I'm a strong believer that good art makes a powerful statement, while great art asks a powerful question. This feels especially true for NFTs, where the genesis of value is initialized by the artist while the full potential is unlocked through the power of community. It's only natural, then, that I gravitate most towards artists who not only impress the audience but involve them.
One of my favorite people in this space is a friend who goes by the pseudonym yungwknd. I first met him about 3 months ago (which in crypto-time means we've known each other forever), and at the time I knew him only as a coder who worked behind the scenes, building smart contracts for renowned artists in the space like JAKE as a part of the Manifold team. However, it was't until I stumbled upon his delightfully simple, on-chain, and generative collection Carbon RainDrops that I realized he is every bit an artist as he is a coder.
After having had the pleasure of speaking with him about his new project MORE or LESS (which drops September 1) I can confidently say that yungwknd is a part of a new vanguard of crypto-native artists, one whose primary canvas is the blockchain and whose brushstrokes are code.
I am yungwknd, which as you can guess is a pseudonym. The name comes from a time in my life where I only had classes and work Monday-Wednesday and so my weekend would start earlier than most. Giving birth to the name yungwknd, which is pronounced like "young weekend."
I heard about NFTs in the earlier part of the year, January/February just like many others. The first NFT I bought is titled "Strong" and I found it while browsing OpenSea and just really liked the art and the Maya Angelou poem that came with it. After that, I really dove right in. I minted some BGAN Punks, some ENS names, and some Art Blocks pieces.
Anyway, now I'm here! I'm a software engineer by trade, and I really enjoy expressing my creativity through code and art.
From a very high level - MORE or LESS is a social experiment that allows the minter to choose their mint price of either 0.01 ETH or 0.1 ETH. There are 999 total mints available and each person can only mint once. Once sold out, whichever category has the most mints, or "votes", I will donate the amount of ETH in that category and keep the amount of ETH in the other.
To really dive into it, MORE or LESS combines a few different motifs in the NFT community.
From a purely visual-art perspective, it falls into the category of abstract generative art. When you mint, or purchase, a piece from the project, you are buying a single output of a script that generates an SVG string and is stored on-chain.
Another big theme in the NFT space is donating to non-profits and this project is no different. For many projects, the creators decide to donate x% or y amount of ETH. What makes the donation unique here is the decision for how much to donate is out of my hands. For MORE or LESS, I'll be asking the community to decide. I'll expand on that a bit later.
The final motif that this project plays on is the idea of provenance. As you most likely know, transactions on the ETH blockchain are stored immutably forever so we can look back and see who minted what and when they did so. However, that's about as deep as we usually go. For MORE or LESS, I consider the minting experience an important event that I want to highlight. That is why each token comes with metadata that indicates who minted the token, what their "vote" was, and other information about the state of the experiment at that time.
I first had the idea when chatting with a couple of friends. I presented the question to them - "would you rather give me $10 or donate $100" and I got two opposite answers. This got me thinking about what the answer might be en masse. Where would the line be drawn? Would it be at 10/100 or 10/50 or even 10/200?
It seemed like a question that would be perfect for the NFT community, where it could actually be played out instead of just theoretical questions. Just to test the waters, I brought the poll to Twitter:
And the results really shocked me! I was quite surprised that people would rather give me money than donate, even at a factor of 10-to-1. So, that's when I started writing up the code for the project.
The minting mechanics are certainly unique, in that I haven't seen them in any other projects yet. Each person gets the choice to mint at either 0.01 ETH or 0.1 ETH, with no difference in the output of the art. Additionally, there is only one mint allowed per person, sort of like they are choosing to vote to donate more or less. Whichever category gets the most votes, the ETH for that gets donated and I keep the ETH in the less category.
I wanted to find the sweet spot that answers the question I posed to my friends. Early on, I even modeled out the potential results:
In this graph, I color in green what I consider a "community win". What this means is that the total amount donated is more than the total amount that I get to keep. The red of course is the opposite, a "community loss". So what's going on here? Well, the vertical and horizontal blue lines represent a given "vote" winning, having reached 500/999 of the mints. You can imagine that each mint moves us either up or right by one. In the model, if the more category wins, no matter what it's a community win. We'll be donating at minimum 50 ETH (500 x 0.1 ETH), while I get to keep at maximum 4.99 ETH (499 x 0.01 ETH). However, it's a different situation on the less side of things. If nearly the entire NFT community decides to mint at the less price, then we could have a community win. For example, if there are 950 less votes and 49 more votes, then we'll donate 9.50 ETH and I'll keep 4.9 ETH. Somewhere in the middle though, like 700 less votes and 299 more votes means that we'll donate 7.00 ETH and I'll keep 29.9 ETH.
So the math of this project really excited me and I can't wait to see how the community responds!
At first, I actually thought about the art simply being that graph above, in which a dot indicated where your vote fell on the chart. I'm glad that I very quickly abandoned this idea. I knew I wanted the art to be entirely on-chain, so that led me to try out some SVG tutorials. As you can see, there are really just a few simple shapes involved. There are circles, rectangles, triangles, and Bézier curves (lines). I continued just randomly placing them, randomly choosing their colors, etc, until I started getting outputs that I really liked.
One of my favorite traditional artists is Joan Miró. If you look up some of his early Lithographes, a lot of them are very abstract, with just random shapes and lines on the canvas. A quote of his that I think really resonates with me in relation to this project and other generative art projects is this:
When I stand in front of a canvas, I never know what I'm going to do -
and nobody is more surprised than I at what comes out.
I think it really captures the magical experience of minting a piece of art and getting a surprise result that comes out.
The word "provenance" is thrown around a lot in art and NFTs. A quick online search shows one definition as "a record of ownership of a work of art or an antique, used as a guide to authenticity or quality." I think that we as a community do a fine job of tracking the record of ownership for NFTs and this lets us easily answer questions like "is this painting really from that artist?". However, I feel we often miss out on some of the context along the way. With MORE or LESS, I highlight the minting event itself in the metadata. Though this data is accessible for other projects with tools like Etherscan, we rarely see it brought to the forefront of the piece. For each mint, the metadata will show who minted it, whether they paid more or less, and the state of the votes at the time they minted. I'm bringing the provenance, or the story, to the foreground of the piece so that no matter where it goes, the original minter and their decision is up front and center.
It's nerve-wracking! I typically prefer to work behind the scenes to enable other artists to have great success. Putting myself out there like this is difficult and vulnerable. However, it brings me so much joy to see the all the different outputs of the algorithm I wrote along with everything else like the metadata and tech behind it. I want to bring more to the table than just the art or just the code, and I think that this "social experiment" is the best way for me to express my creativity with both code and art. I really hope that people participate and enjoy the experience!
What's next? Well, I plan to take a bit of a break. I started ideating on this in late July and have been working on the project for a bit over a month now and I don't have any concrete plans for a new project immediately after this. However, I'll leave you with one of my favorite quotes (from myself) which is "if you have a million ideas, one of them is bound to be a one in a million idea".
For those who want to stay tuned to what yungwknd has in store, be sure to follow him on Twitter.