Double standards in art

Some double standards in art are taken completely for granted. For instance, parents are expected to appreciate shows or concerts put on by young kids—as long as their own children are involved. And if you’ve ever enjoyed obscure or non-commercial art, such as fanfic, comics, music, videos, blogs, or just random people on social media, we tend to embrace its flaws and limitations, even when the same flaws and limitations may be unacceptable in mainstream media.

Another example, is the way that we often judge sequels in terms of the original. We might say that a video game sequel is worse than the first one, because it didn’t improve much on the original. Logically, if it improves on the original game by a nonzero amount, it’s a better game, but that’s not the logic we tend to follow.

And why is that? What theories of “goodness” are people using that allow these apparent double standards?  Here are several ideas for what might make the difference.

Personal connection to the artist

If the art is created by someone you have a personal connection to, you judge it by different standards. Parents judge their kids differently, because it’s their kids. When a friend sends you photos of something they knitted or clips of them noodling on guitar, you judge them from where they’re at, not in comparison to professionally made art.


The idea of personal connections can extend to people that you have no real personal connection to. To tap into this power, the artist presents themself as a real person that you can imagine getting to know. This is sometimes called “authenticity”.


Or perhaps it’s not our personal connection to the artist, but our awareness of the effort they put into it. Of course, even blockbuster action movies—which certainly get the short end of our artistic double standards—take a lot of effort from a lot of people, so we’re not talking about real effort, but rather an imagined construction of effort. Under this theory, authenticity is not necessarily about making a personal connection with the artist, it’s about becoming aware of the artist’s circumstances, including how much effort they put in.


Another thing that might make the difference is the idea that an indie artist put a lot of “heart” into their work. And then if some corporation takes the same idea and cleans it up, making it fit for commercial consumption, we imagine that there was a cold calculation involved, that they didn’t really put their heart into it.

This narrative isn’t necessarily true—a corporation may be composed of individuals with lots of passion for bringing an experience they loved to a wider audience.  But certainly it’s easier to imagine a single individual pouring all their inspiration and creative vision into their work, than it is to imagine a large group of people doing the same.


An alternative interpretation of the above double standard, is that it’s about money. Under this theory, the true artists are the starving kind, who do it for the love of making art. Artists who make money already got their reward so why reward them further by appreciating their art?

Of course, this theory is hostile to artists, who deserve to eat after all. It favors art from people who are independently wealthy.


Yet another interpretation, is that “good” art is “original”. The artist put effort into coming up with and exploring new ideas, perhaps even advancing the entire artform.

But do we enjoy new ideas, or just ideas that are new to us personally? For example, suppose a video game comes up with a new idea, and the sequel just repeats the same idea. If we play those two games in reverse order, which one we enjoy more, the one that was first, or the one that was first to us?

Discussion questions

  1. Which double standards do you hold, and which do you reject?
  2. Are you aware of these double standards as you apply them, or are they things you discover about yourself through reflection?
  3. Are these double standards justified? Are there any that you hold despite feeling they’re unjustified?
  4. What impact might these standards have on artists?


  1. says

    Flip this for a second. There’s a mystique in art being created by those deemed by society (capitalism) as the special ones – the famous people. Even some successful famous artists find that their close relatives are not subject to that mystique, and unless they’re an appreciator of art, their work is disregarded as being special. And if you aren’t successful and famous? Expect your loved ones to read your screenplay through gritted teeth saying “that’s nice honey” if you can get them to read it at all.

    There are exceptions. I and my boyfriend are artists and will gladly look at each other’s work and evaluate it. But our closest friends and relatives? Barely acknowledge anything unless it’s 100% inside their wheelhouse.

    Hell, some people we went to art school with can barely muster two syllables for our art, narrative or otherwise. I’m not sure why that is, but I don’t know, familiarity breeds contempt? Are they stunned into silent jealousy by our excellence? Or is our shit so off the wall that they don’t know what to say about it? It sure doesn’t feel flattering.

  2. says

    @GAS #1,
    Thanks for the perspective!

    Although I am a creator of sorts (origami, blogging), I think my perspective is largely that of a consumer rather than creator. So from a consumer perspective, the issue with art coming from friends, is that fundamentally I didn’t become friends with them because I have a particular appreciation for their art. Whereas if I enjoy art created by someone I don’t know, they benefit from the selection effect–I know of the artist specifically because I liked their work. But this selection effect doesn’t incline me towards art produced by capitalism per se, but rather art produced by strangers, regardless of that art’s commercial success.

    At the same time, there is a counter force that leads me to appreciate art produced by people I have a personal connection with, and that was the subject of the OP.

    So this is all to say, I find it plausible that the standards can be reversed in some contexts, with even successful artists being dismissed by people in their personal circles. I think that though I might give special weight to the art created by someone I know, I think this effect may eventually wear off.

  3. says

    The beautiful dream is when we hit it big and get a bank full of money, everyone will wake up to the golden boys in their midst. To your original point, I do think some people take an interest in people close to them, by merit of that. Like, if you found out your dad acted in a B movie in 1982, you’d wanna see it. But that makes the people ignoring close artists all the more confusing. Thanks for giving a different perspective on that perennial annoyance of mine. For that, I’ll answer the questions:
    –Which double standards do you hold, and which do you reject? Are you aware of these double standards as you apply them, or are they things you discover about yourself through reflection?
    It’s hard to notice your own hypocrisies outside of moments which put them into brighter focus. At the broadest level, I think art is supremely subjective, and if enough people form society of fanfic, find it important and thought provoking in their own lives, it must be art. But nuh, don’t like it. I draw a line I recognize a flaw with.
    –Are these double standards justified? Are there any that you hold despite feeling they’re unjustified?
    I can make a case for my double standard with hating on fanfic, and I intend to some day, but is the justification legit? I dunno. Does it matter if it is, to anybody but myself and my fellow haters?
    –What impact might these standards have on artists?
    People don’t like to feel like somebody doesn’t like them, and if somebody doesn’t like something that you like, it can feel similar – to some people indistinguishable. I especially notice this in AFAB raised people, hammered into the position of not being allowed to like something without everyone in the immediate vicinity OKing it. Some people are so badly whacked with that conformity abuse that they are incapable of knowing whether or not they like anything, like people abused for their bodies losing the ability to recognize natural hunger.
    All that’s more about consumers of art than creators. As a creator, I’m blessed with self esteem and intellectual confidence to enjoy creating regardless of what the world says about my output. Other people are not so blessed, and I can imagine them being harmed by unfair judgment – hindered in their creative ability by that.

  4. Dunc says

    Alternative hypothesis: there are no double standards, because there are no standards. The actual reasons for liking or disliking something are entirely inscruitable and all of the justifications and arguments put forward for any given opinion are post-hoc rationalisations. This is further complicated because people will claim to hold opinions that they don’t really hold because they feel some social pressure to do so.

  5. billseymour says

    For visual arts, I tend to disdain things that I think I could have done myself, like throwing a bucket of paint at a canvas.  I’m not really able to judge the outcome, though; so that might be unfair.

    I tend to prefer classical music to popular music mainly because the players are so good.  (You have to be great to get one of the few paying jobs.  Pop music fans seem to be less discerning, so it’s easier to make a living at it.)  I should probably like jazz for the same reason, but I’m mostly ignorant of it, and you can’t do everything.

    So how does that relate to the questions you actually asked?  I guess that, by judging art based on its genre, I’m being unfair.  For example, I don’t doubt that there are rock-and-roll performers who are great, but I never listen to their music to find out.

  6. says

    Some answers to my own questions:
    1. Naturally because I wrote the OP, it lines up more with my thoughts about my own double standards than it might anyone else’s. But I think the aspects that most influence me are the first three: personal connections, authenticity, and effort.
    2. I tend to be conscious of when I’m giving a “pass” to people I know. But the others are post-hoc explanations of my motivations.
    3. I like what I like, and dislike what I dislike, and is there any problem with that? There don’t need to be good reasons, there are no good reasons for any aesthetics. On the other hand, I don’t like giving weight to effort. Rationally, I think that if art is easy to make, then so much the better, let’s all make more of it. I don’t want to value art for scarcity.
    4. Although I don’t think artists should necessarily kowtow to everything consumers and critics like, I do think that on a broad scale, what we value in art will determine what art gets produced–at the very least because the artists themselves will hold similar values. So sometimes I wonder if it’s ethical to, for example, value art for not making any money, because as I said in the OP, that’s kind of toxic to artists. You can follow that logic for many of these values–for example, many youtubers talk about authenticity, and how it incentivizes putting out this facade personality like your viewers are your friends.

  7. FatString says

    I believe the double standard I hold is meta because I hold it in belief that other’s hold the opposite. It’s the popular fixation of disliking certain art that appears to be overrated. Plenty of artists seem to have fame primarily because their art gets bought at high prices, which entails their next works probably will as well. I’ve always felt that there’s a disproportionate amount of focus on them. This ties into your listed double standards of money too. I do not like the weight given to “successful artists” largely because their success is evaluated by their money, which has no bearing on the quality of their artwork. These types also tend come from incredibly privileged backgrounds too (e.g. rich enough to afford welding cars together), which ties into why their works sell as much as they do.

    Appreciating art is also a social matter too as you’ve shown. If I feel an artist, even one that I like, is overrated, I’d rather appreciate an artist who isn’t and gains more out of that appreciation. I do recognize how this makes me sound though I’m not the type of person to abandon a series or singer simply because they’re “overrated;” it’s that I wouldn’t comment or give a like to a song with millions of likes and views unless I loved it and the bar lowers as the likes dwindle. It’s like, here’s two great artists, my reward to one means very little and could be the difference between quitting and continuing for the next. Of course I’m more motivated to show appreciation to the latter.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *