EVIL is LIVE spelt backwards. No one can feel truly “live” unless there’s some evil lurking outside. People with a full tank of happiness and no car to burn it turn into evil manifestations themselves: they become more boring than watching sunsets over the ocean after a month at sea (professional sailors say the view starts killing them after a week).

Attention to EVIL is what differentiates a great artist, because great art talks about good and evil in life, together. Bad art exclusively talks about either good or evil. Bad art has no life in it, just corpses or mannequins.

Take any decadent art movement, and it is going to be all about Evil. Decadent people prefer funerals to weddings because no one tells them “We all hope you are next!” there. Plus, black goes with everything.

Damien Hirst installation celebrates the simple truth that viewers, just like flies, are attracted to death in all its ugliness. It is not great art, because it cheers up the evil side of life only.

Hirst installations remind me of a family that wanted their cat to drop the habit of doing a poo on the carpet in the living room. They would rub its nose in the droppings and administer a verbal admonition. After some time, the cat would do a poo on the carpet, rub its nose in it, and walk away with a clear conscience. That’s exactly what Hirst is doing to the public. He rubs its nose in its collective droppings. And the public is happy to do it again and again, at least according to Tate Modern curators.

Social Realism in art is the opposite, and it is all about Goodness which makes it just as bad as the decadent postmortemnism of Hirst, if you think of art as the art of ideas. Otherwise the painting below offers (let’s admit it) a better sight than the installation above.

Alexander Deineka
Alexander Deineka

The balance of good and evil  (as the balance of white in a photograph) is a very good criterion that can help the viewer learn to differentiate between good and bad art.

Great art moved forward mountains of ideas and millions of people: Giotto. Juda’s KissMasaccio, expulsion from Eden. Michelangelo, David. Bad art kept saying mountains were too heavy or people too bad to be worth moving.

Sometimes, the criterion is difficult to use. The difference between a fairy and a witch is a year of living together (according to men); just as well, a painting that talks about evil at first sight may become something else after you spend some time with it. So, I never judge art at first sight. Some of the ideas it communicates may need to mature to become recognised by the “rational brain”.

A powerful example: Pope Innocent X by Francis Bacon, that shows a man torn apart from the inside by his passions. It does not have any goodness inside, at first sight.  Just an evil Pope in a silent scream.


It doesn’t have any goodness inside it, but it creates goodness inside the mind of the viewer. That’s an amazing mechanism when something evil gives birth to something good.

But to say what kind of goodness it creates, we must step away and wait at least a day, holding on to the impression the painting has just created.

What good does the painting of Bacon create in the mind of the viewer? Anyone? 

Read the answer here, and don’t miss the third part of the Bane series about Russian artists.

Thank you, the Daily Prompt, for the Evil question!


  1. Love your metaphor for the YBA – I can’t agree on Deineka, though: I just saw ‘The Defense of Petrograd’ and especially ‘Construction of New Workshops’ – I think much like the New Objectivity, the point is precisely that the depiction is morally neutral.

  2. I think any good that you see in the pope here springs from the sympathy of your own consciousness. If for example we knew he was in the middle of ordering his troops to murder all the children, would you or I see him the same way?

  3. I liked your topic title.. “Live” for sure. In my opinion, I would rather live then dwell in evil, look at evil, or think, feel, or experience evil. I would agree, if this is partly what you are saying, that living in this world, where there is both good and evil, is interesting.

    1. “living in this world, where there is both good and evil, is interesting” – that is the main theme of my next post about this painting )

      Thank you for reading this – and come back in a couple of days to see the story continued!

  4. The Pope – the man of ultimate power, appears confined in his throne. His legs are severed below the knees – he cannot stand up and walk away – he is trapped in his throne, i.e. in his position of power. The throne on a the other hand, is no throne at all – it is a swing, hanging precariously over an abyss of darkness with fierce forces pulling him down and sucking him into an obscure void somewhere behind the picture plane.

    I see confinement, horror, helplessness and anguish in this painting – the flip-side of ultimate power, the human price of vanity and greed. Choosing a Pope as a protagonist for his painting, Bacon extends the message to include the individual as well as the institution of the Catholic Church. How does this translate into something good? It reminds us that ultimate power is only a social construct – we are all human and therefore equally susceptible to the whole range of human emotions.

    1. Thank you so so much! This is excellent and concise analysis that wraps up more than sometimes can be read in academic studies of this painting! ) I am late with my post on this painting, but it is coming )

      1. I must have read something about the Pope paintings but cannot remember exactly what. So this is residue from past reading and my mood/imagination. Thank you – we are in suspense!

        On a different subject: you should have received 2 emails from me (as it is common when one does not get the attachments of the first one right). Just checking, not rushing, I know what office Mondays are like. I used the email address that you have provided to WP. If I should use a different one, which you wouldn’t want to publicise here, pls send it to info@boryanakorcheva.com

    1. Thank you for standing firm against my rather cynical commentary on him. Have you ever written about why you like DH? I’d love to read an alternative point of view!

    1. Think of your favourite artworks. Are they about life? If they are, there must be some good and some evil in them, not necessarily locked in a conflict, but at least co-existing ))

      1. Yes I think you are right! I think I need to go back and and have a second look at some. It’s that tension thing in art added interest.
        Agree with your Hirst opinion, too! I just can’t see the good in it.

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