I’ve seen the whole spectrum of NFT art, from good to bad to downright ugly. In fact, some NFTs are so ugly that they have no aesthetic appeal whatsoever.

So, then why do some ugly NFTs do well and end up being celebrated by their owners as PFPs (social media profile pics) and command high desirability? I’ve deduced why some NFTs are so ugly and boiled down this article into five main reasons for it.

I know you’re curious, so read on. 

So why are some NFTs so ugly? It’s because:

  1. NFTs started, with the first well-known NFTs being ugly. In fact, the first NFT ever isn’t exactly a beauty. From there, these early NFT projects like the Bored Ape Yacht Club and Cryptopunks began to define what an NFT should look like. 
  2. Ugly NFT art can be more comical than aesthetically pleasing and more fitting for a culture of individuals that pride themselves on being “degens.”
  3. With the release of the Mutant Ape Yacht Club NFTs, even more grotesque images began to be celebrated and tied to already successful ugly NFTs. 
  4. Ugly is funny, and funny works well with the NFT and web3 crowd. 
  5. Generative art projects do not typically produce beautiful art.

#1 NFT Art Started as Ugly

It’s incredible how ugly art has taken off in the NFT community, with some of the most hideous art fetching sky-high prices. You may ask yourself, who is paying for these ugly pieces, and why are they interested in them?

It helps if we follow the spectacle back to its origin story – the Cryptopunks and Bored Ape Yacht Club, the most expensive NFT projects on the market.

Back in June 2017, the Cryptopunks NFT collection was established as the first majorly successful NFT, and the art was pretty ugly. It consisted of a 24×24 8-bit-style pixel art image which was grainy at best. However, the collection turned out to be wildly successful because, well, it just wasn’t about the art. It was about the community that Cryptopunks had created, which is one of the main 10 components of creating a successful NFT project.

The Bored Ape Yacht Club has a similar story and follows ugly art trends. The Bored Ape Yacht Club has images with better resolution but is no more attractive than the Cryptopunks.

The Bored Apes are, after all, apes. However, like the Cryptopunks, the Bored Ape Yacht Club built a robust community, to the point where nobody even thinks twice about whether the art is ugly or not. 

These two cornerstone projects paved the way for other NFT projects that would follow and set a standard where “ugly” was not only OK but was celebrated. This is also the reason so many NFTs look the same.

Crypto Punks and recent sale prices.

#2 Ugly Art is More Fitting for “Degen” Culture

A good percentage of people in the NFT ecosystem pride themselves on being NFT “degens” or degenerates, proud to be allocating all their spare time and money to trading JPEGs of monkeys.

This degen culture celebrates gambling on price fluctuations of JPEGs and “apeing in” to their impulse purchases, and in this way, degen culture closely mirrors that of a gambling culture. 

Now, would you expect this same group of people to be celebrating fine art or laughing their heads off at overpriced, ugly PFPs all day long? My money would be on the latter.

It’s simply more fun for this group of people to prop up images that wouldn’t normally pass for art in any major gallery, as trophies of their degen lifestyles. 

This is, at its root, very funny in itself!

#3 The Mutant Ape Yacht Club Brought Ugly to a New Level

The Mutant Ape Yacht Club was a companion project to its parent project, the Bored Ape Yacht Club, which brought ugly to a whole new level. If you thought the Bored Apes were ugly, wait until you see the Mutant Apes. 

The Mutant Ape Yacht Club is a collection of 20,000 apes that were created when the Bored Apes were exposed to mutant serums. These serums took the Bored Apes and turned them into freaks called the Mutant Apes. Not only did the serums change the Bored Apes to be more ugly, but the most prized serums made the ugliest mutants. 

Each Bored Ape owner was airdropped one of 3 serums, which would mutate their ape to varying degrees. The M1 and M2 mutant serums would mutate an ape, but the ape would still be mostly recognizable in its features.

However, the M3 or Mega Mutant serums would morph the treated apes into something so grotesque that the resulting creature was almost unrecognizable from its former self. 

The Mega Mutant serums were the rarest, and as such, the resulting Mutant Apes were just as rare. And in NFT culture, rare is good. What you ended up with was a select few of the ugliest apes being priced way above most of the other Mutant Apes just because of their rarity. This had the effect of people valuing ugly, which ended up translating into numerous other NFT projects. 

Bored Ape NFT vs. Mutant Ape NFT

#4 Ugly is Funny, and This Works Well With the NFT Crowd

The NFT crowd likes to laugh and have a good time, and ugly, overpriced pictures are just funny to talk about. This ties in closely with how NFT degens are inclined to celebrate the obscene but speak more to the funny side of the culture. 

Part of this is due to the fact that NFT degens don’t take themselves too seriously and often laugh at themselves and their NFT-related behavior.

It’s almost as if it’s so ludicrous to be spending large amounts of money on ugly JPEGs that it becomes a farce of its own. 

Even the prices are funny. When you hear of an ugly JPEG that sells for $100,000, that’s funny because it’s ridiculous. When you hear of another JPEG that sells for $500,000, it’s even funnier because the price is that much more ridiculous. 

It’s like, what’s going on here…you can have overly ugly, overly pixelated art sell for big bucks! On the other side of the coin, this is also why so many traditional artists absolutely hate NFTs.

The pricing on NFTs becomes so abstract that many can’t help but just laugh it off. It’s funnier if an ugly picture is worth a lot of money vs. a beautiful picture being worth a lot of money.

Thankfully for some NFT degens, their JPEGs still command ridiculously high prices, allowing them to laugh all the way to the bank!

And if you are looking for ways to buy NFTs when they drop and possibly take your own collection to the bank, I suggest you read: How To Buy NFTs When They Drop in 3 Steps.

#5 Generative Art Typically Isn’t Beautiful Art

Many PFP projects and other NFT collections are the product of generative art, which doesn’t really produce beautiful art. Generative art is an art that has been created by an autonomous system and is the basis of many 10,000 PFP collections. 

Curious how much it costs to mint 10,000 NFTs? Me too. This article shows how much money it takes to mint 10,000 NFTs on Ethereum.

At best, generative art produces PFPs that are abstract but also often ugly. The PFP aren’t really created with an artist’s eye but rather with a computer, so they don’t end up being aesthetically pleasing.  In fact, you can even use an app to create an NFT.

You can’t really penalize those project creators who use the generative method to produce their NFTs, though. This method works, and the NFT crowd has spoken that this style of art is acceptable, so why not continue to use it? It is, after all, much easier to use generative art than to hand-draw 10,000 PFPs themselves.

If the method isn’t broken, then why fix it?

It will be interesting to see if the generative art theme changes in the coming months, as some smaller-size collections start to gain traction and do well.

Ten-thousand count PFP collections that produce unsightly art may be becoming a thing of the past, as many project creators opt for smaller size collections. 

As the collection sizes get smaller, into the low hundreds, for example, this presents an opportunity for artists to manually create the art of their NFTs, which may result in more aesthetically pleasing art.

Time will tell if this better-looking art will fare as well in an NFT world that has historically celebrated the ugly. 

What Defines Ugly NFTs?

Just as beauty is in the eye of the beholder, so is ugliness. By definition, ugly means “unpleasant or repulsive, especially in appearance,” but this still boils down to a subjective judgment call.

You get to decide for yourself. Keeping the definition in mind, you can always ask yourself, how unpleasant or repulsive is this image? And this should give you a good idea of how ugly something is (to you). 

Can NFTs Become Uglier than The Mutant Ape Yacht Club?

The answer is yes, and with any likelihood, someone will push the boundaries to create the ugliest NFTs we’ve ever seen. The Mutant Apes are ugly in a comic-book, grotesque kind of way.

But there are other forms of ugly that are just as off-putting as the comic-book genre. There’s even an NFT collection called “Ugly People,” which proves that ugliness is in vogue in the NFT space. 

Another example is the Grifter NFT collection of 666 by XCOPY. These NFTs are ugly but still desirable.

Grifter NFT Drop

Putting a Bow on Ugly NFTs

So there you have it. Now you know the top 5 reasons why some NFTs are so ugly. They started out ugly, morphed into even uglier renditions, and were celebrated by an NFT culture that thinks ugly NFTs are funny and worth celebrating. An NFT culture with a proud group of “degens” has put ugly on a pedestal and accepted ugly PFP collections that were produced with generative art. 

Ugly NFT art may be here to stay, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that all NFT art has to be unattractive to succeed. Take the NFT project Azuki, for example. Azuki is a 10,000 collection PFP project with beautifully designed art in the anime style. It bucks the trend of ugly NFT art, and it has been tremendously successful. 

At least now you know why some NFTs are so ugly! If you want to know more about NFTs and perhaps start your own collection, then check out these popular articles:

  1. How to Spot a Fake NFT: The Complete Guide
  2. How to Create an NFT Without Coding (Ultimate Guide)
  3. 11 Essential NFT Tips for Beginners