|"Brillo Boxes", Andy Warhol, wood and silkscrenn, 1964|
In 1964 Andy Warhol exhibited at the Stable Gallery, NY, a work of art titled Brillo Boxes (see picture). The design was not in fact his but of another commercial designer called James Harvey. the question is almost immediate: is it art? And being art: how can one tell between two resemblant objects which of them is a work of art and which is not?
The question in all resembles to another question raised by Descartes: when in dreaming the experience that one lives in the dream is not discernible from the experience that one lives when awake, whereby there is no intern criteria to the lived experience that makes the distinction between dream and reality. In the same way the differences to look in order to respond such aesthetic question can be (should be) sought in the exterior of the work of art. Before anything it's maybe convenient to accept that, like Marcel Duchamp said, "aesthetic delectation is the danger to be avoided" (see "A Question of Aesthetics"). Then, it will be necessary to accept that any work of art it's a representation: what is the work of art about? (typical question). Next, and non lesser important, the structure of a work of art is different from the structure of the objects with which the work of art looks like. Let's see, with an analogy: a handwritten word apparentely it's no more than a set of marks and traces; but the word put together with those marks and traces is endowed with a language, a meaning. Well understood, the construction of the word accordingly with that language is caused by the need of communication. But the way that those marks and traces phisically construct the word it's different from the causes of communication: the shape of the marks and traces are fruit of, e.g., the personality of whom writes the letters that build the word. The word has therefore two distinct structures: the linguistic structure - of communication - and the formal structure - the word graphics. Similarly the work of art will have a different structure from that of the object that it looks like: the work of art will have a structure that it's more attached to representability and the author's intentionality ("what is the work of art about?") while the object with which it resembles will have a structure that is attached to its functionality. Warhol's Brillo Boxes - and even because its formal structure it's different from the soap boxes: Warhol's Brillo Boxes are made of wood while the others are of cardboard - embodies a content and a meaning: they manifest a statement and they are a metaphor of some kind.
Most definetely, they are not just soap boxes...
Arthur Danto quite well systematizes this problematics of identifying the works of art with the enunciation of two somewhat elementary conditions:
a) the work of art must have a meaning
b) the work of art must embody that meaning
These are the two essential conditions to distinguish a work of art from artifact. Arthur Danto based his reasoning on a Ludwig Wittgenstein approach: what remains over when you subtract from the fact that you raised your arm the fact that your arm went up? There are several examples to ilustrate this question: the socialist movement, the fascist salute, the Black Power movement, etc., are gestures that aren't merely reduced to a raisen arm. In the same way, what remains over when you subtract from the fact that something is a work of art the fact that it is an object?
Another art theorist, Monroe Beardsley, would somehow resume: a work of art is something produced with the intention of giving it the capability of satisfying the aesthetic interest.
 Arthur C. Danto, "Art, Philosophy and the Philosophy of Art", 1983
 Arthur C. Danto, "Ontology, Criticism, and the Riddle of Art Versus Non-Art in The Transfiguration of the Commonplace", 2008
To know more:
Arthur Danto: Wikipedia
Arthur C. Danto, "Art, Philosophy and the Philosophy of Art", 1983
Arthur C. Danto, "Ontology, Criticism, and the Riddle of Art Versus Non-Art in The Transfiguration of the Commonplace", 2008
Andy Warhol: Wikipedia
Andy Warhol Museum
Andy Warhol Foudation