Art in Flux: The Power and Potential of Dynamic NFTs
From generative storytelling to time-based media, blockchains potential for dynamic expression enables artists to push the boundaries of the technology as a creative medium.
What is art? The answer to this eternal question is defined and redefined with each new innovation. But while the hybridization of art and technology has given birth to a myriad of new art forms, none quite capture the essence of change and interactivity in our digital zeitgeist quite like dynamic NFTs.
Tracing back to the mid 20th century – with the likes of Max Bense and Fritz Glarner exploring the dynamic interplay between art and technology through abstract kinetic sculptures – the modern format of dynamic art has found symbiosis in NFTs and been accepted by the world’s leading auction houses as the latest manifestation of the art form with an illustrious history.
Unlike their static counterparts, dynamic tokens and their metadata can shift and mutate in response to real-world parameters and data. For the purpose of this article, I am defining dynamic NFTs in the context of digital art, however applications of the technology extend beyond art to a number of industries and utility end-cases — including gaming and the metaverse, digital identity, sports, real estate and fundraising.
Since dynamic tokens are designed to be programmable and responsive to on- and off-chain information, the medium offers artists a rich playground for forging conceptually sophisticated narratives around the culture, politics, economics and philosophies of blockchain, online communities, and the world we live in. Although the concept of a variable artwork interacting with external stimuli is not novel – when coupled with NFTs – the ways in which creators can articulate meaning with responsive systems are staggering.
A current example of this is The Monument Game by Sam Spratt. Best known for his Luci series – which presents an evolving story about the rediscovery of our most ancient human values in a post-historic world – Spratt’s most recent project continues the tradition of generative storytelling by inviting players to win three-converted Skulls of Luci by co-creating new chapters of the lore.
Sam Spratt, The Monument Game, 2023
Collectors can participate in the “IX. The Monument Game” digital painting by adding a final digital varnish of their thoughts through observations, connecting Sam’s story, art, and players under a common system. Following a four-day observation window, the game and auction close, and tickets are minted into NFTs with their observations written into the metadata.
The interactive NFT project is pioneering a new type of dynamic experience in the digital art industry by combining old techniques with new technology to create a communal layer atop of NFT artwork. As Spratt puts it: “Dominion is formed through naming what we see, truth found in consensus.”
Daniel Arsham, Eroding and Reforming Bust of Rome (One Year), 2021
Other artists illustrate how dynamic processes can be used to regulate the temporality of an artwork. In Daniel Arsham’s Eroding and Reforming Bust of Rome (One Year), a bust inspired by an ancient piece from the Louvre’s collection decays and disintegrates within a courtyard expressing the changing seasons, with the cycle perpetually renewing every year. The work is part of a collection of ten sculptures that operate on different time scales, with the final sculpture eroding over a period of one thousand years.
Processes of degeneration have also been used to gamify the ownership of digital assets, adding a layer of interactivity and engagement that is not possible with static NFTs. An excellent example of this is DEAFBEEF’s Entropy series, which “degrades” itself each time the work transfers to a new owner: a deceptively simple but extremely elegant idea, since the digital mirrors the analogue.
DEAFBEEF, Entropy, 2021
Elsewhere, Organic Growth: Crystal Reef transforms static NFTs into a flourishing digital reef scape, where each uniquely individual piece of digital art grows every time it is re-sold. All 10,301 OG:Crystals will become a direct reflection of their owner, with the facets and contours of each work generated algorithmically according to their responsive owner's crypto wallet history. Eventually, the Crystal REEF will be realized as a physical sculpture and displayed in museums and galleries around the globe, bridging the gap between digital and organic processes as well as conventional and NFT art worlds.
Like The Monument Game and Entropy Series, OG:Crystal Reef exemplifies how dynamic NFTs can add a layer of gamification and storytelling to art. This brings an entirely new dimension to the concept of ownership enabled by decentralized technologies, illustrating how collectors can become more than just passive observers, but active agents and co-creators in the evolution of an artwork.
Michael Joo and Danil Krivoruchko, Organic Growth: Crystal Reef, 2021
So far, we have looked at how dynamic processes can be used to create works of art that evolve and erode in response to collector participation, the passage of time and on-chain triggers. But dynamic tokens can also mutate in response to real-world events.
In late 2020, Beeple created the NFT artwork Crossroad, which changed its appearance based on the outcome of the U.S. Presidential election. If the former president, Donald Trump, pipped Joe Biden at the ballot box, the resulting NFT would display an animation of a bloated Trump corpse rotting in a park. And if Trump secured a second term, the NFT would permanently show a clip of Trump running Godzilla-style through a dystopian cityscape. While we finally got rid of Trump, his rotting, graffiti-covered corpse will be forever immortalized on the blockchain and in our minds. Thanks for that, Beeple.
Beeple, Crossroad, 2020
From generative storytelling to time-based media, blockchains potential for dynamic expression has opened up new possibilities for artists to push the boundaries of creativity and produce unique works of art that are alive and evolving.
We believe dynamic NFTs represent a watershed moment in digital art and we are excited to empower creatives with all the data building blocks they need to develop innovative NFT experiences that test the limits of blockchain as an artistic medium.