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?
- 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?
- Are these double standards justified? Are there any that you hold despite feeling they’re unjustified?
- What impact might these standards have on artists?