Art and Artist

Published: July 30, 2018

The topic of enjoying and supporting artists of questionable moral reputation is one that I often find myself dwelling upon and discussing with others. The variety of takes on the subject are wide and interesting and, unlike a multitude of other topics, a large amount of these positions are thoughtful and sensical. The topic itself is rooted in concepts of personal ethics, the place of art in society, and how much the artist’s views influence their own work, all of which are thought provoking topics on their own. Yet, no one can objectively say how we should feel and which art should strike us as worth our time (heaven knows Sput has tried…). Yet, still, the topic is endlessly interesting to me, as it’s one that encompasses so much of how we, as people, view the world around us.

At what point does an artist’s actions overshadow their art? Are more personal records more susceptible to being tainted? How much does one’s opinion stem from their own personal morals? Such questions are ones I see being flirted with and danced around often, evolving a specific instance into a much broader topic. Yet, in terms of answers, I somewhat draw a blank. Instead, these questions lead me to even more open thoughts, such as “where do we draw the line” (I’ll be the first to admit said line can be blurry for me) and “can we even justify something as subjective to what messages and frequencies resonate with us?” Is it even possible to obsess over this with a level of accuracy?

Take a band like Dimmu Borgir’s Hellhammer and Shagrath, who have both have been quoted as saying extremely bigoted and hateful things [1], despite being cited as one of the less egregious black metal groups. Many would argue this kind of situation could possibly be attributed to the bigoted ethos of the genre, although staff member verdant argues that while “[t]he claim… is somewhat valid…[,] actually committing those crimes is superfluous and doesn’t necessarily lend credence to the character some of these musicians are trying to portray.” Yet still, it’s hard to argue that the years of crime haven’t worked their way into the genres of black metal, power electronics, and other comparable scenes. Fellow contributor Wines even argues that “the purpose of such genres, and such tapes, are a complete rejection of complicity in a societal hegemony that insists on palatability… It is also a reminder to the cosseted that this Exists, on often a very literal level.”

But by dodging musical movements entirely you are arguably limiting yourself from experiencing truly engaging works. “I try not let things unrelated to music cloud my judgement, else I’d just be limiting what I can enjoy. Some of my favourite music has been made by some pretty nefarious characters: Famine of Peste Noire, a white-nationalist Frenchman who just so happened to make some of the most idiosyncratic black metal of all time; Carlo Gesualdo, an aristocrat who murdered his adulterous wife and her lover in cold blood… etc.” said resident bird-watcher and staff member Jacquibim, who told me that, by shying away from art made by depraved artists, he feels that he’d be starving himself of significant art. Yet, even after making a conclusion such as this one, you also are confronted with the topic of support, be it merchandise purchases or word of mouth endorsement. Close friend of mine BBGames stated that, while his and others’ monetary support of the art isn’t a direct endorsement of the artist themself, “glorifying the [problematic] people behind the music [is something he is] completely against,” reaffirming his and others’ stance on separation.

While these two arguments are rooted in BB and Jac’s personal thoughts, they offer a clear insight into their own views on the role the artist plays in their art. Other people I talked to agreed that the topic was one that tended to be not so black and white, but, still, I feel that most art has some semblance of the artist themselves, whether they are creating satire that cartoonishly paints how they see the world around them or depict their own thoughts and feelings through deep seeded metaphor. An example in another medium of this would be the works of H.P. Lovecraft, who has been criticized by many for embedding his own xenophobic and hateful worldview into his chilling tales, the kinds of which that give insight into his own character [2]. Similarly to how many feel this way about artists like Lovecraft, fellow contributor Clavier disagreed with the others, stating that “[i]t’s just psychologically difficult to separate what I know of an artist from their art.” and that “…ethics apply to the creation of art. And if that means limiting the scope of what can be produced, then so be it.”

Regardless of how you feel about such limitations (both sides make a case for themselves), we can all agree that it’s wise to, at the very least, be aware of who is making the music you are enjoying. Being conscious of this is extremely necessary to building your own viewpoint on this topic and keeping your own opinions of certain artists nuanced. But, still, that hardly answers the main question I raised — when does an creator’s actions taint their creations? It’s a question that I’m not entirely sure if I know the answer to yet. It’s perhaps a trite observation, but art is an incredibly open-concept, in that it both depicts and expresses itself in the way the artist intended and also the way that the viewer perceives it. Because of this, the observer can instill their own interpretations, possibly filtering out a piece of art’s intended meaning, disassociating it from the artist themselves. Because of this, you could possibly remove any subtext and coded references or use those to create your own interpretation of their work. Although this can only go so far (groups like Brainbombs and Grand Belial’s Key leave very little to the imagination), this line of thinking isolates the work as just what it is — a work. This said, even without removing the artist’s influences, these pieces can offer as a window into the mind of the creator and, if effective in its goals, a thought-provoking experience.

But, hey, that’s just this balloon’s dumb opinion.


1: Hellhammer’s statements were documented in Lords of Chaos and Until The Light Takes Us, where as Shagrath’s disgusting racial comments were documented in the first issue of the norwegian Darkness ‘zine –
*Special thanks to Jacquibm, Clavier, Winesburgohio, Conmaniac, verdant, BBGames, and Lucid for helping me out every step of the way.
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