Trust and sincerity in art

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Our life with art is suffused with trust. We don’t just trust one another’s aesthetic testimony; we trust one another’s aesthetic actions. Audiences trust artists to have made it worth their while; artists trust audiences to put in the effort. Without trust, audiences would have little reason to put in the effort to understand difficult and unfamiliar art. I offer a theory of aesthetic trust, which highlights the importance of trust in aesthetic sincerity. We trust in another’s aesthetic sincerity when we rely on them to fulfill their commitments to act for aesthetic reasons — rather than for, say, financial, social, or political reasons. We feel most thoroughly betrayed by an artist, not when they make bad art, but when they sell out. This teaches us something about the nature of trust in general. According to many standard theories, trust involves thinking the trusted to be cooperative or good-natured. But trust in aesthetic sincerity is different. We trust artists to be true to their own aesthetic sensibility, which might involve selfishly ignoring their audience’s needs. Why do we care so much about an artist’s sincerity, rather than merely trusting them to make good art? We emphasize sincerity when wish to encourage originality, rather than to demand success along predictable lines. And we ask for sincerity when our goal is to discover a shared sensibility. In moral life, we often try to force convergence through coordinated effort. But in aesthetic life, we often hope for the lovely discovery that our sensibilities were similar all along. And for that we need to ask for sincerity, rather than overt coordination.
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First archival date: 2020-07-27
Latest version: 2 (2022-06-02)
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