"some music was meant to stay underground..."

OpEd

Separating Art From the Artist: An Artist's Personal Life Doesn't Change the Value of the Art Itself

Photo of As I Lay Dying

Band Photo: As I Lay Dying (?)

I personally find the idea of putting people on a pedestal to be incredibly naive and childish. At some point, whoever you idolize as being perfect will turn out to have some sort of horrible character flaws that you'll never be able to forgive. People are human, and with that comes not being perfect. Hence why I'm able to say that I don't mind somebody's offstage behavior as much as I do the actual music. In the same way, I don't care about lyrical themes that embrace politics that I disagree with.

While I still have issues with record labels that fund extremist causes (which thankfully happen to be confined to smaller European black metal labels and nothing mainstream) for the most part, I don't feel that the art is ever compromised by who makes it. And that's why I'll still hold on to albums like "Warpath" and "Total Brutal" despite having a forever lowered opinion of Allen West and Tim Lambesis. Allen West is almost certainly a drug dealer and Tim Lambesis is almost certainly guilty of attempted murder, but that doesn’t change what they've already made.

Just like I don't care for Varg Vikernes' hardcore right-wing views or Tom Morello's extreme leftism, I'm still a fan of both Burzum and Rage Against the Machine. Even outside the metal scene, Richard Wagner was an early proponent of the volkish movement that eventually evolved into the Nazi Party and Frank Miller is a hardcore Islamophobe. That doesn’t change my opinion of their work at all, it simply means that the creator is flawed.

Am I going to boycott "Machete Kills" because Mel Gibson and Charlie Sheen are misogynistic assholes? Absolutely not. I'm not paying to hear these people lecture me on their worldview, I'm paying to be entertained. Only when somebody's politics get in the way of the art do I feel that the line should be drawn. I don't see Austrian Death Machine as being offensive on the same level as Ad Hominem since with the exception of the upcoming track, “Consider That A Divorce,” Austrian Death Machine isn't about murdering your wife.

Regardless, even if either defendant is declared “not guilty” within the courts, I doubt that either of them will make a comeback any time soon. Not only will there be fewer fans but booking agents won't want the controversy that comes alongside booking a convicted felon to say nothing of potential visa issues. To put it lightly, there's a reason why Burzum's albums are released on their own label despite the name recognition and it's that a murderer/arsonist is simply too controversial for a label like Nuclear Blast or Metal Blade. Yes, the quality is there but the commercial potential won't ever be due to the stigma.

Does separating the art from the artist mean that Allen and Tim aren't horrible people? Absolutely not. But the fans who try to defend them in the face of all evidence as well as the haters who are now burning their collections aren't judging art on its own merits.

Dasher10's avatar

Matt is a freelance writer living in Chicago, Illinois and a metalhead since 1999.

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8 Comments on "Separating Art From the Artist"

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Anonymous Reader
1. December Soul writes:

People should definitely separate the art from the artist, however IMO, maybe not in the case of Varg Vikerne. He is an exception since he is a murderer, and here's why comparing him to Vagner is a tad nonsensical:

The music of vagner belongs, in a way, to generations of people. millions worldwide probably listen to his music including, I am guessing, jewish people. Because his music predated the holocaust and is attached to many values utterly unrelated to murder or genocide. The man died about 60 years before WWII !

Varg, on the other hand? his music and the black metal genre are a sub-culture most people have no idea about. His views and actions are directly relevant to extremism, violence and racism today. Maybe that doesn't change the value of his art, BUT the fact is if you are a fan of burzum you are a fan of a person with blood on his hands. Actually, I bet if you asked him, he would tell you this himself.

# May 15, 2013 @ 7:08 PM ET | IP Logged Reveal posts originating from the same IP address
Cynic's avatar

Senior Reviewer

2. Cynic writes:

I can probably think of instances where I haven't checked out a band because I didn't like a member (I've never actually heard Capharnaum for example...) but normally once something hits my ears that all dissipates.

As soon as their person spills into the lyrics however, it's fair criticism. Generally I can deal with that too though if the lyrics are good - for example Trouble is heavily Christian themed and it doesn't particularly bother me. I'm not much of an Anal c*** fan for example.

# May 15, 2013 @ 9:15 PM ET | IP Logged Reveal posts originating from the same IP address
R10's avatar

Member

3. R10 writes:

Interesting topic. Oddly, i saw Allen West with Obituary in '04, and he was in rough shape, looked like a strung out old man. Haven't paid close enough attention on the AILD vocalist's problems, although i like a fair amount of his bands music. Ran into a buddy i haven't seen in awhile today, and he commented on Hannemans death. I told him it was sh*tty, all our heroes are dying, and theres no one currently to relplace them. Not unless some consider Periphery capable to fill the void. cough--bullsh*t--cough

# May 15, 2013 @ 10:21 PM ET | IP Logged Reveal posts originating from the same IP address
BrianMN's avatar

Member

4. BrianMN writes:

Brilliant article.
I still think Faust should have been hung and left to rot but he'll suffer after he dies...have fun murderer.
Funny you mention the latest with Allen West......at least he still has his good looks......LOLOLOLOLOLLLLLLLL.
Death Methl.
Sorry, I shouldn't laugh but the guys been a mess for over a decade now.
What can I say? I've always loved the music but I don't think I ever idolized any of these people.

# May 15, 2013 @ 10:24 PM ET | IP Logged Reveal posts originating from the same IP address
spiral_architect's avatar

Member

5. spiral_architect writes:

I THINK AT SOME LEVEL, WE LISTEN TO THE MUSIC WE DO BECAUSE WE IDENTIFY WITH IT. THAT BEING THE CASE, IT IS NOT SO MUCH A QUESTION OF DISTANCING OURSELVES FROM THE ARTIST AS IT IS DISTANCING OURSELVES FROM ACTUALLY FOLLOWING THROUGH WITH ANY SELF-DESTRUCTIVE OR SOCIOPATHIC TENDENCIES.

# May 16, 2013 @ 9:52 AM ET | IP Logged Reveal posts originating from the same IP address
spiral_architect's avatar

Member

6. spiral_architect writes:

IT IS PERFECTLY ACCEPTABLE TO COMPLETELY IDENTIFY WITH OUR FANTASIES AND LET THEM EMPOWER US, JUST SO LONG AS THEY REMAIN FANTASIES. THE MOMENT WE ACTUALLY LEND OUR HAND IN GENOCIDE, OR MAKE A BRAIN STEW WITH SKULL BONE NECKLACES TO WEAR, IS THE MOMENT THINGS BECOME AN ISSUE WE HAVE TO REFLECT UPON A LITTLE MORE SERIOUSLY.

NP - WAGNER "RIDE OF THE VALKYRIES" ;-)

# May 16, 2013 @ 10:04 AM ET | IP Logged Reveal posts originating from the same IP address
Anonymous Reader
7. @BaltimoreBRSRK writes:

Using Burzum and Varg as an example of a topic I wrestle with all the time:

Burzum is music made by a racist for racists, the NAZI prick said so himself. Who makes money from the sales of his stuff? Wearing his shirts does in some way make it ok for him to exist and be himself... it's like bystander syndrome. And really, that's not ok.

# Jun 13, 2013 @ 1:29 PM ET | IP Logged Reveal posts originating from the same IP address
Anonymous Reader
8. inside_context writes:

Consuming art does not entitle anyone to moral high ground....everyday products may be sweatshop derivations,environmental hazards....but it's just that there is no "indivisual" to point ur finger at.A lot of metalheads including myself willfully choose to enjoy the music,not necessarily the content..neat article man!

# Jun 14, 2013 @ 4:37 AM ET | IP Logged Reveal posts originating from the same IP address

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