hopefully the best platform for generative art that exists and that will ever exist in this world. And that’s our goal and we’re sticking to it and all these other things can just come and go and we’re okay with it.

Tom (01:12:59):

God damn. Erick, passion man. I wish you were racing. This would be a totally… This wouldn’t be a podcast, this would be a call. A couple rapid fire questions for you. Multi-chain NFTs. Do you have an attachment solely to Ethereum or do you see Art Blocks potentially expand or how do you view that?

Erick (01:13:21):

For now, we are producing, I think some of the best generative art in the world, and we’re putting it on some of the most decentralized ecosystem. In my opinion, one of the most, because I think Bitcoin is pretty decentralized at this point. So I’d say one of the most decentralized ecosystems in the world. And I think there’s a really a nice correlation there in terms of value proposition and quality. Unfortunately, we started this platform with the idea of equality and equitable minting and people could mint to Chromie squiggle for $40. And even that felt like it was a lot of money, right? If you’re just kind of speculating or… Not speculating, but dabbling in a new subject, a new area. And I think that the opportunity for that to exist on Ethereum may be gone forever, at least at those levels. It doesn’t mean that Art Blocks pieces will not get down to 0.1 and 0.05. It just means that there’s clearly an interest of people to participate in this performative or experiential aspect of minting, where you create something at the moment of purchase.

Erick (01:14:26):

And I do think that there’s room for it to exist other platforms. So we are exploring not just L2s but we are exploring other L1s. And we don’t know what that looks like yet. We don’t know if… Very likely I can say this, that an Art Blocks piece, no matter where it is being minted, whether it’s on another L2 or maybe even on another L1, the script and the provenance of that script will live on layer one Ethereum, for it to be stamped as an Art Blocks piece.

Erick (01:14:55):

I don’t know what the future holds, but that’s what it feels right now where we would utilize these other technologies for minting. But yeah, maybe one day there’s Art Blocks light on Flow. And I am a big supporter of Flow, full disclosure, I also am validating on flow. But it’s not because I just wanted something else to do. Last year in June, Flow blew my mind in terms of the team and what they were building. I always equate it to Ethereum as Microsoft. It just gets it done. It’s like the machine and flow to me is like Apple. The team, the branding, the graphics, the messaging, it just feels like the one that’s going to make everybody use MP3s and in this case NFTs.

Erick (01:15:44):

So I have this special place in my heart for flow. Not everybody on my team agrees, and I value my team more than anything else. So ultimately we may never end up on Flow. But as an example… I like to use the example a lot. Like if I have a cryptovoxels parcel and I want to create a little forest of trees, I can take a vox model tree, and I can just copy and paste it and copy and paste it and copy and paste it. But my cryptovoxels parcel might be worth $15,000, $20,000 or something kind of like that. I mean, I don’t know what the floor is at, but let’s say that the floor’s at $10,000. I just bought a $10,000 thing. You don’t take and buy a $10,000 thing and then put… I mean, you can put zero effort into it and that’s totally fine.

Erick (01:16:26):

But if I want to create a little forest outside my cryptovoxels house, and I could go to Flow or another L1 or an L2, and I could mint 100 generative trees that are all unique and that I own them, and I proved that I own them, and they cost me $1 each, I, maybe weird nerd consumer here would rather spend $100 to have 100 generative and provably unique trees for my cryptovoxels parcel than just to take and copy paste the same tree or copy and paste the same five trees that I just scattered across my plot, which is really the only thing that you can do now. So yes, I want Art Blocks to provide that. I want Art Blocks to exist, to serve generative content to people. And as a result, we will have to explore these other Blockchain and these other layers of the Ethereum [inaudible 01:17:15].

Tom (01:17:16):

Incredible answer. And the other question for you is just on being early versus being late. You mentioned earlier, squiggles are expensive, right? I’m always torn because I’m never sure. And this comes down to an allocation sizing questions. My last question for you too, before we hop off, but I feel like you either have to be really early or missed it on NFTs. Or if you’re a large fund, obviously you could enter in at a later stage because you have to size up, but what’s your take on the irrationality for buyers? Do you think people should just optimize for being at the mint stage to get an earlier or do you think there’s still value to be heard in the later stages?

Erick (01:17:58):

I think people in 2019 thought they were late. I know people in 2020 thought they were late. I think it’s irrational. What I would say is that the “later” because you’re not yet late, the more time you should dive in and learn and explore and listen and watch before you start making purchasing decisions. There were times in 2017, ’18, ’19 where… Well, actually in those times there wasn’t a lot of traction on a lot of stuff, so maybe you wouldn’t even have made purchasing decisions. But I think the only difference that should be applied to being early and late is the amount of research that you should do to make sure that you get the right thing. And I used Kickstarter as an example. I used to love Kickstarter again. I mean, when Kickstarter launched, it was beautiful platform to share your ideas with the world in a way that didn’t really exist before.

Erick (01:19:00):

And if you were there early, middle, or late, it didn’t really matter. Eighty percent of the projects I bought, I never got the product. It just never came. It’s excuses after excuses or whatever. It does not matter if you’re early or late. It matters if you research. If you look at the team that created the Formlabs, the Formlabs team, that printer, and you read about them, you could tell that that printer was going to be one of the biggest printing companies in the world a couple years later. All the other stuff that I bought on Kickstarter literally was just disappointment after disappointment. I even created my own Kickstarter and I actually produced it and shipped out 1,000 of these things and it’s a pain in the butt. But I think being earlier or late is like a misnomer, you just never know.

Erick (01:19:48):

In 2019, you were still really early to what’s happening today, but you might have been discouraged and walked away. In 2012, you might have gotten excited for selling Bitcoin for $7 a piece. What do you call that? I mean, that’s early. That’s a huge problem to people these days that they sold so early. So I think really it’s very relative and I think people should just take a step back and realize, hey, this is going to be fun. If this isn’t fun, don’t do it. Learn from people don’t be guided by the hype. When people start saying is like, the floor is being swept on X, Y, Z, that person probably bought a lot of that piece just before they said that to cause you to be like, oh, shit, I better go in and buy it. Just be careful. Research. Think about what pieces are going to mean to you and to other people and then make your decisions. And I don’t think being early or late has any implication on that whatsoever.

Tom (01:20:39):

Erick, I love your entire answer. Full disclosure, I use the squiggle. Again, the squiggle DAO, I also love that. We’re beyond the time of this conversation, but I think Art Blocks is really moving the generative art space forward. I love your multi-tier curation mechanism. I love the passion that you and your team have for real long-term building out of the hype cycle and just the level of authenticity and detail you put into building your project, your platform, and the artists that come on there. So I really appreciate your time. I’m a huge fan. And thank you so much again for coming on.

Erick (01:21:16):

Yeah, man. Thank you for having me. Thanks for listening to me ramble so much. I appreciate [crosstalk 01:21:19].

Tom (01:21:18):

Ramble is the best part, man.

Erick (01:21:21):

They’re good questions. They’re really good questions. Thank you so much.