My theatre professor has given me an assignment, part of which is to defend a play we watched as a work of art - "The Piano Lesson" by August Wilson. However, she hasn't explicitly said what that meant. Up to now, I had considered the statement equivalent to her asking, "Why is this play a work of art?".

However, there seems to be a bit of a problem. I've created a list of subquestions related to the definition of art (as spelled out in my textbook). One of the questions I wrote is, "How does the play reveal to us what people treasure and admire?". The problem is that the best answer I can come up with also happens to be an answer to another one of my professor's questions, which is "What is the significance of the piano?". Now, the piano in the play was a family heirloom that had belonged to the mother of one of the main characters of the play. That's why my answer satisfies both questions.

I am now left to wonder - When my teacher asked me to defend the play as a work of art, did she mean to ask me why the play is a work of art?

Edit: This is a study guide that is supposed to be based on the reading. The reading assignment doesn't appear to mention critics, but a quiz based on the reading does have a question on the role of a critic.

  • Just to be clear: we are defending that the play is in fact a work of art, and not defending the play (on the grounds of being a work of art) from some other kind of criticism? – Lemma Aug 27 '16 at 23:38
  • What's the play? – deadrat Aug 28 '16 at 0:10
  • Why don't you just ask your teacher what exactly she meant? That's much more fail safe than asking an Internet site. We may know a lot about English, but we're not mind readers. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Aug 28 '16 at 0:21
  • @Lemma: I'm not quite sure what she's asking. Up until now, I've been operating under the assumption that she really meant to ask me to defend that the play is in fact a work of art. On a related note, she also added a question about the role of a critic on a quiz on reading material that, to the best of my knowledge, doesn't even mention that stuff. However, I recognize I should have asked the teacher. Unfortunately, it is now too late to ask, as this project is due tomorrow night and the prof. doesn't answer her inbox on weekends. – moonman239 Aug 28 '16 at 0:58
  • @deadrat: "The Piano Lesson" – moonman239 Aug 28 '16 at 0:59

JBJ is much too modest. This site is rife with mind readers

This isn't going to be much of an answer, as judged by the standards of ELU, but I have a soft spot in my wizened heart for people who have projects due tomorrow. And comments don't have enough space.

As I see it, you have three possibilities:

  1. Your teacher is asking you to defend the effectiveness of the play. Does the play make a coherent statement based on its language, characters, plot, staging, etc.?
  2. Your teacher is asking you to defend the artfulness of the play. That is, independent of any message or entertainment value, are the language, structure, and characterizations arresting enough to hold the attention of an audience? (Even if they miss the point or even if there is no point the play is trying to make.)
  3. Your teacher is asking you to defend the play as art as opposed to its existence as something else -- propaganda for a cause, incitement to violence, or even a statement against the very deployment of drama.

I haven't seen or read the play, but from what I've read about it, 3 would seem an outlandish choice, so that's the one I'm for. Since you probably want to pass the course, I expect you not to agree with me.


You mentioned in the comments that your professor also asked about the role of the critic, and I think that makes it clear enough the kind of thing she's looking for.

You will not find any more beautiful or poignant reflection on the roles of the artist and critic in defence of a work of art as the preface to Oscar Wilde's Picture of Dorian Gray. It is not long, and I would not presume to summarise, but this is the piece of writing that helped me understand the very same question years ago, and it left a deep impression. I hope at the very least that it helps you with your paper!

  • "your professor also asked about the role of the critic" Yes, but the reading material off of which the study guide is based makes no mention of the role of the critic. – moonman239 Aug 28 '16 at 1:54
  • Sounds like maybe it's time to put down the study guide and start thinking about the actual question. – Lemma Aug 28 '16 at 4:04

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