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  • Writer's pictureTingbin Tang

From Duchamp to NFTs

A lot of people do not understand contemporary art; a lot of people do not understand NFTs either.

Duchamp signed the name "R. Mutt" on a porcelain urinal, named it "Fountain", and it become a representative of contemporary art. But, as a readymade piece, many people do not understand the value of such an art piece, as well as many other contemporary artworks. People may say, I can buy such a piece of product from the merchant myself, and sign a name on it, why would I want to spend tons of money to buy a contemporary art piece? What makes contemporary artwork valuable?

The same story happens to NFTs. The majority of people still do not understand the value of NFTs, and think they might be scams (some of them maybe are); just like many majorities of people today still think contemporary art pieces are garbage (some of them maybe are).

1. Uniqueness - why NFT?

Nowadays more and more art forms have become digital, however, the trading of such art forms encountered the same challenge when we were discussing how to make money digitally. Which is, how do we prevent people from keep reproducing the same copy? How do we prevent fake copies and avoid trading fake copies? That is how blockchain was introduced and as a result bitcoin was invented.

NFTs, non-fungible tokens, are created the same way as cryptocurrencies, which means it is also based on blockchain technology. But it also has some special features other than cryptocurrency. For cryptocurrency, your one bitcoin is the same as my one bitcoin; for fiat currency, it is the same, your one dollar can be used to exchange or traded for my one dollar. But for artwork, it has to be non-fungible, it has to be unique.

Blockchain makes every trade and exchange traceable. Everyone can make a copy of Duchamp's artwork, but the original one is "Fountain" and has great value; the copies are just normal urinals. Everyone can make a digital copy of NFT artwork or music work, but only the authentic copy has value.

With the advantages of blockchain (most people nowadays are using Ethereum smart contract blockchain, a distributed public ledger that records transactions), we even no longer need to hire those so-called experts or authority agencies to use all kinds of equipment and methods to determine if the work is original or a duplicate and have them provide a Certificate of authenticity. NFTs are individual tokens, they already have valuable information with unique data stored in them. It is easy to verify and validate their ownership and every exchange/transfer/trade.

2. Originality - how to value?

One thing that I love about contemporary art so much is that Contemporary Art values originality the most. Contemporary artists have been racking their brains to break through traditional art, they introduced creative ways to redefine the media, the object, the form, the style, and the way of expression. Contemporary artists no longer have to use brush and paint, they also expanded the border of canvas and given it unlimited imagination. They no longer follow the traditional definitions of art or beauty, and they no longer try to learn a master's technique or style. Instead, every contemporary artist is doing their best trying to be unique. Contemporary arts revolute traditional ways, bringing so many new media, new methods, new theories into this field and making it extremely exciting and flourishing. Contemporary art also no longer forces artists to be trained for years just to practice their craftsmanship, so they can easily get rid of those unnecessary imprison, and be able to express their feelings freely.

Because of this nature, originality has become even more significant than ever before. If Duchamp has put up a urinal as his way of expression, then no any other artist can repeat that. The second urinal on the wall will be just a piece of garbage. If Pollock had poured or dripped liquid household paint onto a canvas, then the second person doing that is just an idiot.

So how do we value NFTs? I would say, if the uniqueness issue has been solved, then the originality is an issue we need to determine. Has the creator of that NFT piece been creative and has its own originality? Or is that just a simple copy of a cartoon image or a silly video piece? From my understanding, I think to make the NFT market more authoritative and really develop a healthy ecosystem, we should invite more and more contemporary artists into this platform, besides letting more and more original artists join this wave, but also put the valuation of innovation and revolution into consideration.

Many famous contemporary art pieces, they are so pricy, so valuable, it is because they have brought a new concept, a new definition, a new way of expression into this field; when it comes to digital and comes to NFTs, I think we should base on the same.

3. Awareness - should I trade?

One question people ask the most is that, should I trade? When they see some NFT pieces have been sold for unbelievable prices and heard so many rumors that some people have made a great fortune out from those trading, then they will be seduced, and cannot wait to enter such a new market.

In order to answer that question, I would ask the person, have you ever collected contemporary art pieces? If not, then why? Maybe because you feel you do not understand contemporary art, you cannot judge its value, and you do not know how to appreciate contemporary art. For those who answered yes, then I will ask, so what made you decide to collect contemporary art? How did you judge the value?

For those who are seduced, but still do not exactly understand the value of that NFT piece, I would suggest they be cautious. If you do not want to be "chives", and be harvested by others, then I suggest you do more research and understand how to value an art piece first. Blockchain makes you do not need to worry about its uniqueness, but it is your own responsibility to figure out if this artist has his/her own originality, has his/her own historical contribution, innovation, or even revolution in the art field. Like many art collectors, you can collect an art piece despite its price simply because you like it and you do not care about the price; or you plan to make money out of it, and you know how to value an art piece and understand the historical status it has made.

All in all, I still think NFT is a great solution for the digital art market, and I am sure it has and will bring more energy into this market, and yet, I have to warn the amateurs not to be chives and rush into the market. I also would like to invite more and more creative, innovative, original contemporary artists to embrace NFTs.


Note: From below is an article with the same topic I have requested ChatGPT written for me.

From Duchamp to NFTs: The Evolution of Art and its Digital Transformation

By ChatGPT

The art world has always been known for pushing boundaries, challenging conventions, and questioning the status quo. This has been evident throughout history, from the Impressionists’ use of light and color to the Surrealists’ exploration of the subconscious mind. However, in recent years, the evolution of technology has sparked a new era of transformation in the art world. From Marcel Duchamp’s ready-mades to NFTs (non-fungible tokens), digital technology has brought new opportunities and challenges to the art world.

Marcel Duchamp and the Conceptual Revolution

In 1917, Marcel Duchamp created a piece of art that would change the course of art history forever. Titled “Fountain,” it was a urinal that Duchamp signed with the pseudonym “R. Mutt” and submitted to an art exhibition. This piece was the ultimate expression of Duchamp’s philosophy that art is not necessarily about the object itself, but rather the idea behind it. He coined the term “readymade” to describe everyday objects that could be turned into art simply by the act of an artist declaring them as such.

This conceptual revolution in art opened up a new world of possibilities, where artists could create art that challenged traditional notions of beauty, skill, and craftsmanship. It also paved the way for the digital transformation of art.

The Digital Revolution and the Rise of NFTs

The digital revolution has brought about a fundamental shift in the way art is created, distributed, and consumed. The internet has enabled artists to reach a global audience, and social media has provided a platform for artists to showcase their work and build a following.

In recent years, the rise of NFTs has further disrupted the art world. NFTs are digital tokens that represent ownership of a unique digital asset, such as a piece of art or a tweet. They are stored on a blockchain, which provides a transparent and secure way to verify ownership and authenticity.

NFTs have opened up new possibilities for artists, allowing them to monetize their digital creations and reach a new audience. They have also raised questions about the value of digital art and the role of authenticity in the art world. For example, in March 2021, a digital artwork by Beeple sold for $69 million at a Christie’s auction, making it the third-highest sale by a living artist.

The Future of Art and Technology

The evolution of art and technology is ongoing, and the future of the art world is likely to be shaped by new advancements in technology. Virtual and augmented reality are already being used by artists to create immersive experiences, and artificial intelligence is being used to create new forms of art.

However, as with any technological advancement, there are also challenges and concerns. The digital transformation of art raises questions about ownership, authenticity, and the role of the artist in a world where anyone can create and distribute art.


From Duchamp’s readymades to NFTs, the evolution of art and technology has brought about new opportunities and challenges in the art world. The digital revolution has enabled artists to reach a global audience and create new forms of art, but it has also raised questions about the value and authenticity of digital art. As the art world continues to evolve, it will be fascinating to see how artists and technology continue to intersect, and what new forms of art will emerge.

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