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10 Must-Know Facts About Autoglyphs

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Oct 19, 2023

Released in 2019, Autoglyphs carved their own place in NFT history, marking the second time their creators achieved such a remarkable feat. Autoglyphs aren't beloved merely due to how they pushed the boundaries of blockchain-based art, however, but due to how they honor the legacy of Generative Art that came before them and much more. Let's dive into 10 must-know facts about this collection.

1. Created by Larva Labs, the creators of CryptoPunks

Autoglyphs were created by the same minds behind CryptoPunks and Meebits, John Watkinson and Matt Hall.

2. The idea occurred to them because CryptoPunks were “flawed”

We often use the term NFT when referring to the art itself, but most NFTs are more akin to deeds certifying you own the art they link to – but which is stored in an off-chain server.
That centralization means that if something were to happen to the server and it went offline, you wouldn’t be able to access the art you own any longer – which would bring that very ownership into question.

The same issue applies to CryptoPunks. While Hall and Watkinson were beyond delighted (and baffled) with how their CryptoPunks experiment turned out, they saw their incomplete decentralization as a flaw and an opportunity to go even further with their next project.

3. The first truly on-chain Generative Art

That’s how they ended up asking themselves: how could they create art that was completely self-contained within the blockchain?

Storing image files within the blockchain would be impractical, to say the least – even a minuscule image would, at best, translate into prohibitively expensive gas fees. At worst, you simply would not be able to store it.

Their answer was not to include an image file at all. Instead, they stored the code that generates the glyph within the contract. 

Even then, both the code and its output had to be small and efficient, imposing even more restrictions. That’s why, rather than a PNG or Jpeg, the code outputs an ASCII representation of the glyph.

4. The code is the art

Whenever you request the art from the blockchain, the code generates an ASCII representation of the glyph from its code and seed.

In addition to the code, the contract includes instructions on how to draw its ASCII output.
In many ways, the code and written instructions are the art. By following them, anyone can render their Autoglyph using any methods, materials, or scale they wish.

5. Inspired by Sol LeWitt

That aspect of Autoglyphs was inspired by Sol LeWitt’s Wall Drawings. 

LeWitt’s famous Wall Drawings are based on instructions and diagrammatic sketches he wrote for others to follow. These works are more akin to a score created by a composer or construction plans drawn by an architect than to a typical painting or sculpture authored by his fellow artists.

As a result, even Wall Drawings based on the same set of instructions will differ. Not only is the result affected by the artists charged with implementing it, but also by the architecture of, and surrounding the “canvas.”

“When an artist uses a conceptual form of art, it means that all of the planning and decisions are made beforehand and the execution is a perfunctory affair. The idea becomes a machine that makes the art.

—Sol LeWitt

6. A homage to early Generative Art

In addition to Sol LeWitt, Autoglyphs were inspired by 60s and 70s Generative Art

The visual aspect of this influence should become immediately obvious if you explore, for example, Michael Noll’s work

It goes beyond that, however – to fulfill their objective of complete decentralization, Hall and Watkinson ended up facing similar challenges with Autoglyphs that those pioneers did with their Generative Art due to the limitations of the computers of the time, making this 2019 collection uniquely suited as an homage to Generative Art’s early pioneers.

7. Out of billions, 512

The algorithm that generates Autoglyphs could, in theory, be used to generate billions of unique artworks, iterating through. While Hall and Watkinson did initially consider this option – essentially allowing everyone to claim an Autoglyph – they ultimately decided against it.

An enormous number of glyphs could have meant broader accessibility, but it would also have affected each artwork’s individuality. Even though each Autoglyph would have been unique, a large number of iterations would have made it more likely for there to be almost identical pieces. 

The Larva Labs duo settled on 512 as a number large enough to explore the breadth of possibilities their code could generate while minimizing the risk of ending up with a final collection with several overly similar pieces.

8. Charitably minted

Unlike CryptoPunks, which were free (only requiring gas fees), minting an Autoglyph cost 0.2 ETH.

The proceeds from the Mint went to 350, an organization focused on driving the shift from fossil fuels to renewable energy sources

Instead of profiting from the Mint proceeds, Hall and Watkinson kept 128 Autoglyphs.

9. Notable sales 

Autoglyph #463 sold for 460 ETH  – $1.58 million at the time – making it the most expensive Autoglyph to date.

Others are not far behind, with Autoglyph #486 selling for $1.56 million and Autoglyphs #403 for $1.51 million – reportedly, more than 10 Autoglyphs have sold for over $1 million.

10. Autoglyph tattoo-sporting Meebits

Many Meebits have tattoos, but a few rare ones have “Autoglyph-style” tattoos. Hall and Watkinson included a myriad of little details for fans to find on their voxel characters, including these Easter Egg references to Autoglyphs.

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