Philosophers over the ages have loved to kick this question around. Many
have suggested straightforward answers (Leo Tolstoy, Clive Bell, Jerrold
Levinson, for examplee), others have denied that an answer is possible
(Morris Weitz, Ludwig Wittgenstein), and yet others have suggested that
the only way to answer the question is to look at features of the arts
institutions and how they regard art-making and art-appreciating
activities, rather than at the works themselves (Arthur Danto, George
A good way to get a general picture of this debate is to look at Chapter
One of PUZZLES ABOUT ART, by M. P. Battin, J. Fisher, R. Moore, and A.
Silvers. A much fuller account of the lengthy scholarly debate is
presented in Stephen Davies' book DEFINITIONS OF ART. And a good,
up-to-date, and concise account of the debate is presented in Annette
Barnes's essay "Definition of Art" in Vol. I of the ENCYCLOPEDIA OF
It's a great question, and one that is really quite fun to discuss in
class (at almost any age level); but it is, like so many philosophical
questions, one that has no generally-agreed upon right answer.