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][better source needed]

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 meaning) not of their own making, thereby encountering external forces and influences different from and other than the Self.[2] 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] 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, or personal);[4] 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.[5]

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.[6][clarification needed] In the 20th century, Anglo–American preoccupations with authenticity centered on 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 a canon of existentialist philosophers. Kaufmann's canon includes the Dane Søren Kierkegaard (1813–1855), the German Martin Heidegger (1889–1976), and the Frenchman Jean-Paul Sartre (1905–1980). For these existentialists, 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.

Personal authenticity is exhibited in how a person acts and changes in response to the external world's influences upon the Self. Among artists, authenticity in art describes a work of art faithful to the artist's values.[7] In the field of psychology, authenticity identifies a person living life in accordance with their true Self and personal values rather than according to the external demands of society, such as social conventions, kinship, and duty.[8]

To identify, describe, and define authenticity, existential philosophers like Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, and Martin Heidegger investigated the existential and ontological significance of the social constructs that compose the norms of society. For a journalist, not blindly accepting social norms contributes to producing 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.[9]

Existential perspectives

Søren Kierkegaard

According to Kierkegaard, personal authenticity depends upon a person finding an authentic faith and, in so doing, being true to themselves.[clarification needed] 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 as determined by the self.[10] A mass-culture society[definition needed] diminishes the significance of personal individuality, by way of social “levelling” through news media that provide people with beliefs and opinions constructed by someone other than themselves. A person can attain authentic faith by facing reality and choosing to live according to the facts of the material world,[dubious ] or can deny authentic faith by passively accepting religious faith.[10] Kierkegaard’s philosophy shows that personal authenticity is a personal choice based upon the experience of the real world;[10] in Practice in Christianity (1850), Kierkegaard wrote:

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 stepping out on the stage as an actor to venture into the danger of having all eyes focused on one 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. On the other hand, the proclaimer of Christian truth 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 accurate, 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, an 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 himself/herself above the mass culture to transcend the limits of conventional morality, thereby personally determining what is and what is not good and bad, 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”.[11] To “stand alone [is to be] strong and original enough to initiate opposite estimates of value, to transvaluate and invert ‘eternal valuations’”.[11] Common to the existential perspectives of Kierkegaard and Nietzsche are “the responsibilities they place on the individual to take an active part in the shaping of one’s beliefs, and then to be willing to act on that belief”.[10]

Jean-Paul Sartre

It is difficult to describe authenticity intelligibly. One possibility is to describe instead the negative space surrounding the condition of being inauthentic by giving examples.[12] To that end, the novels of Jean-Paul Sartre make 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 characters who do not understand their reasoning for acting as they do—people who ignore crucial facts about their own lives to avoid learning about being an inauthentic person with an identity defined from outside the self.

Absolute freedom is the vertiginous experience necessary for being authentic, 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 actor. In that vein, Heidegger speaks of absolute freedom as modes of living determined by personal choice. Sartre identified, described, and explained what is an inauthentic existence, not to define what is an authentic mode of living.[13]

Erich Fromm

Erich Fromm proposed a very different definition of authenticity in the mid-twentieth century.[14] 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 accord with cultural norms, if 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",[15] 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 not to understand, abide, or live the value system of the subculture.

Some genres of rock music, especially the subcultures of punk and heavy metal, require a great deal of artistic authenticity from its musicians and fans and criticize and exclude musicians, composers, and bands they assess as being poseurs — insufficiently authentic or inauthentic as artists.[4] A poseur is an 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.[16]

The authenticity of an artist has three bases: (I) long-term dedication to the music scene; (II) historical knowledge of the subculture; and (III) personal integrity (inner voice) for correct artistic choices.[17] At one extreme of the heavy-metal genre, exists the subgenre of black metal whose adherents value above all else, artistic authenticity, emotional sincerity, and extremity of expression. Black metal artists emphatically profess that black metal performances are not for entertainment or spectacle, but rather that the extreme expression of such performances, are ritual expression, achieved through transcendence of the body and the self.[18] In light of such systems of moral value in the arts, a working-class band, by accepting a formal recording contract, might appear to be sell outs within the heavy metal and punk rock communities.[5] 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 by clothing, an emotional singing voice, and thematic substance to the songs.[16]


The philosopher Jacob Golomb argues that existential authenticity is a way of life incompatible with a system of moral values that comprehends all persons.[19][further explanation needed]

See also


  1. ^ Book, Ryan (22 October 2014). "Jean-Paul Sartre, Existentialism, and Music That Lives It: The Doors, Pink Floyd and . . . Drake?". The 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. ^
  4. ^ a b Leung, Godfre (10 April 2006). "Homeward Bound. Towards a Post-Gendered Pop Music: Television Personalities' My Dark Places". Independent Culture. Archived from the original on 2008-12-01. Retrieved 2012-07-30.
  5. ^ a b Barker, Hugh; Taylor, Yuval (2007). Faking it: The Quest for Authenticity in Popular Music. New York: W.W. Norton and Co.
  6. ^ James., Engell (1980). Creative Imagination. Cambridge: HUP. ISBN 9780674333253. OCLC 935280039.
  7. ^ Graeyk, Theodore (2009). "Authenticity and Art". In Davies, Stephen; Higgins, Kathleen Marie; Hopkins, Robert; Stecker, Robert; Cooper, David E. (eds.). A Companion to Aesthetics.
  8. ^
  9. ^ Merril, J.C. (1995). Existential Journalism (Revised ed.). Iowa State University Press.
  10. ^ a b c d Holt, Kristoffer (2012). "Authentic Journalism? A Critical Discussion about Existential Authenticity in Journalism Ethics". Journal of Mass Media Ethics. 27: 2–14. doi:10.1080/08900523.2012.636244. S2CID 144742280.
  11. ^ a b Nietzsche, F.W. (1997). Beyond good and evil: Prelude to a philosophy of the future. Translated by Zimmern, H. Mineola, N.Y.: Dover.
  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. ^ Fromm, Erich (1941). Escape from Freedom. Farrar & Rinehart.
  15. ^ Fromm, Erich (1942). "Freedom and Democracy". Fear of Freedom. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul.
  16. ^ a b Weinstein, Deena (2009). Heavy Metal: The Music and its Subculture. Da Capo Press. p. 46.
  17. ^ Larsson, Susanna (2013). "I Bang My Head. Therefore I Am: Constructing Individual and Social Authenticity in the Heavy Metal Subculture". Young. 21 (1): 95–110. doi:10.1177/1103308812467673. S2CID 146554112.
  18. ^ Olson, Benjamin Hedge (May 2008). I Am the Black Wizards: Multiplicity, Mysticism and Identity in Black Metal Music and Culture. p. 47 (Masters of Arts Thesis thesis). Bowling Green State University. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2020-04-11.
  19. ^ Golomb, Jacob (1995). In Search of Authenticity: From Kierkegaard to Camus. London: Routledge.

Further reading