How Artists Become Legends

A Theory Behind Legendary Artists.

I felt extremely sad when I heard about the passing of musician Sunil Perera. The amount of sadness was somewhat surprising because I did not know him personally, nor have I spoken with him ever.

It made me wonder what makes us this emotionally attached to personalities like musicians or on a wider scale artists (actors/writers/creators..) that we adore. I try to gather some of my thoughts here.

1/ Art relates to our personal identity

The memories went back to my childhood, how my father had bought me the ‘Signore’ cassette tape by the Gypsies in 2005. We listened to it on Sundays, laughed and sang along.

Growing up, being the guitarist among my friends, I was a guy who knew these songs and sang them at parties. Experiences with art become a part of our identities.

2/ Artist’s success is his followers’ success

Whenever I saw the Gypsies perform, I saw the audience having a cracking time. It made me proud to be a fan of them and to have followed their music from the early days.

Artist’s success somehow translates to their follower’s success. I know it’s a bit weird when you put it like that, but think about the last time you talked highly about a good song to someone. That piece of art helped you to express your taste in music, and its success feels like your success.

3/ We know all about our favourite artists

An artist's life is mostly public. We want to know about them as much as we can, the good and the bad. Fame makes artists vulnerable. The ones who turn this vulnerability into impact, effortlessly communicate their authentic self to their followers. We love authenticity. This makes us stronger with 1/ and 2/ above.

4/ We cry for the emotions they created in our lives.

In hindsight, I figured I wasn’t sad about the ‘person’ Sunil Perera. He probably lived a happy life with what he did and his loved ones. But I was sad about the emotions that the ‘artist’ Sunil Perera had created in my life.

I felt proud when I knew all the words of his songs while singing them with my friends. I felt overjoyed when we laughed at the meaning of those songs and enjoyed the tunes. We simply had so much fun for ourselves with that art.

So ultimately, maybe it’s not what the artist accomplished, but what we accomplished with him. It’s not what he felt, but what we felt with him. The stronger we felt, the stronger we thought we were connected to him.

At this point, you might think whether this conclusion is about selfishness. But I would argue, no. These are natural traits of being human. The point is — it’s only art and artists who can trigger these feelings in us at scale.

RIP Sunil Perera. You have inspired generations…

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