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Anonymity in Art: The magic of mystery


Whether by pseudonym, costume or evasion, artists have often used anonymity to promote the true essence of their art.

The overlooked and often underappreciated tool has produced some of the most successful and prominent artists of all time by removing humanity and enhancing the art. 

The craft of countless poets, writers, singers and artists is embodied by graffiti artist Banksy, and used by singer Sia, invented band Gorillaz and writer JK Rowling. 

One reason why these artists choose to keep most or some of their identity anonymous is to escape the insufferable aspects of celebrity culture, allowing them instead the privacy that ordinary people assume everyday. 

Pioneers of anonymity Daft Punk kept their identities a mystery for the entirety of their 28-year career, dressing head-to-toe in biker outfits or tuxes and sporting futuristic metallic headgear at every public outing.

For the robotic dance duo, who wished to separate their personal and professional lives, this arguably increased their success with listeners steeped in intrigue at the mysterious pair. 

Additionally, singers such as Sia and Orville Peck choose to keep their physical identities private by covering their faces with a wig and tassel mask, respectively.

This notion rejects the intertwined relationship between sexuality or physical appearance with fame and success in the pop industry and ensures a level of privacy. 

Removing the personal brand from fame also means that many artists, from musicians to writers, can reframe their success based purely on their work output.

This allows work not to be tainted by reputation, for example JK Rowling writing crime novels under the name Robert Galbraith without them being connected to YA fiction.

This type of self-marketing would no doubt have hindered some star’s careers, such as Prince of Pop Justin Bieber, or TikToker Dixie D’Amelio, whose personal connection to fans is a cre tenet to their success.

This idea of ‘personal brand’, first coined in the late ‘90s, has escalated in the 21st Century with gossip blogs, personal social media accounts, VIP meet-and-greets and other phenomena amplifying celebrity identity and encouraging fan culture.

The crux of anonymity has always lay in the public desire to reveal the ‘man behind the mask’ such as with the unconsented unveiling of Top Gear’s black-suited ‘Stig’ by a Sunday newspaper in 2003. 

The increasingly parasocial obsession with celebrity culture is causing a slow death of anonymity in music personified by Daft Punk’s split earlier this year.

The pair, who were comprised of French musicians Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo and Thomas Bangalter, launched an 8-minute ideo titled ‘Epilogue’ to their Youtube Channel, before their illusion could be destroyed.

Additionally, a 2017 Forbes report confirmed that Marshmello is Chris Comstock, a DJ-producer known as Dotcom after Skrilllex accidentally revealed this in 2015. 

However, as evidenced by the multiple conspiracy theories that took the internet by storm after Shawn Mendes appeared at the 2018 iHeart Radio MMVA’s in 2018 in DJ Marshmello’s signature marshmallow mask, the magic in Marshemello’s mystery might still be alive.

In fact, with fame at its most transparent ever it seems that anonymity is more important than ever for retaining the magic of mystery.

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