A friend recently sent me an article about our culture’s obsession with authenticity. My first thought was that the Western world doesn’t actually strike me as that authentic: we live pretty leisurely lives and we tend to justify what we like without figuring out what is actually real or pure in a world where what we think about something matters more than the thing itself.
As I kept reading, I found a key idea buried about halfway down the article: that “we can no longer perceive what we claim to value.” Authenticity could be staring us in the face, but if we recognize it at all we are left with only a vague idea that we’re missing something we desperately wanted and needed. We understand, unconsciously, in some dark part of our souls, that we can’t be certain of our own individual or collective authenticity of being or purpose.
It’s not a question of art. It’s a question of who we are.
In other words, this new wave of criticism and desperate searching for authenticity reflected in art and entertainment culture is symptomatic of and merely a modern manifestation of the gap between what we know and the fact of our existing, a gap which necessitates an infinite gulf of knowledge and meaning we kind of know we can never swim through.
I think art and life are the same things, really, just that art is a single moment stolen out of life and time. I also think that life imitates art far more than art imitates life. Not in the sense of a conventional chicken and egg dilemma, of which comes first, but in the sense that life is never understood by multiple people to be exactly the same thing. It’s beautiful to some, stupid to others, gratifying to many, and how you live it is often a matter of taste and privilege.
In reference to this article, life and art are intertwined throughout the pages of human history. Moving through the realism and purity of renaissance art, through the impressionism of the 1700s and 1800s, into the surrealism and now “modern art” which is more often than not a conglomeration of abstract shapes and lines, art reflects the tide of human belief as a whole.
Abstract and modern art is consistent with the postmodern and existential schools of thought currently dominating the Western world. They say we know only what we know, empirically, or what we can prove by watching the process from beginning to end and then repeating it exactly.
Something that looks like nothing is just as authentic and valuable today as something that depicts reality exactly…as long as it was supposed to look like nothing, and in its nothingness makes us think of something. Because atheism, humanism, existentialism, etc., any acceptance of a sort of infinite nothing beyond what may have temporal value, leaves us without any sort of ultimate standard by which to judge authenticity: in our selves, our lives, our art, or our coffee shops. Without a standard by which to judge authenticity, how can we possibly discover a true identity? How can we know who we are? That’s why we criticize what we deem inauthentic, what we fear might be cheap mockery. The idea that life might imitate this inauthentic art is far too terrifying to behold.
We are hungry for authenticity. It is at heart a hunger for meaning, for there to be something beyond the sum total of human struggle and triumph.
Check out the original article here:
- Why are we so obsessed with the pursuit of authenticity? (newstatesman.com)