Aesthetics for Birds

Aesthetics and Philosophy of Art for Everyone

AFB’s Terms of Art #34: Authenticity


Now that increasing numbers of people are stuck at home and sheltering in place, I figured I’d do a little series. Every weekday for the duration of this intense period, I’ll post a short definition of some term in/related to aesthetics and philosophy of art. Let’s see how this goes! See them all here.

This week, we’re looking at terms that have to do with artists themselves. Most of these words will be ones that actual practicing contemporary artists think are off-limits. So buckle up for a sacrilegious week!

Terms of Art #34:


the most authentic of Thai dishes: hot dog fried rice
make yours here

Pronunciation: YOU! (jk it’s pronounced “authenticity”)

Definition: Authenticity is just, like, being yourself.


But… who are you?

There are True Self theories. These say there’s some core of your personality that’s really you, deep down, and it never changes. The hard work of being authentic is to uncover this core and let it shine through all the overlaid bullshit that your parents and your friends and society and The Man tell you.

Others reject such theories. Instead, they think, we’re just a bundle of different feelings and thoughts through time. Like it or not, what your parents and your friends and society and The Man told you – that stuff is all part of that bundle, and there’s no special part of that bundle that makes up your True Self.

And yet others lie somewhere in between. For example, maybe you can choose which pieces of the bundle you want to live by, and that’s better than just letting the bundle run amok.


I mean look at this fuckin poser
[via Amazon]

And these all have equivalents in thinking about a culture. Is there a core of Thai culture, so that hot dog fried rice and Islam and Western business attire aren’t part of it and can never be part of it?

Why it matters for art:
We definitely prize authenticity in our art and artists. If an artist is perceived as doing something because it’s trendy or because collectors or investors want it, that’s usually* very bad. (Not to mention the inauthenticity of the ultimate art world no-no, cultural appropriation.)

As for the word “authenticity”, it’s most frequently used in the contexts of music and cuisine. True punk music is authentic; the same with country. And of course that super authentic Thai place has the best food.

*I say usually because this is more complicated with applied arts like architecture, graphic and industrial design, fashion, etc.

Related terms:
1) authenticity – also an art world term that just means not a fake/forgery; as in “an authentic Banksy work” or even “an authenticated Banksy work”
2) poser/sellout – words that people use to call out inauthenticity, especially in music. Posers are generically inauthentic; sellouts are those who are inauthentic because they’re after the money.

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