What role does a museum play in determining the status of an art object? That is, if a painting, installation, etc. is shown in a museum, surrounded by other art, selected by a curatorial authority for exhibit (like a peer reviewed article in a scinece journal), do we experience or confer aesthetic values differently than if we encountered the same piece displayed on a neighbor's wall?

This is a central question in the philosophy of art! There is what is known as the institutional theory of art advanced by George Dickie, according to which a work of art is an artifact that is recognized as art by what he called the Artworld (a world that would definitely include museums and galleries). I suggest that the institutional theory is not the most promising, for it does not speak to what it is about artifacts that makes them interesting to museums. (For Dickie's views, see his book Art and the Aesthetic for an early version of the institutional account). But beyond that, I do think that settings such as a museum or gallery can make a difference to one's aesthetic experience of an object, partly because these institutions generate certain expectations and often convey information about the history of the objects. But there does not have to be a difference. Some works of art on a neighbor's wall might look just as beautiful or ugly, original or derivative, witty or flat footed, as they would in a museum, gallery, studio, on a bus or in an open field. I address some of these issues in a book called Aesthetics: A Beginner's Guide (OneWorld Press), if you are interested in a follow up text.

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