ArtsConnectEd/ArtsNet Minnesota

Art and Artists
Africa, Zaire
England, Higham Manor, Suffolk
Donald Judd
New Mexico (Mimbres)
Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen
Thailand (Blue Hmong)
Robert Rauschenberg

Inner Worlds Environment Identity Designing Spaces and Places
Introduction to

What is Art?


Humans have been creating art since prehistoric times. Each culture and historic time seems to have its own definition of what art is. Each culture creates its own ideals for how art should look. Studying the varied kinds of art and asking questions about the role art plays within cultures is a fascinating topic that can fill a lifetime. In the 20th century, artists often have created works that raise questions about art itself. "What is art?" is not a simple question with only one correct answer. Philosophers who explore possible answers to this question are called aestheticians. For grades K-12, the objective for a lesson focused on aesthetics is the discussion itself--not a consensus or agreement. As a teacher, your task is to encourage the students to investigate the possibilities. As Howard Gardner argues, a multiple-perspective approach helps develop deductive reasoning, creative problem solving, and higher-order critical-thinking skills. There is no wrong answer as long as the student is able to explain his or her reasoning. The search for an answer to the question "What is art?" continues with you, your students, and your community.


Both Nail Figure (nkisi nkondi) and Mimbres Classic Black-on-White were created for utilitarian purposes. Give three reasons why people decorate objects used in daily life or rituals. Donald Judd's Untitled was not created for a practical purpose. Give three reasons why Judd might have created Untitled.

Robert Rauschenberg dedicated the assemblage work shown here to Marcel Duchamp. Who was Duchamp? Why was he important?


  1. Africa, Zaire, Kongo (KON-go), Nail Figure (nkisi nkondi), 19th century, wood, vegetable fibers, and metal, H. 15 in. MIA

  2. England, Higham Manor, Suffolk, The Tudor Room, about 1600, carved oak. MIA

  3. Donald Judd, Untitled, 1969, anodized aluminum, ten elements: 27 x 24 x 6 in. each box. WAC

  4. Mimbres Classic Black-on-White Bowl (geometric/insect design) H. 4 x Dia. 8 5/8 in., clay. WAM

  5. Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen, Spoonbridge and Cherry, 1985-88, aluminum, stainless steel, paint, 354 x 618 x 162 in. WAC

  6. Thailand (Blue Hmong), Ceremonial Skirt, 20th century, cotton and synthetic materials, H. 25 x W. 35 in. MIA

  7. Robert Rauschenberg, Trophy II (for Teeny and Marcel Duchamp), 1960, oil, charcoal, paper, fabric, metal on canvas, drinking glass (not original), metal chain, spoon, 90 x 118 in. WAC

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Inner Worlds | What Is Art? | Environment | Identity | Designing Spaces and Places
What Is Art? Activities | What Is Art? Gallery | What Is Art? Vocabulary