Artistic authenticity: The saxophonist Johnny Hodges at work, playing jazz. The philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre said that jazz music represents artistic freedom and personal authenticity.[1]
Artistic authenticity: The saxophonist Johnny Hodges at work, playing jazz. The philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre said that jazz music represents artistic freedom and personal authenticity.[1]

Authenticity is a concept of personality in the fields of psychology, existential psychotherapy, existentialist philosophy, and aesthetics. In existentialism, authenticity is the degree to which a person's actions are congruent with their values and desires, despite external pressures to social conformity. The conscious Self comes to terms with the condition of Geworfenheit, of having been thrown into an absurd world (without values and without meaning) not of their own making, thereby encountering external forces and influences different from and other than the Self.[2] In human relations, a person’s lack of authenticity is considered bad faith in dealing with other people and with one's self; thus, authenticity is in the instruction of the Oracle of Delphi: “Know thyself.”[3][4]

Concerning authenticity in art, the philosophers Jean Paul Sartre and Theodor Adorno held opposing views and opinions about jazz, a genre of American music; Sartre said that jazz is authentic and Adorno said that jazz is inauthentic. Many musical subcultures require artistic authenticity, lest the community consider an artist to be a poseur for lacking authenticity (creative, musical, personal);[5] artistic authenticity is integral to many genres of music, including but not limited to genres of rock (such as punk rock and heavy metal), club music (such as house and techno), and hip-hop.[6]


In the 18th century, Romantic philosophers recommended intuition, emotion, and a connection to Nature as the necessary counterbalances to the intellectualism of the Age of Enlightenment.[7] In the 20th century, Anglo–American preoccupations with authenticity centre upon the writings of existentialist philosophers whose native tongue is not English; therefore, the faithful, true, and accurate translation of the term existentialism was much debated, to which end the philosopher Walter Kaufmann assembled the canon of existentialist philosophers, which includes the Dane Søren Kierkegaard (1813–1855), the German Martin Heidegger (1889–1976), and the Frenchman Jean-Paul Sartre (1905–1980), for whom the conscious Self comes to terms with existence (being and living) in an absurd, materialist world featuring external forces, e.g. Geworfenheit (Thrown-ness), and intellectual influences different from and other than the Self. Therefore, personal authenticity is in how a person acts and changes in response to the influences of the external world upon the Self. Among artists, authenticity in art describes a work of art that is faithful to the values of the artist.[8] In the field of psychology, authenticity identifies a person living life in accordance with their true Self, personal values, rather than according to the external demands of society, such as social conventions, kinship, and duty.[9][10][11]

Existential perspectives

Jean-Paul Sartre

Intelligible descriptions of the abstract concepts that constitute authenticity usually indicate the descriptive limits of language; thus, to describe the negative space surrounding the condition of being inauthentic, examples of inauthentic living illustrate the condition of being an authentic person.[12] To that descriptive end, the novels of Jean-Paul Sartre are in language that makes authenticity conceptually intelligible through the stories of anti-heroic characters, people who base their actions upon external, psychological pressures — such as the social pressure to appear to be a certain kind of person; the pressure to adopt a given way of life; and the pressure to prostitute personal integrity (moral values and aesthetic standards) in exchange for the comfort (physical, mental, and moral) of social conformity. The novelist Sartre explains existential philosophy through the stories of men and women who do not understand their own reasoning for acting as they do, people who ignore crucial facts about their own lives, in order to avoid unpleasant facts about being an inauthentic person with an identity defined from outside the self.

Absolute freedom is the vertiginous experience necessary for being an authentic person, yet such freedom can be so unpleasant as to impel people to choose an inauthentic life. As an aspect of authenticity, absolute freedom determines a person’s relation with the real world, a relation not based upon or determined by a system of values or an ideology. In this manner, authenticity is connected with creativity, and the will to act must be born of the person. In that vein, Heidegger speaks of absolute freedom as modes of living determined by personal choice. As a philosopher, Sartre identified, described, and explained what is an inauthentic existence in order to not define what is an authentic mode of living.[13]

Søren Kierkegaard

Personal authenticity depends upon the person finding an authentic faith, and so be true to themself. That moral compromises inherent to the ideologies of bourgeois society and Christianity challenge the personal integrity of a person who seeks to live an authentic life, determined by the self.[14] That a mass-culture society diminishes the significance of personal individuality, by way of social “levelling”, which is realised through news media that provide people with beliefs and opinions constructed by someone other than the self. A person can attain authentic faith by facing reality and choosing to live according to the facts of the material world, which is denied by passively accepting religious faith that excludes authentic thought from a person’s world-view.[14] Kierkegaard’s philosophy of existentialism shows that personal authenticity is a personal choice based upon experience of the real world;[14] thus, in Practice in Christianity (1850), Kierkegaard said:

Therefore, it is a risk to preach, for as I go up into that holy place — whether the church is packed or as good as empty, whether I, myself, am aware of it or not, I have one listener more than can be seen, an invisible listener, God in heaven, whom I certainly cannot see, but who truly can see me. . . . Truly, it is a risk to preach! Most people, no doubt, have the idea that to step out on the stage as an actor, to venture into the danger of having all eyes focused on one, is something that requires courage. Yet, in one sense, this danger, like everything on the stage, is an illusion, because the actor, of course, is personally outside it all; his task is precisely to deceive, to dissemble, to represent someone else, and to reproduce, accurately, someone else’s words. The proclaimer of Christian truth, on the other hand, steps forward into a place where, even if the eyes of all are not focused on him, the eye of an omniscient one is. His task is: to be himself, and in a setting, God’s house, which, all eyes and ears, requires only one thing of him — that he should be himself, be true. That he should be true, that is, that he, himself, should be what he proclaims [to be], or at least strive to be that, or at least be honest enough to confess, about himself, that he is not that. . . . How risky it is to be the I who preaches, the one speaking, am I who, by preaching and as he preaches, commits himself unconditionally, displays his life so that, if possible, one could look directly into his soul — to be this I, that is risky!

— Søren Kierkegaard, Practice in Christianity (1850) pp. 234–235

Friedrich Nietzsche

Personal authenticity can be achieved without religion, which requires accepting pre-determined virtues (eternal valuations) as unquestionably true. In living authentically, a person elevates themself above the mass culture in order to transcend the limits of conventional morality, thereby personally determining what is and what is not good and evil, without the pre-determined virtues of conformity “on account of which we hold our grandfathers in esteem”; an authentic life is achieved by avoiding the “herding animal morality.”[15][16] To “stand alone [is to be] strong and original enough to initiate opposite estimates of value, to transvaluate and invert ‘eternal valuations’.”[15] Common to the existential perspectives of Kierkegaard and Nietzsche are “the responsibilities they place on the individual to take active part in the shaping of one’s beliefs, and then to be willing to act on that belief.”[14]

Erich Fromm

A very different definition of authenticity was proposed by Erich Fromm[17] in the mid-1900s. He considered behavior of any kind, even that wholly in accord with societal mores, to be authentic if it results from personal understanding and approval of its drives and origins, rather than merely from conformity with the received wisdom of the society. Thus a Frommean authentic may behave consistently in a manner that accords with cultural norms, for the reason that those norms appear on consideration to be appropriate, rather than simply in the interest of conforming with current norms. Fromm thus considers authenticity to be a positive outcome of enlightened and informed motivation rather than a negative outcome of rejection of the expectations of others. He described the latter condition – the drive primarily to escape external restraints typified by the "absolute freedom" of Sartre – as "the illusion of individuality",[18] as opposed to the genuine individuality that results from authentic living.

Musical subculture

See also: Rockism and Punk ideologies

The punk rock subculture dismisses and excludes poseurs deemed to not understand, abide, or live the value system of the  subculture.
The punk rock subculture dismisses and excludes poseurs deemed to not understand, abide, or live the value system of the subculture.

Artistic authenticity is required of the artist who would be a denizen of the subcultures of punk rock and heavy metal, which are societies that criticize and exclude musicians, composers, and bands for being poseurs — for being insufficiently authentic or plainly inauthentic as artists.[5] A poseur is a artist or a musical band who copies the dress, the style of speech, and the manners of the subculture, yet is excluded for not understanding the artistic philosophy, not understanding the sociology, and not understanding the value system of the subculture; talking the talk, without walking the walk.[19]

The authenticity of an artist has three bases: (i) long-term dedication to the music scene; (ii) historical knowledge of the subculture; and (iii) the personal integrity (inner voice) for correct artistic choices.[20] At the extreme metal end of the heavy-metal genre, the subgenre of black metal who value artistic authenticity, emotional sincerity, and extreme expression.[21] In light of such systems of moral value in the arts, a working-class band with a formal recording contract might appear to be sell outs to the heavy metal and punk rock communities.[6] The academic Deena Weinstein said that “The code of authenticity, which is central to the heavy metal subculture, is demonstrated in many ways”, such as clothing, an emotional singing voice, and thematic substance to the songs.[22]


To identify, describe, and define authenticity, existential philosophers, such as Søren Kierkegaard (1813–1855), Friedrich Nietzsche (1844–1900), and Martin Heidegger (1889 –1976) investigated the existential and ontological significance of the social constructs that are the norms of society. For a journalist, aversion to and turning away from the unquestioning acceptance of social norms contributes to the production of intellectually authentic reportage, achieved by the reporter choosing to be true to their professional ethics and personal values. Yet in the praxis of journalism, the reporter’s authenticity (professional and personal) is continually contradicted by the business requirements of corporate publishing.[23]


The philosopher Jacob Golomb argues that existential authenticity is a way of life incompatible with a system of moral values that comprehends all persons.[24]

See also


  1. ^ Jean-Paul Sartre, Existentialism and Music That Lives It: The Doors, Pink Floyd and . . . Drake?:Buzz:Music Times.
  2. ^ Varga, Somogy; Guignon, Charles (2020), "Authenticity", in Zalta, Edward N. (ed.), The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Spring 2020 ed.), Metaphysics Research Lab, Stanford University, retrieved 2022-07-15
  3. ^ J. Childers/G. Hentzi eds., The Columbia Dictionary of Modern Literary and Cultural Criticism (1995) p. 103.
  4. ^ Abulof, Uriel (2017-12-01). "Be Yourself! How Am I Not myself?". Society. 54 (6): 530–532. doi:10.1007/s12115-017-0183-0. ISSN 0147-2011. S2CID 148897359.
  5. ^ a b "Homeward Bound. Towards a Post-Gendered Pop Music: Television Personalities' My Dark Places". Archived from the original on 2008-12-01. Retrieved 2012-07-30. My Dark Places April 10th, 2006 by Godfre Leung (Domino, 2006).
  6. ^ a b Barker, Hugh and Taylor, Yuval. Faking it: The Quest for Authenticity in Popular Music. W.W.Norton and Co., New York, 2007.
  7. ^ James., Engell (1980). Creative Imagination. Cambridge: HUP. ISBN 9780674333253. OCLC 935280039.
  8. ^ “Authenticity and Art”, A Companion to Aesthetics (2009).
  9. ^ Wood, A. M., Linley, P. A., Maltby, J., Baliousis, M., Joseph, S. (2008) The Authentic Personality: “A Theoretical and Empirical Conceptualization, and the Development of the Authenticity Scale” Archived 2011-07-17 at the Wayback Machine. Journal of Counseling Psychology 55 (3): 385–399. doi:10.1037/0022-0167.55.3.385.
  10. ^ Authentic life Archived 2018-10-29 at the Wayback Machine. Psychology Centre Athabasca University.
  11. ^ "Existential Psychology". Eastern Illinois University. Archived 3 June 2012 at the Wayback Machine.
  12. ^ Golomb, Jacob (1995). In Search of Authenticity. London and New York: Routledge. ISBN 978-0-415-11946-7.
  13. ^ Baird, Forrest E.; Walter Kaufmann (2008). From Plato to Derrida. Upper Saddle River, New Jersey: Pearson Prentice Hall. ISBN 978-0-13-158591-1.
  14. ^ a b c d Holt, Kristoffer. “Authentic Journalism? A Critical Discussion about Existential Authenticity in Journalism Ethics”, Journal of Mass Media Ethics 27 (2012) p.0000.
  15. ^ a b Nietzsche, F.W., & Zimmern, H. (1997). Beyond good and evil: Prelude to a philosophy of the future. Mineola, NY: Dover.
  16. ^ Nietzsche, F.W. Beyond Good and Evil: Prelude to a Philosophy of the Future (1997) H. Zimmern, Ed. Mineola, NY: Dover, p. 000.
  17. ^ Fromm. Erich. Escape from Freedom (1941) Farrar & Rinehart, p. 0000.
  18. ^ Fromm E., Fear of Freedom, ch. 7
  19. ^ Weinstein, Deena. Heavy Metal: The Music and its Subculture Da Capo Press, 2009. p. 46.
  20. ^ Larsson, Susanna. “I Bang My Head, Therefore I Am: Constructing Individual and Social Authenticity in the Heavy Metal Subculture” in Young. 21 (1). 2013. p. 95-110
  21. ^ Olson, Benjamin Hedge (May 2008). I Am the Black Wizards: Multiplicity, Mysticism and Identity in Black Metal Music and Culture. Bowling Green State University. p. 47.
  22. ^ Weinstein, Deena. Heavy Metal: The Music and its Subculture Da Capo Press, 2009. p. 46.
  23. ^ Merril, J.C. Existential Journalism, Revised Edition (1995) rev. ed.) Ames, IA: Iowa State University Press, p.0000.
  24. ^ Golomb, Jacob. In Search of Authenticity: From Kierkegaard to Camus (1995) London: Routledge.

Further reading