When In Doubt, Keep Creating: Tyler Hobbs and Generative Art

Fidenza creator Tyler Hobbs explains the favorable rise of algorithmic generative art and why we're undergoing a modern Renaissance.

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Background

Mint Season 3 episode 2 welcomes the iconic generative algorithmic artist Tyler Hobbs, who’s most recently known for his work Fidenza.

In this episode, we talk about:

  • 0:19 – Getting started in crypto
  • 3:15 – Thinking like a creative in tech
  • 8:42 – His first mint
  • 10:28 – Art Blocks
  • 14:49 – The Crypto Renaissance
  • 16:03 – The birth of fidenza
  • 23:24 – Getting technical
  • 31:39 – NFTs in the creator economy
  • 35:45 – Fidenza in the future
  • 39:47 – Painting the impact
  • 44:37 – Outro

…and so much more.


Show Notes

I asked Tyler to share some of his early works as a kid. So here they are:


Thank you to Season 3’s NFT sponsors!

1. Coinvise – https://coinvise.co/

2. POAP – https://poap.xyz/

3. Socialstack – https://socialstack.co/

Interested in becoming an NFT sponsor? Get in touch here!


Getting Started in Crypto

Let’s just dive right in. I want to talk about you specifically and start with your background. What were you doing before crypto, and where are you now? 

So before crypto, I was working as an artist and spending a considerable amount of time doing that. Mostly selling my work through my website and selling a lot of prints, doing commissions, commission murals, things like that. Also, I worked some day jobs as a software engineer, which I did enjoy doing. I had a couple of different tech startups here in Austin. But generally, my life was kind of a balance between doing my artwork stuff, doing kind of the day job, of course, normal everyday activities. But post crypto. So I heard about art blocks earlier this year, which I’m sure we’ll talk about, and released Fidenza in June of this year, 2021. That was really my first real NFT drop. And that’s sort of went bananas. People seem to really like that. And since then, everything has been totally different, like living in a different universe now. And I’m really tied up in the crypto world. Like I’ve gotten to meet all these really interesting people. I mean, it’s a wild scene, and there are so many new things happening every day. It’s a struggle to keep up with. I get some really amazing offers for project ideas or collaborations or things like that every day at this point. It’s so cool to get all those opportunities. I can’t keep up with it, and I need help, but I’m really enjoying trying to keep up with it.

All right. So what were you doing at tech startups? Like you’ve been talking about generative art, algorithmic art for years now. I’ve seen like a catalog of you doing speeches, talks, et cetera. What were you doing working at startups and why? 

Well, normally, it doesn’t really pay to be an artist. Maybe that’s a little bit different now with NFTs. But man, to be a full-time artist, let’s say in 2020, you have to grind it out really hard. Like I’ve been working for years to build up my sales number. To build up a network of collectors and fans. And I was doing really well. I felt like I was building a pretty solid base to where I was able to go full time back to creating artwork full-time in February of this year before I did any sort of NFT stuff, and I felt pretty comfortable with that. So I was making it okay. But it can be tough to transition from something like a software engineer salary to an artist salary. I mean, there’s a pretty big difference in pay. Also, I studied computer science. 

Where did you study? 

I studied computer science at the University of Texas at Austin, which is a fantastic school. Yeah, I was working at tech startups. The one that I spent the most time at was a company called data stacks, and I worked on an open-source, distributed database called Apache Cassandra. And I worked on the database itself, sort of the internals of the database engine. I spent a lot of time working on the client drivers, so the Python driver for interacting with the database. So that was a lot of actually really interesting engineering work. It was very challenging, very performance sensitive. There was a lot of a community aspect to it since it’s an open-source project, which I really liked. So overall, it was a really good job. There’s very little for me to complain about with those jobs, which is part of why I think I continue doing it for so long.

Thinking Like a Creative in Tech

How has your time working at startups kind of translated to what you’re doing now? Is there any correlation? 

Yeah, absolutely. When you’re an artist, you’re ultimately also an entrepreneur. The product you’re selling is your own artwork. Sometimes as an artist, it’s not comfortable to think about it that way, but if you’re going to be pragmatic and realistic, I think that’s ultimately the story. And so, working at startups gave me a much stronger sense of how to run a business. And I was lucky enough to be in really early stages at the startups I worked at. So I got a really clear firsthand view of how you think about marketing and sales and accounting and things like I don’t know total addressable market. It’s nice to be able to put on that businessman hat and analyze things through that lens. I definitely have to play a lot of roles. As I said, there’s like a marketing role to it, and as much as it makes me uncomfortable, I have to sometimes sort of put on that marketing hat and look at these things through a marketing lens and say, okay, who’s my audience? Who are my fans? Like who really enjoys this artwork? Who do I want to connect with the most? And so my time working at startups really helped solidify that mindset for me, and also the mindset of sort of being able to tackle any problem that you set your mind to. When you’re at a startup, you encounter all these really unique challenges all the time, and you have no choice but to try to tackle them. Otherwise, your company is not going to make it. So, I think it kind of taught me a little bit of resiliency as well. That’s been really beneficial. 

Can you talk to me a bit about your upbringing? I know behind the scenes, we said you’re a drummer, but how creative were you growing up too? Like when did you start tinkering with software? What’s the story behind that as you grew up?

Sure. I grew up probably a pretty vanilla childhood. I grew up in central Texas. Middle-class. I went to a pretty good school. I was a good kid. I did do a lot of creative activities. I was always drawing and painting. I loved Legos and Play-Doh, and I remember going to a lot of afterschool art classes and painting and things like that. My first encounter with programming. I have an older brother who’s about four or five years older, and he taught himself to program pretty early on, and he was always kind of an inspiration to me. So I think I first started dabbling with programming when I was, let’s say, about 14 or so. I remember writing a Q basic program, one that made a ball bounce around to the screen and another one that played a tune with the little beeper on the computer. And from there, I took computer science classes in high school. And when it came time for college, I wanted to go to art school. I felt a little more strongly about that. But my dad kind of talked me into studying computer science for more pragmatic reasons, which is not necessarily bad advice. And so that’s why I kind of went down that route. But yeah, I’ve always had a little bit more of an independent history. When I was a teenager, I spent the majority of my free time actually skateboarding. That was probably the dominant thing that I did. If I had the athletic ability to be a pro skater, I think that’s probably what I would’ve done, but I just wasn’t blessed in that way. And maybe I didn’t have the full level of insanity that’s required for that as well. But music as well. Yeah, you mentioned drumming. I’ve been playing musical instruments since I was about 10. I think I can play maybe five or six different instruments decently at this point. Drumming is my favorite one. Yeah, I played in some punk bands when I was in high school. And then later on, a little more interesting music. I got into post-rock a lot and played in some post-rock bands. So creativity has always been a huge part of my life. I considered skateboarding to be a really creative activity. And so for me, it’s always just been kind of like a choice of which one of those I want to focus on, and ultimately art kind of won out over skateboarding and drumming. 

So at what point did you kind of become self-aware enough to see that your creative side was merging with your development side?

That was actually a really explicit thing. It didn’t happen by accident. I was working at these tech startup jobs. I enjoyed it, but in the background, I was starting to take art way more seriously. And I was spending a lot of my free time pretty intently trying to learn and create new artwork. I remember hearing advice that artists should try to create work that only they could create. And part of how you do that is by involving as many aspects of yourself and your life and your personality as you can into the artwork. And for me at that time, programming was such a big part of my life that it would have been a mistake not to try to involve it in my artwork in some way. And so I started actively thinking about how I could involve programming in my artwork, and that wasn’t as clear of a thing to do either, as you might think. I had a few missteps. But eventually, I kind of had the idea to create a program that generated a painting. That was my sort of initial thought. Those were kind of the first steps that I took in. I wasn’t really aware of the generative art scene or the history of it at that point. That was just kinda my first step into merging the two, and it went so well right away. It wasn’t polished, but it was interesting right away. I could tell that it was worth investigating. That was about seven years ago, and I really haven’t looked back since. 

I’d be curious to see some of your sketches as a child and see what that was like compared to what you’re creating now. Do you have any of those? 

I have like a lunch bag that I drew on and wrote, like, I love you, mom that’s hanging on my wall. I think I must’ve been four. So I don’t know if you’re going to be able to connect a lot of dots between those two. I’ll dig some up, and we’ll put them in the show notes.

His first mint

Let’s dive more into the crypto side of things. I know that you grew up super creative. By the way, it’s somewhat like me. I got started playing the drums at like five years old. I also doodled, but not to the extent that you did. Unlike you, I only know the drums, and I always still stuck with the drums. Growing up, it was one of those things where my dad, when I told him I wanted to play the drums and I was five years old, and he’s like, what about piano? I was like, I want to play the drums. What about guitar? He’s like, no, I was like, no, not guitar. And then we got a drum set, and the rest is history. I think starting as a creative and then transitioning into crypto, transitioning into NFTs, I think there’s a lot of interesting purview insight. Because you see the world of like the creative side merge with what started as very technical. Very experimentative. Now it’s more creative through NFTs and whatnot. But, you get to see the merge of two different worlds. I want to talk more about that merge with you, but more specifically, you came across NFTs this year through art blocks. What was the first NFT you bought, and if not, was it just one that you listed for sale? 

Yeah, that’s a great question. The first one that I bought, I minted something through art blocks. I want to say it might’ve been sub scape by Matt Doloria, which is a fantastic art blocks release. That was either the first one or something soon after or something shortly before that. However, I’ll say I did do a little test mint on HEN. Mostly because there was a specific show that I wanted to get into, you had to have an NFT in order to get into the show, and although I had this art blocks release coming up, the deadline was earlier than that. So I put something out there without really talking about it in order to get it into the show. So I have a couple of really early things on HEN. 

Art Blocks

So for those who don’t know what art blocks is, can you give a quick breakdown?

Yeah, absolutely. So art blocks is a platform based on top of Ethereum, and essentially they’ve designed a smart contract and a website that enables generative artists like me to do the following. Basically, we can write a program that generates artwork in JavaScript. We actually write it to the blockchain, to the Ethereum blockchain. Then whenever collectors use our blocks, they go to the website interface, and when they click the mint button, at that point, it triggers the script to be run and to generate a new piece of artwork and to generate an NFT that is then instantly transferred to the collector. So at the time of purchase, neither the collector nor the artists or art blocks knows exactly what’s going to come out. Everybody has seen some of the output from the script. So you have a general idea of what you’re going to get, but you don’t know the specifics of it. And the artists also set some basic parameters, like the number of mints. For example, with my project Fidenza, there were 999, and they had a fixed price at the time. Now there are some more complex auction models, but essentially the gist of it is, generative artists can put up these programs that generate artwork and NFTs, and collectors are able to enjoy and purchase.

So can you talk to me more about your aha moment? Do you remember where you were when you said, holy shit, I should be making art here. Everything that I’ve been preaching, this was made for the last few years. Talk to me about that. 

Yeah. I think the exact moment for me was, I saw an archetype program. I think he tweeted about it. This was his big art blocks release. And I’ve been a big fan of his work for years. I’ve been following his work for years. Seeing how he did it for art blocks just instantly sold me on the concept. And I could just tell how perfect of a fit this was regenerative art. And generative art has had such a hard time being monetized in the past, like earning a living for the artists. And this was the first time where it felt like such a good fit between the artists, the collector, kind of the purity of all these outputs coming straight from the program—this totally provable documented way. I was fortunate enough to be able to see he had done his work, and Dimitri Chernick had also done ringers. Just by looking at those two projects, I could tell this was going to be amazing. I think the exact same day that I saw that I put in my application to be on the art blocks program.

That’s pretty big. That’s pretty cool. And how long have you been preaching about generative art? And I only asked that because I literally came across a video of you doing a lecture on YouTube that was dated two years ago. So you’ve been at it for some time.

Let’s see here. I’ve been writing essays about it since I think 2015. Maybe it was 2014. Because I found the ideas and the conceptual aspect of it to be really interesting, I think it’s a whole new design paradigm introducing randomness into how you do design, and it’s about building a system. There are so many interesting aspects of, like, what does the computer mean to the artwork? How is it involved in the artwork? How does it affect our aesthetics? How do we take the outside world and view it through the lens of computers? Like, what’s the relationship there? There are so many interesting aspects to it. So I’ve been trying to write about it and talk about it at conferences for years now. I think, let’s see, I did a strange loop talk called “how to hack a painting” in 2017. It was about a watercolor algorithm that I designed that a lot of people found to be kind of inspiring. I did that to show them a little bit about what generative art means. But all the way to this day, I continue to write essays. I wrote a couple this year that I feel pretty proud of. There’s not a lot of thought leadership in the generative art community and from a perspective of thoughtful analysis of what the word means, how it’s different from what preceded it, and where it has the potential to go. Art critics have sort of distanced themselves from this medium for decades now. Very few of them have any idea what’s going on here. And so I think it’s kind of up to people in my position. Like artists who actually know what’s going on to try to educate about it, and evolve and advance our view of what’s possible and what’s going on. That’s part of why I write those essays. To help educate collectors and other artists as well. 

The Crypto Renaissance

I want to pivot for a minute and talk about this creative Renaissance. Some call it a Renaissance, and I’d love to hear your point of view. Are we in the middle of a Renaissance? 

Oh, I would be surprised if we weren’t. This is basically the first time that digital artists have ever been able to earn a living creating their artwork. Not just generative artists, but digital artists in general. Usually, that was a sentence to poverty. And digital art is so important. So much of our lives are digital now. We spend so much time in front of computers. You and I are talking through a computer right now. And you probably spent the six hours before this looking at a computer, and I’ll probably spend the next six hours looking at a computer. Digital art is created and exists in a realm that we spend a lot of our time on now. And I think it’s so important to bring that artistic influence into the digital realm and to value it there just as much as we value it in the physical realm. So this has been such an important opportunity. Now that digital artists actually have the opportunity to focus on this work and earn a living from it, I think the results are going to be absolutely incredible. So it’s still early days, but as I said, I would be incredibly surprised if this wasn’t the start of a sort of Renaissance. 

The Birth of Fidenza

It’s cool. My earliest interaction with NFTs started in 2017 with crypto kitties. And I would argue that maybe that was a lot of other people’s entrance into NFTs, but I never did anything about it. I was in college at that time. I was just taking my first blockchain course, learning about smart contracts and even programming a little bit, or at least attempting to. It wasn’t until October, probably also September of last year, September 2020, where it really started kicking in. I finally understood what this media was. And then I saw artists doing really cool things with it. And then I saw musicians monetizing and fractionalizing their songs with it. And then I saw people who otherwise wouldn’t have made a dime off their work, becoming hot shots online. It’s almost as if the stigma of the starving artist was starting to decline, but only for a certain group of people, maybe not for everybody. Cause a lot of people are trying to become NFT artists and do their thing, and I’m sure everybody has their own unique approach. For you specifically, Fidenza is something that stood out to me. I saw it trending on Twitter, and the likes of the founders of Three Arrows Capital talking a lot about it made me absolutely fall in love with the work as well as other people. And I got to tell you it’s super unique and not to toot your own horn. I really enjoy looking at your stuff. I’ll tell you that. I love the color palettes that you use. And I think it’s super neat. My next question is, how did we get there? How did we get to this style of art? How did you get to the point where you were inputting something and outputting another, and it was outputting another thing? You’re like, wow, this is it. This is Fidenza. This is me. Talk to me about that. 

Yeah, absolutely. Fantastic question. So Fidenza did not come from a vacuum. It is absolutely the culmination of years of work. With all of my work, I tend to use parts and pieces of previous algorithms. One of the amazing things about this medium is that you can do that so easily. And so some of those pieces that I’ve reused a lot one that I’ve written about is called flow fields. This is not necessarily something that I came up with. It’s kind of a general algorithm that some other artists use as well, but it’s something that I find very special, and I’ve had a lot of creative luck with it. Let’s put it that way. And so that’s sort of the basis of the Fidenza algorithm. And I’ve been experimenting with flow fields for about four years now, and I’m just trying everything I can think of really to see how it looks and to create something new. During that time, I’ve also been experimenting with different color palettes and building my taste for colors. That’s not something that comes easily. I think every artist has to discover their own set of colors that works for them. It takes a long time to find those color relationships that are harmonious or that offer the types of interests that you enjoy. So those sorts of things built up. Over the years, I’ve been influenced by so many artists, particularly a lot of painters; honestly, my biggest influences, I would say, are painters. So I think you can look at, for example, there’s a particular set of Kandinsky paintings that I think are probably pretty influential with Fidenza in terms of the color palette and kind of the rhythm and spacing of the shapes and the use of negative space. But yeah, there are so many different artistic influences that have all played subtle roles in shaping Fidenza as well. I think if you look at my past work and trace it up. I think you’ll see that chain of influence and how those ideas evolved, and how I was able to build on them. I think it’ll continue to go that way. I don’t plan to do any sort of like Fidenza 2.0, but all those ideas are still available and in play for my future work as well. I think it’s just been sort of the culmination of all these parts and pieces that have stacked up. They all kind of came together at the right moment and sort of the stars aligned. I got lucky that I had the right algorithm ready to go at the right time for Fidenza to be a thing.

Well, one thing that’s super unique about Fidenza, and I guess your work in general, is the aesthetic portion behind it. And one thing that you do really well is turning aesthetics into code. What does that mental model look like? How does that work in your head? Do you know what I mean? Like, paint that for me. How do you turn aesthetics into code? 

Yeah, that’s the real challenge, isn’t it? It’s so interesting with generative art. So I’m going to compare and contrast with painting a little bit. When you create a painting as an artist, you have an internal sense of aesthetic, and you kind of learn to follow your intuition when you create a painting. Sometimes you’re explicitly thinking about, like, I don’t know, leaving a particular amount of margin or leaving more space at the bottom or not making things top-heavy or focal points or whatever. But by and large, you’re following your intuition, and you’re saying, like, let me try this. Does this look good? Or does this look bad? If it looks good, I’ll keep it. If it looks bad, I’m going to try and change it. So you’re making all these sorts of micro decisions. Based on this loose internal aesthetic guide that you have. When you’re a generative artist, you can’t do that. You have to make everything much more explicit in the sense that it has to go into the code somehow, especially with something like Fidenza, where there’s no room for curation. Anything that comes out of the program might end up in the hands of a collector as a finished work. So you have to do your best to figure out why you have a particular aesthetic, why you enjoy something looking a particular way, and you try to turn that into kind of a set of guidelines. Now with generative art or most of it, especially something like Fidenza, the program is not an explicit set of instructions to generate one image. You’re designing a whole system or a whole program that can generate sort of a realm of different artwork. There’s randomness that’s very carefully mixed into the program at a kind of a structural level so that each time you’re on the program, you get something different. As a result, the program becomes a really loose set of guidelines rather than an explicit design for one image. You start thinking, generally, a lot more systematically about those aesthetics. You start thinking a lot about the relationship between the components, and you start thinking about probabilities. I spend a lot of time fine-tuning probabilities. So there’s a lot of functions that are dedicated to picking colors or shapes. Those will have probabilities of selecting different colors. The probabilities of each of those are very fine-tuned. Sometimes they are influenced by things like proximity to other colors or the size of the shape, or the position of the shape. You do your best to come up with these rules that might, on average, make it look better. But you also have to be careful not to stifle the program. There’s a lot to be said for this property of emergence, which is when something happens that you don’t expect, right? So these programs have relatively simple rules, but sometimes the randomness and the rules interact in a really unexpected way, and these really cool results emerge. If it’s at all possible as a generative artist, you want to allow room for that emergence to happen. So there’s a careful tension between trying to lock down the program so that it only has sort of good output and still leaving enough breathing room so that this sort of emergence can happen. It’s really tough to achieve both of those at the same time. 

Getting Technical

I gotta be honest, you lost me, but listen, I’ll take your word for it. What I imagine, please correct me if I’m wrong, is when you’re looking at your screen or screens, and you’re developing these probabilities, writing this code, is it just like you have a terminal, and then you have like what the output would look like, and you’re constantly changing different variables until it looks like what you want it to look like?

Yeah. More or less. Basically, what I’m looking at is a screen full of code. Like take your stereotypical hacker on a movie, and that’s basically what I’m looking at. And then, yeah, I have a second window that has the output from the program. And so I change some code, I rerun it, and the image updates and I’m able to tell whether it looks good or not. I repeat that cycle over and over again, hundreds of times while working on a new program. 

What goes into choosing the probabilistic color palettes that you choose and that you’re after? How do you find that inspiration? Where does that come from? 

Yeah, that’s a great question. It’s really tricky. Sometimes I have sort of sets. Sets of colors and balances that I’ve used before that tend to work, and I’ll use those as a starting point. So like with Fidenza, the most likely color palette, whilst it is the main color palette, it’s the Lux color palette. This is the one that kind of has a cream background and a lot of color variety. There are about 16 different colors involved in it. Those, I started with a core set of colors that I really enjoy working with. So some reds, some yellows, some pinks, particular shades of blue. I was just looking for ways to expand that and so adding colors that didn’t conflict with what was there. And so sometimes that means adding more, you know, more neutral colors in order to add variety without a sort of turning it into a giant rainbow. So I might, in that case, add Browns or tans, or like a really desaturated yellow or something like that. In other cases, for other color palettes, maybe I had more specific thoughts. So another Fidessa one, there’s the rose palette. For that one, I was really thinking about a Rose Bush. I think I’d absolutely like sort of floral combinations in the sense of the tones of the foliage and kind of the depth you get there. Then just these pops of the really saturated reds and pinks and peach colors. So sometimes, I have maybe a physical reference that I’m at least thinking about. I don’t really ever use a photo reference. I never take colors directly from somebody else’s work. But sometimes I’ll think about things. I’ll think about a sunset or a landscape or a Rose Bush and Kind of use that as a conceptual starting point for the color palettes. 

Do you know what I think about when I see your work? It’s actually so funny that you tell me your background. I don’t think you mentioned this live, but you told me behind the scenes that you were a jazz drummer, right? Your art really reminds me of jazz music for whatever reason. And you use certain keywords to describe the curves and straightness and the edginess and whatnot. So forgive me if I butcher it, but I imagine the one specifically with, I think, the Lux color palette or the tan background. That really reminds me of jazz music. It really reminds me of all the curviness on how everything is literally about to touch each other and how that feels, but it just fits. It works. It looks, and it feels good. And when you’re listening to jazz, it’s so experimentative. It’s so out there, but it gets you thinking, it gets your curiosity going, and it’s weird. Is there any correlation?

I think about the relationship between music and visual art all the time. I love that you brought up that connection. I think it’s a fantastic one. I mean, so for people that aren’t familiar with jazz, kind of the way it works is there’s usually a set of standards. So there’s like one or two or 300 songs that basically every jazz musician knows, but the part that they know is like, it’s kind of like the intro and like maybe like the chords for the chorus. Then so they’ll start out. They have that structure just to get started. That’s the standard part of it. Then there’s all this room for improvisation in the middle, and that’s where they take solos and do whatever they want to do, really. So it’s this really interesting blend of structure, and let’s call it chaos or creativity. Generative art is very much the same way. It’s very much, at least for me, very much a blend of that order and chaos. I love taking that structure and then just bending it and warping it and seeing what direction it can go when you inject that kind of chaotic element to it. So yeah, there’s, there’s a big parallel with jazz there. So I love that you spotted that out. 

Who were some of your favorite jazz artists, whether they be individual players, groups, or generally?

Let’s see here. I mean, maybe this is too cliche, but miles Davis has always been huge for me. Let’s see. Lately, I’ve been listening to a lot of Jack Wilkins, who was a jazz guitarist. A lot of bill Evans, who’s a great pianist. Some of my favorite drummers, I’m going to say probably Tony Williams, Mel Lewis a lot as well. That’s not going to mean anything to anybody, unfortunately, so I won’t keep going, but I love some contemporary stuff as well. Makaya McCraven is super cool because they take jazz, and they start to blend it with this like real electronic computer influence. So there’s a lot of parallel with generative art. 

Do you listen to jazz, or did you listen to jazz, or what type of music, if any, did you listen to when you were creating Fidenza? 

I’m certain I listened to jazz. I tend to listen to instrumental music. It was probably either jazz or post-rock. I listen to a lot of Spanish language basically because it’s a little easier to kind of have in the background in my head. 

If I could name one song that reminds me of Fidenza, it starts like standard experimentation and giant steps. I’d say that’s a good comparison for me. At least subjective. 

No, I like that. I’m going to need to listen to that while looking at the artwork now. 

I wanna pivot more and talk about the creator economy with you. Because I think you’re the epitome or not the epitome, but you’re a good example of people tapping into their creative side and taking it one step further and being experimentative and exploring your medium. For example, your base and your foundation growing up or in your early career was software engineering, working with startups. You build traditional and non-traditional products for companies. But you always had your creative side. You still practice what you preach. You still did the conferences, you still talked about generative art, and it wasn’t until you met the medium of NFTs where everything I feel like kind of at least started to sink, and here we are today on this podcast. And I think you’re a good example of maybe there’s a lot of software engineers out there that have yet to tap into their creative side and experiment more. How can we get more developers to tap into their creative side? 

Wonderful question. First of all, I think you’re spot on. I think programmers, in general, are a very creative bunch. I mean, when you’re programming, there’s not a set way to tackle any problem. There’s always a huge number of trade-offs and a huge number of options, and coming up with those designs is a very creative enterprise. So I think there’s a huge potential for programmers to get involved in a more creative medium. Just like you say, whether that’s a visual art, whether that’s music, whether that’s film, architecture, textiles, the list goes on and on and on. I think there’s a couple of aspects to how we can get more people doing that. First of all, it’s just showing those people the opportunity. So I get emails literally every day from software engineers saying they saw my artwork or they listened to one of my talks or they read one of my essays, and they had a mind-blowing experience when they realized that they could take this skill that they’ve honed for years and they could use it towards creative personally fulfilling means or ends, I should say. I think part of it’s just creating that awareness that this is even an option. I think the second part would actually be kind of going the opposite direction. So making people in those fields, let’s say architecture and textiles and whatever, making them aware that programming is a technique that they could use for their own work because it’s so, so powerful. It almost doesn’t matter what you apply. There are exciting things that you can do whenever you involve programming in your field. So I think making the tools more accessible, making the education more widespread so that more people have programming skills will play a role, and just creating some opportunities for crossover, like allowing software engineers to pair up with these people in their existing industries. I think all those things will help to unleash more creative power around computation. 

NFTs in the Creator Economy

How do you see the future of NFTs kind of transforming the creator economy as we know?

Big question. I think that there’s a chance that it changes the relationship that artists have had with existing institutions. So specifically, I’m thinking of galleries and museums. People have played a gatekeeping role in some ways. Gatekeeping has a strong negative connotation, and I don’t necessarily mean it in that way. I think they bring a lot of value in terms of bringing an open-minded and educated background to evaluating artists and doing their best to expose what they consider to be the best work to collectors. But definitely, NFTs create the opportunity for a much more direct relationship between collectors and artists, and that can be healthier. In some ways, it’s probably not the right model for everybody, but I think that’s a possibility. I’m really interested to see how DAOs play out long-term. Like I’ve been hearing about DAOs funding feature films and new style museums and funding new work by artists. That’ll be really interesting to see. Man, it still feels so early, and everything is changing so fast that even being in the middle of it, I have a hard time predicting where it’s gonna go. I’ll just say overall, I have really positive expectations for the impact of NFTs on artists and other creators.

Why do you think collectors woke up to the idea and value behind generative art and algorithmic art all of a sudden? Because you’ve been doing that for years, right? Do you think it’s because of the art blocks platform? Do you think it’s partly because of the timing of NFTs and people looking for pieces and one-on-ones? What is the explanation here for why the world is waking up to this today? 

That’s a great question. Behind the scenes, I felt like the energy for generative art has been building over the last few years. So just to give a quick history lesson, generative art has existed since the 1960s. And it was pretty rudimentary back then, but basically, since then, it’s been panned by critics and mostly ignored by collectors. Right now, we’re on what I think is fair to call the third wave of generative art. And so I would put artists like myself Dmitri Chernick and Matt Deloria and Alexia Andre, and so on and so forth, in sort of a third wave where I personally feel like the quality of the work has gone up a lot. I think we’re starting to get a more diverse set of backgrounds, focusing on creating generative art. So I think there’s more interesting artwork for one. I think that NFTs have essentially made collecting digital work palatable. Like you know, everybody jokes about buying a JPEG or whatever, but collecting digital art in 2016 literally meant buying a JPEG. Like you would charge your credit card, and they would email you a JPEG, right? Like it’s just not satisfying. There’s something deeply not satisfying about that, and for whatever reason, NFTs changed that. Like we have built a social consensus that owning an NFT means something, and when that social consensus exists, almost nothing else matters. If we all say it means something, then it means something. So I think people feel empowered to collect NFTs. I think they feel that it’s meaningful now. I think they enjoy that it goes directly to the artists in most cases. I think that it creates so much more of a community now. Everybody can see who’s holding all of the pieces from an artist. You can see exactly who bought and sold and for how much. And you can trace the history of every individual piece, and with something like generative art, it almost kind of for like something like Fidenza, like a long-form generative algorithm. It almost builds a community itself. Like there’s a set of Fidenza holders that have overlapping interests, and they sort of all meet through the artwork, and it builds a community pretty naturally. There’s a real culmination of factors that it feels like almost overnight have really enabled generative art to finally have a moment in the sun.

How do you imagine the future of your creator economy? Your personal economy forming and manifesting over time? 

Oh, you’re essentially asking, like, what do I see for my future? 

Fidenza in the Future

Yeah. But, but in a sense, where, because now you’re at the core of ownership, right? The core monetization, direct to the buyer. You’re now developing a unique relationship and unique communication channel with your collectors and the rest of the world who’s watching, which over time will manifest. You’ll build an even bigger audience. At least, I’m betting on that. You’ll build an even larger collector base. You’re basically redefining what it means to be a creator. You’re building your own micro-economies essentially, right? How do you see that kind of forming and transforming, and manifesting over time? 

Oh, man. I wish somebody could tell me that. Here are my main goals. It’s easier for me to talk about what I would like to see happen. First of all, I like to make artwork, and I like to try to make good artwork. That’s something I think about every day. What steps can I take that will help to make sure that I make good artwork? I’m definitely interested in the quality of it and trying to do something new and trying to just keep myself interested. Like that’s why I started making art in the first place. And I think it would be really foolish for me to put that aside. Like I’m doing my best to keep that front and center just because I love doing it, and it makes me really happy to make artwork. So whatever helps me to make artwork is kind of at the front. And second, I would say I really do love the community aspect of it, and I want positive outcomes for the community. I’m hoping that that involves learning. I’m going to do my best to help to educate people about generative art, about what makes it interesting, about what other artists are doing great work, and maybe just about, you know, the history of artwork in general. Just helping to educate people and get people interested in artwork is a beautiful thing. I love helping to grow a community that has positive vibes. Maybe that sounds naive or whatever, but anything we can do to just make happy places where we get to just be friends and hang out and enjoy things is awesome. Like there’s no reason that we can’t do that. I’m sure there’ll be challenges, but I would love to help cultivate that sort of sense of positive community as well. Maybe a community of giving back and being charitable. That’s something I think about a lot as well and have plans for. I think that’s what I would like to see the most are those things, and who knows what sort of financial things will happen to affect that. That’ll go however it goes. I think as long as we keep our eye on the important goals that we can tolerate sort of whatever else happens along the way.

Part of your important goals, the community side, and part of growing a community is increasing the amount of collectors that collect Fidenza, and part of increasing the amount of collectors I could argue is also the fractionalization of Fidenza. Does seeing your piece fractionalized excite you? Does that scare you? Does that say yes, more people get to have a piece of my vision and what I’m creating? Like what, what does that mean? 

 It’s such a weird new experience that I never imagined people hunting fractions of my artwork before until this year. So I haven’t had time to develop a full set of thoughts on it. It is strange not to have one specific owner for a piece of your work. There’s definitely probably a part of me that’s coming from a traditional sense that wants to see just a single owner of the work, maybe hoping that they take care of it in some way. I mean, it’s silly with digital work, but there’s some part of my brain that’s telling me that. Then I also think about it, and it is democratizing the work in the sense that it’s allowing for communal participation in any sort of financial upside. I really try not to think too much about the financial upside and all that, but I’m sure that for collectors, that’s part of the equation for them or at least some of them. So yeah, I’m well aware that Fidenzas are out of the price range for many people. Like, I couldn’t really buy one of my own. Like it would be a stretch for me. So I’m well aware of that. If there is a financial upside, I don’t know that art is necessarily like a great investment strategy necessarily, right? Like it’s artwork. But if there’s a financial upside, I guess allowing regular people to participate in it too is a good thing. So yeah, it’s a weird thing, but overall I think there are some positive aspects to fractionalization. 

Painting the Impact

That’s a good way to look at it. I think just because you talked about the financial side, I want to ask you one thing. But when you saw one of your pieces for the first time get sold for seven figures, what was that feeling like to you? 

Man, I feel like I’ve been in Wonderland for like months. It’s just been a daily progression of things that I can’t believe stacking on top of each other. I feel like I left reality a long time ago now at this point. And so you know, like a seven-figure sale was just like another wild thing on the list. I don’t even know if the impact of it has fully sunk in yet because it’s so far from what I expected to happen this year. Yeah, I mean, it puts me in a small group of very fortunate artists. I’m very fortunate to be in this position. Absolutely. I believe my work is good, but there’s a lot of artists out there that have fantastic work and don’t get the same sort of opportunity. And so, I feel incredibly privileged to be in this position. I don’t know. Hopefully, I can do something good with that. That’s all. 

I love to hear it. Pre NFTs, when you are creating your pieces, did you ever feel at the moment like, why am I doing this? Like, what’s the point? Like people don’t get it. Should I just stop and focus on something else? Did you ever have those doubts, those fears? Can you walk me through that? 

Yeah, absolutely. I said this a little bit earlier, but pre NFT, making it as an artist is a real grind. I had lots of months with no sales. I had lots of commissions that went poorly. Clients didn’t like the work. I got turned down from numerous shows and other things that I had to apply to after working as hard as I could for years on something just kind of barely scraping along. Yeah, I absolutely questioned things and kind of wondered if I should just go skateboarding instead and just enjoy my life a little bit more. But ultimately, I mentioned that doing artwork makes me happy, and anytime that I stopped making artwork for better or for worse, I would get unhappy. And so I always went back to making the artwork, and I was fortunate enough that there were other people out there that believed in me. I had a core set of collectors and friends that enjoyed my work and supported me in every way they could. And all those small positive interactions stacked up and kept me going and made me feel like I actually had a chance and that I was on the right track. So even though I did have doubts, I also felt well supported and had some faith in myself.

Powerful. Super powerful. Do you ever take a minute to think about that and reflect on those days and kind of see how that changed? It feels like overnight, a lot of people would say. I only asked that because you’re saying every single day just beats the next, and you see seven-figure sales. Not to talk about the money, but more about the awareness that you’re creating around this type of art and the level of appreciation that people are having for it. Back in the day, you went through so many days where it was just like, like, what the hell? Or at least from what you’re telling me. And I only highlight that because it’s interesting to hear you as a creator, you as an artist to just go through that wave. Seeing where you are today, it’s really beautiful. 

 I hope that that maybe provide some motivation for other artists that are out there. I mean, I think it would be extremely unrealistic for me to promise anywhere near what I’ve been lucky enough to experience this year. But, if you do keep grinding it out, I mean, you will catch a break sooner or later. Not always huge breaks, but there will be something there. And again, it’s kind of a cliche saying, but luck is at the intersection of preparation and opportunity, right? So like if I hadn’t had everything ready to go for this Fidenza algorithm at the same time that art blocks were coming up, then Fidenza never would have been the thing that it was. As I’ve already admitted, I did get very lucky with that, but if I hadn’t been preparing for years, then I wouldn’t have even been able to be lucky. If you’re an artist or a creator, you sort of have to just accept it might take some time and just keep working and make smart decisions every day, and hopefully, those add up to something positive for you. 

I’m going to ask you this final question. What can we expect next for you? Are we thinking Sotheby’s or Christie’s? What are we thinking over here in terms of art?

No, I don’t think about auction houses or anything like that. I have announced that I plan to put out more work this year. I haven’t said anything about it yet, but what I’ll say is For this year, this will be a little bit smaller projects. So I’m not looking to like one up Fidenza this year.

Which, by the way, I don’t think is in your control per se. Right? 

But I do plan to continue working on more long-form generative work like Fidenza. I have some ideas that I’ve been playing with around that which I’m really excited about. Mostly I think about just ways to create new artwork that I think is going to be interesting and try to do the best work that I can. There’ll be new work; hopefully, it’ll be good. I think it’ll be good. Other than that, you’d have to wait and see. 

Do you have a date for when the next piece is going to come up?

I have not announced any dates yet. 

Okay. I’m trying to get some alpha here, man. It’s all good, man. It’s all good. Before I let you go, shout yourself out. Where can we find you? Where can we learn more about your pieces? Give us the show. 

So pretty much everywhere online. My handle is @tylerxhobbs. So on Instagram and Twitter, I’m @tylerxhobbs. My website is tylerxhobbs.com. Those are pretty much the three places to go. I have a discord channel now as well, and I hang around the art block scene as well. So that’s pretty much where you can find me, and I hope to see some of y’all and meet some of y’all sooner rather than later. 

Awesome. What a good way to end Tyler. Thank you so much for being on Mint, and I hope to have you on again soon. 

Thank you so much, Adam. This has been. Awesome. 

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