Opinion: ‘Separating the Art from the Artist’ Is Some Weak-Ass Bulls**t
The following editorial is solely the opinion of MetalSucks writer and editor Chris Krovatin, AKA Emperor Rhombus. They reflect his views and his views alone.
On January 6th, 2021, everyone remembered how many Iced Earth albums they owned. As photos emerged of guitarist and songwriter Jon Schaffer taking part in the election-denier riot against the Capitol, we all remembered the number of times we blasted “Dracula.” And as Schaffer’s by-then-predictable conservative opinions manifested as an attempt to “take back our country,” we all made excuses. We couldn’t say we didn’t know, because this was not out of character for Schaffer when we thought about it. But we could say that it didn’t matter, because we weren’t listening to his music for his politics. He just wrote a great song about Count Dracula. It’s all about separating the art from the artist, right?
But maybe it’s time to admit that this is a cop-out. The idea of “separating the art from the artist” is some weak-ass bullshit, and just displays the mental acrobatics one is willing to undergo to not question their own standards. Now that the honest financial truths of being in a band have been repeatedly outlined by artists themselves, it’s time to accept the music we love along with the flaws of the people behind it and use that as a means by which to examine who we are.
Metal is uniquely positioned for the ‘art vs artist’ excuse because so many of our songs are about Tolkien, and battles we weren’t alive for, and all that escapist shit. When the whole point of a genre is to offer its listeners a way out of their overcast lives, it can be easy to ignore the insane opinions of its creators. So long as they don’t actually spell it out in the lyrics – and let me tell you, some metal fans reeaally push this rule to its limit – a band’s work is an artistic fantasy, to be appreciated on its own. Their bad attitude, fringe beliefs, and horrible personal habits can’t reach you if you’re only here for the robot dragons.
Disclaimer: I’m no hero here. My first musical love was Frank Sinatra, who I’ve spent my whole life learning was a mean, violent, drunk, misogynistic asshole. That poor Mia Farrow, right? My favorite band will always be Slayer, whose edgelord flirations with Nazi horseshit will forever be a part of their legacy. I will always love black metal’s spiritual howl, but cannot deny the genre’s historical obsession with nationalism and warmongering; I cannot tell you how many awesome record about vampires I’ve abandoned before checkout because their makers share a label with albums about “Hellenic pride” or some other coded term for bigotry. I appreciate this art, but with every listen I acknowledge the influence, and often the taint, of the people behind it. And I sure as shit won’t send these guys money on Bandcamp
But that’s the problem: people. Bands are made up of humans, and they contain all of the flaws and quirks that any group of three to seven people can muster. This is something that I’m acutely aware of as a metal journalist. You ever see a U-Haul careening down a highway and instinctively get out of its way, because you’ve rented a U-Haul before, and you know that someone as stupid as you is driving that ten-foot truck? That’s what it’s like to hear a metal album for me these days. There are people behind that album, and they’re probably doing what people do best: acting like morons but trying to get paid.
When I was a young metalhead, treating your band like a business was a refreshingly hardcore take. Dudes like Jamey Jasta and Dez Fafara and Doc Coyle talked about how your band cannot live on a diet of dreams and artistic wankery. You had to get out there and make shit happen if you wanted to make a living doing this. That sounds mercenary, but the truth is that it’s born of an era of bands who had to lay the foundations of their careers all by themselves. In the early 2000s, the mystique and power of record labels were being slowly vampirized by the Internet. These bands told us not to wait for some big break – go out and make yourself a rock star. How? Hard work. Hustle. Grassroots promotion. Get that money.
But if that’s the case, then separating art from artist is simply impossible, because the art is the artist’s chicken dinner. Enjoying that art helps that artist, even if it’s just by increasing their streams by a single unit. In the long run, your enjoyment of their art helps pay for their home, their meals, and their gas for a drive out to Washington, DC, to break into the Capitol building. So even if you’ve created a mental wall between an album and the despicable person who wrote it, you’re still helping fund that person’s life. You can say that the opposing team play dirty and wear stupid uniforms, but the scoreboard shows that you’re not really playing any defense.
We all like coming out on a side. It makes us feel secure in our identities — we stand for THIS, making us one of THESE people. But the world just ain’t that neat, and nowhere is that truer than art. We think of art, and music in particular, as magical, able to change and shape us in ways we don’t understand. But we have to acknowledge that with art comes an artist, and to observe their creation is peer inside of them and in some way validate them. You don’t need to like what you see, but if you refuse to know what’s in there out of a fear that it might change you, then maybe you don’t deserve to look in the first place.
Am I wrong? Is there something I’m not understanding? Let me know in the comments.