Aesthetics for Birds

Aesthetics and Philosophy of Art for Everyone

AFB’s Terms of Art #22: Work/Piece


Now that increasing numbers of people are stuck at home and sheltering in place, I figured I’d do a little series. Every weekday for the duration of this intense period, I’ll post a short definition of some term in/related to aesthetics and philosophy of art. Let’s see how this goes! See them all here.

The theme this week is artworld stuff. Up today:

Terms of Art #22:


is this a work? a piece of music? but… there’s no sound…

Pronunciation: the pronunciation is not what’s hard

Definition: A “work” or “piece” is an individual artistic creation. So a museum contains works or pieces of art. An artist produces them. And there’s no real difference in use between the two terms. (“Work” doesn’t imply that a lot more, um, work went into it or anything like that.) That’s it.

If you still have a bunch of questions, then maybe you’re a philosopher at heart.

For you, there’s a special prize: CONFUSING ART MATH!


(1) One painting is one work or piece. Three paintings, three pieces. And so on. Easy peasy!

(2) Prints (each made from a common plate): each print is a piece. If an artist makes a series of 200 prints, the artist makes 200 pieces. They have different numbers and can have variations and get sold individually… so it’s 200 pieces.


a work… within a work… whoa.
but is it one or two works?

But wait – something’s fishy here. If a museum displays four of these in one room (or “gallery“!) it might seem weird to say they displayed four different works of art…

(3) If a museum had seven reels, each of which contained the same short film, we probably wouldn’t say they had seven different pieces. Instead, it seems like they have seven copies of one piece, and that one piece is the short film.

(4) Performance art: Is each performance a new work? Are the instructions/score/choreography the work? What is it? Where is it? This can get very strange very fast.

And now, we’re deep into the ontology of art.

Not to be confused with:
“work of art” as a term of praise – “The Mona Lisa is a true work of art! But Kandinsky’s lines and swirls are just doodles.” This is pretty different. As you can see here, we’re not trying to evaluate anything. Things can be bad art, but that means they are still art. (See also “Not to be confused with” in the art entry.)

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