TokenSmart NFT Humpday Report #10: The On-Chain Art Movement Has Arrived (& Will Live Forever!)


Welcome to the 10th issue of the NFT Humpday Report, a weekly column covering and providing embedded analysis on the NFT economy’s biggest topics du jour. Brought to you by WIP meetup collaborators and nft42 community hub TokenSmart.


The blossoming and increasingly prolific NFT ecosystem churned out one major development after another all year long. This reality pushed NFTs, and particularly cryptoart NFTs, into the wider cryptoeconomy’s limelight in 2020. Amid this upswell of popularity has come the rise of the on-chain art movement: a growing group of #onchaingang creators who are guaranteeing their creations for posterity by opting to secure their NFTs’ metadata entirely on-chain. 

Why it matters: In the context of NFTs, metadata is the information that gives tokens unique attributes, e.g. a name, an image, a defining trait set, a description, etc. NFT project developers (and now NFT creators themselves via minting platforms) can choose to host their NFT metadata off-chain or on-chain

Since the reigning NFT hub Ethereum has storage limitations, we’ve seen most projects opt for the convenience and flexibility of off-chain storage to date. Per this method, the NFT itself is essentially a proof-of-ownership token that pings an url to retrieve metadata hosted externally to Ethereum, e.g. a third-party server.  

The main disadvantages of this route is how metadata hosted off-chain is readily alterable and, worse yet, vulnerable to being lost forever if its third-party database shutters without redundancy. These extreme possibilities are significant ones, which is where on-chain metadata storage comes in.

Why on-chain: Despite dealing with more significant storage constraints, on-chain metadata storage ensures that an NFT’s defining attributes live internally within the token itself. Accordingly, on-chain NFTs never have to ping external databases -- they already are directly themselves, containing all descriptive information internally and atop an anti-fragile blockchain like Ethereum. 

In this sense, owning an on-chain NFT is directly owning an asset rather than a proof-of-ownership that’s dependent on external factors, i.e. third parties. As such, metadata hosted on-chain is notably non-alterable once codified and will exist throughout the ages, e.g. as long as Ethereum lives (which we around Ethereum half-seriously joke will be until the heat death of the universe). These are superior assurances for creators who want to guarantee their works will last forever and in self-sovereign fashion. 

On-chain forerunners: The roots of the on-chain art movement can be traced back to CryptoPunks, which Larva Labs released in June 2017. As Larva Labs has previously explained:

The actual images of the Punks are too large to store [on Ethereum], so we took a hash of the composite image of all the punks and embedded it into the contract. You can verify that the punks being managed by the Ethereum contract are [real] by calculating an SHA256 hash on the CryptoPunks image and comparing it to the hash stored in the contract.”

Then the Larva Labs advanced the on-chain movement further in April 2019 with the release of Autoglyphs, Ethereum’s first on-chain generative art project. 

Source: Larva Labs

Projects of note in 2020: The on-chain art movement has picked up steam throughout the year as projects focused on on-chain metadata storage started to gain considerable traction. 

  • On-chain project Math launched on Dec. 30th, 2019, and then two weeks later the project saw its “69” token sell for 1 ETH

  • Launched on Jan. 12th, 2020, the Math-inspired Words project (which used NFT combos to create new word NFTs) saw nearly 10,000 tokens minted in just over one week from its release. 

  • Also launched in January 2020, ChainFaces was an on-chain art contract project that procedurally generated 10,000 cute emoji-like faces from a preset list of characters. 

  • In April 2020, NFT development studio nft42 released Avastars, Ethereum’s first scrolling-based on-chain generative art project. The base image of every Avastar trait combination lives within the Avastars smart contract, from which trait combos are rendered on-demand anytime someone scrolls for, finds, and then mints an Avastar from their browser. 

  • In May 2020, nft42 followed up Avastars with the release of InfiNFT, a minting platform for on-chain NFTs that uses a combination of Ethereum, Arweave, and IPFS to protect creators’ metadata forever. A number of prolific cryptoartists auctioned InfiNFT-minted pieces for the platform’s launch, including Alotta Money, Giant Swan, Hackatao, Micah Johnson, and Pranksy. Artists like Digital and Skeenee have since adopted the platform as among their favored NFT minting venues. 

  • Last month we saw the Art Blocks Platform launch, a new on-chain generative art project lets creative coders easily host generative art series on Ethereum. 

C. Pyrc @PyrcC
Thread 1/6 👇 Why I think
artblocks.io (and @artblocks_io ’s Chromie Squiggle) will be the next big thing in the generative art NFT space. Maybe some of you heard about #CryptoPunks (first generative art project in the #Ethereum blockchain by @larvalabs)…Art BlocksGenerative Content Hosted on the Ethereum Blockchainartblocks.io
  • Notably, the PixelChain pixel art project is currently in the process of going “100% on-chain” via its coming PixelChain Max (PXCM) update, too.

The possibilities are growing: The on-chain art movement may be young, but it’s only been picking up steam recently as more people have been made aware of why minting for the long-term is important. Expect this emphasis on on-chain minting to continue to grow as more projects adopt the principles of on-chain storage and more users become adherents to these values.


Thanks for reading the 10th NFT Humpday Report! Check back this time next week for more excellent NFT ecosystem coverage! Cheers🌠