Who Says It's Art?

Activity Steps:

In this debate and writing activity, you will explore the roles of the various people who contribute to the making of an exhibition during a time when the definition of art is changing.

Part 1: Public Debate

1. Review:
In pairs, read 'The R. Mutt Story' in Making Sense of Modern Art, then prepare for a debate. Divide into five groups; each group will assume one of the following roles:
  1. Artists who submitted readymade works to a museum art exhibition
  2. The museum's exhibition selection committee
  3. members of the local art society (which is funding the exhibition) who don't believe that the readymade works are really art
  4. journalists covering the exhibition
  5. members of the community, who may have mixed views on the art
2. Analyze
Depending on your group's role, prepare your argument either for or against the legitimacy of readymades as art. The following questions must be addressed:
What is art? Who says it's art? Who should get to decide?
3. Voice
Make your statement and defend your position to the other groups. Record the debate on video.
4. Review
Review: Evaluate the video with your class.
5. Reflect
Reflect: In your journal, analyze the types of arguments that were used in the debate (analogy, emotional, legal authority, etc.). In your opinion, was it successful? Did it change your opinion on readymades as art?

Part 2: Letter to the Editor

1. Write:
Based on your personal opinion, assume the role of a community member and write a persuasive letter to the editor of your local newspaper, either defending or condemning the exhibition of readymade art. Refer to your classmates' debate points and rebut or confirm them.
2. Edit
Peer edit, rewrite, and hand in your letter.
3. Reflect
In your journal, reflect on whether debating and writing the letter solidified your position on the issue. Can you describe the process of how the definition of art gradually changes over time? Who is involved, and who has to agree? At what point can the definition be said to have changed definitively?