Anonymity and Art


“What is good art?” is a standard philosophical quandary that never really goes very far as long as there’s a relativist in the room (and there usually is). With art more than most things it’s harder to argue that its goodness isn’t in the eye of the beholder. A better question is “What is required to make good art?” And that, I argue, is at least two things: authenticity and anonymity.

A good artist is authentic. We need not argue exactly what “authentic” means to proceed; just to agree what it’s not. It’s not pandering to the masses. It’s not for increasing social status. It’s not from desiring praise. If it happens to be for anybody at all, it’s incidental to the artist’s need to express.  And if it’s to be judged, an artist should prefer it be on its own merit. And that’s where anonymity comes in.

Artists should be anonymous not simply because it doesn’t matter who the artist is (with some exceptions), but because it enables authenticity in both the artist and the audience. The anonymous artist is free to express without their identity being tied to success or failure, and they cannot doubt their own intentions.

Let’s take for granted that good art, beyond mere technical skill, is an expression of the artist’s soul. It relates to some part heretofore unknown to ourselves, or gets us thinking about something familiar in a new way. Whether or not it is understood depends on the experiences the artist/audience has had in their lives (in this way they are equals – an artist is not to be revered). It’ll either be gotten or not – and not everyone will get it because not everyone will get the artist, and that’s ok. But for the artist who has made themselves one with their art for public consumption and judgement, the failure of the art to connect is internalized and externalized as a failure of the artist. This giving-of-fucks is like poison and will lead the artist down a path of angst and dissatisfaction, not to mention bad art.

Another reason artists should remain anonymous is to reduce the amount of career artists who are making art for the wrong reasons. Artists need to have an existence that is not primarily about making art for the sake of it. If someone is locked in a contract or becomes too focused on maintaining their brand or income stream, then they cease to be authentic, and if they are creating at the expense of living, then they cease to be relatable. Art should be the byproduct of experience; an experience of life as we know it – through the artist’s eyes. Their gift to us.

But anonymity is really more for the benefit of the audience than the artist. The general audience is so impressionable that if they see, hear, or read something unfamiliar, they naturally look to other markers for how to react. The artists preexisting works, reputation, or other such subconscious biases might influence their perception of the art. When J.K. Rowling released her adult crime/fiction novel under the pseudonym “Robert Galbraith”, she was hoping to bring the focus back to the work; to, as she says, “work without hype or expectation and receive totally unvarnished feedback.” As a result, the book was read and reviewed, came and went, entirely on its own merit.

We must not conflate the art with the artist. We must focus our attention on the art itself and judge it according to our own aesthetic sensibilities – which we must continually develop by seeking art out where it’s hiding or being overshadowed; choosing what to be exposed to rather than passively letting ourselves be exposed to whatever is front and center. As many of us know,  that’s not where the best art is.

Popularity is the enemy of our and society’s aesthetic development. The more popular an artist becomes the more their name is spread around and passed down without people actually coming into direct contact with the work but feeling like they know its quality already, the more automatic exposure they will get before even producing, and the more people will be tricked into thinking that good art necessarily comes from popular artists.

With artists as anonymous, each work of art will be judged with no other reference point but itself, and the art that survives will be the art that deserves to.

8 thoughts on “Anonymity and Art

  1. Interesting. What art are you talking/thinking about? What IS art? Anything in a museum of art? Anything that has been curated?

    “Let’s take for granted that good art, beyond mere technical skill, is an expression of the artist’s soul.”

    OK. What’s a soul?

    “And that, I argue, is at least two things: authenticity and anonymity.”

    OK. But why is this post not anonymous?

    Liked by 2 people

    • Drat, you hit all three!

      1) Let’s say anything meant to elicit an emotional reaction through widely agreed upon aesthetic/literary techniques.

      2) …

      3) Because I am trying to appeal to logic! But perhaps all opinions should be anonymous for the same reason… I don’t think so enough to try and too insignificant in the world of opinions for it to matter.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Thanks for the reply.

    I have always liked Bob’s ideas about soul. E.g.,
    One of the attractions of the UU approach to religion and life is caught in the assertion that divinity and spirit are to be found not through blind faith but through finding and sending down roots to the deepest part of one’s unique self. As is true in botany, those roots spread out into the wider community and can nourish us and give us a healthy life. How do we know when we are living in the best place for those roots to grow? In so much as we do indeed “grow a soul” we should consider carefully the garden in which that soul grows.
    There is a Jewish story which I understand from an online source is often shared in UU pulpits It is the story of the great Rabbi Zusha, who was found agitated and upset as he lay on deathbed. His students asked, “Rebbe, why are you so sad? After all the great things you have accomplished, your place in heaven is assured!” “I’m afraid!” Zusha replied, “Because when I get to heaven, God won’t ask me ‘Why weren’t you more like Moses?’ or ‘Why weren’t you more like King David?’ God will ask ‘Zusha, why weren’t you more like Zusha?’ And then what will I say!?”
    This story reminds us of the power of particularity. Knowing our unique self doesn’t just feel good; it can set us free, offering a heaven that is not an escape from this life, but that comes about when we finally grow into the life that is truly ours.

    Liked by 3 people

  3. You argue that art should be anonymous so that people’s appreciation of it is not biased.

    This assumes that anyone’s judgment is corrupted by popularity of the artist. I am not so sure this is the case, Jess. Most people I know dislike the fat figures of Botero or think Andy Warhol can not be taken seriously; two examples that come to mind.

    Art is, to put it poetically (this clarification is for sfualum 😊), an expression of soul and so I think knowing the person behind the art (NOT just how popular he is) helps us understand and appreciate. Think of Frida Kahlo. When I learn the story behind the art, my viewing of her art gained more feeling. Same with the somber poems of Silvia Plath and same with the Campbell Soup of Warhol which I totally despised at first.

    Art can be corrupted by profit, certainly. But I trust when it comes to appreating art, the common joe is not prone to popularity pressures. This might not be the case with art judges…?

    Liked by 4 people

    • I agree that not everyone’s sense is not corrupted by popularity, but that the artist’s popularity influences the general public’s/society’s perception of the art (for or against – like with someone who finds warhol overrated) and as a result either puts it on an undeserved pedestal or buries is – in either case where it might not be if the artist had nothing to do with it. I think we have more to gain than we have to lose by artists remaining anonymous. One of the exceptions is when someone’s life story is a work of art, and the art they express is in order to tell that story, and so then their identity is important (but then again, can you preserve/display the story without making a celebrity out of them?).

      Liked by 1 person

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