different ways people define art W r i t i n g

different ways people define art W r i t i n g


You may have an idea of what art is (or is not), but perhaps the question itself seems irrelevant. Is there a practical reason why we need to define art? The definition has had legal implications in the past. Consider the case of Brancusi v. United States in which a custom’s officers imposed an import duty of 40% upon Brancusi’s Bird in Space (brought from Paris to New York), categorizing it under “Kitchen Utensils and Hospital Supplies” instead of the tariff-free category of “Art.” Now that is a significant tax! Imagine such a tax on some of the everyday items you purchase— items that would be utilitarian.

The main issue was its likeness to the thing represented (based on its title) — that it did not look like a bird to officials.

Read the following article to learn more about the case and the final outcome:

You can read an excerpt of the hearing at the following link, including a portion of Justice Waite’s decision:

The definition of art was essential to Brancusi’s case, and Justice Waite acknowledged the need to keep in mind changing styles and ideas about what is art.

Activity Instructions

As noted in the introductory video (What Is Art?) in this course, the point of art is not to determine what is and what is not art (unless you are facing a rather large import tax). Rather, art helps us learn more about the world and each other. However, understanding the different ways people define art can help us understand their perspectives and values. In this discussion, we will learn more about each other based on how we look at and connect with art.

For the initial post, address the following:

  • Consider the changing definitions of art noted in the text. With which do you connect: mimesis, communication, significant form, artworld, a combination of these, or something else? Explain.
    Note: You do not need to summarize definitions— just identify which one(s) you connect with and explain why.
  • The text also distinguishes between a personal and communal need for art. What has been your experience with art in both regards (personal and communal)?
  • What do you think is the general value of art in society?

Secondary Post Instructions

This is the first discussion of the course, so keep in mind that your opinions about these topics and the opinions of your peers may change by the end of the course. This gives us a good starting point though, so consider the following as you respond to your peers:

  • Where do you find common ground with your peers? What can you add that hasn’t been noted already?
  • Where do you differ? What important points did they make that you can relate to even though you differ? Explain why these were important.

This is not meant to be an “I agree” or “I disagree” sort of response, but rather an exchange of ideas and opinions backed with support.

  • Do not repeat your peers’ posts.
  • Do not repeat your own initial post as a response to a peer. Consider the secondary posts like a conversation with your peers. Connect to what was said by going beyond, digging deeper, exploring further.

Tips for Success

Make sure to read the assigned chapters. Your responses should synthesize the chapter readings with your own thoughts about art.

Writing and Submission Requirements

  • Minimum of 1 initial post and 2 secondary posts.
  • Initial post length (suggested): 250-400 words
  • Secondary post length (suggested): 200-300 words
  • Sources cited in APA format
  • Weekly Learning Goal(s): 1, 2


Art Newspaper. (1996, October). The case of Constantin Brancusi vs. the United States of America: An extract. https:// M. (2014, July 24). “But is it art?” Constantin Brancusi vs. the United States. MOMA website:

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