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Why do you say masterpiece, and not piece of art?

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Well, people do say “a piece of art”, but “masterpiece” is usually a very special piece (or work) of art. Quoting Wikipedia,

Masterpiece (or chef d'œuvre) in modern usage refers to a creation that has been given much critical praise, especially one that is considered the greatest work of a person's career or to a work of outstanding creativity, skill or workmanship.

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The term comes from the medieval guild system, where to attain mastery, and with it the right to open your own shop, take apprentices, etc., you had to make a master-piece to show your competence in your craft. (Of course this is pretty oversimplified as far as the history goes - guilds were very complex, and varied greatly from place to place.) –  Marthaª Oct 7 '10 at 3:25
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Martha, you should put that in as an answer. –  TRiG Oct 15 '10 at 14:22
    
I agree with Reg. Also, I think you'd be more likely to see "work of art" rather than "piece of art". –  Concrete Gannet Apr 8 '12 at 11:33
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I think it's a question of degree. Even really bad art can be called a "piece of art", but you wouldn't call it a "work of art" unless it was of fine quality, and "masterpiece" would be reserved for the cream of the crop. –  Darrel Hoffman Dec 16 '13 at 1:59

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