Art defined as a universal expression of human creativity is a modern concept. Although the discourse of art originally emerged in the West and has worked to consolidate European hegemony, it historically required the absorption of non-Western Others in order to validate its claim of universality. Universal survey museums played an essential role in visualizing the universality of art, and East Asian objects were the first category of non-Western objects that was appropriated into this project. This paper examines the elevation of East Asian objects to art at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston in the early twentieth century, and uncovers the ideological and political motivations of American museums behind their promotion of East Asian art. The American desire to create a distinctly American cultural identity through art museums furthermore converged with the interests of modern Japanese cultural nationalism through the figure of the Japanese art critic Okakura Kakuz, who worked as a curator of East Asian art at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.