Inside the Studio

Carlisle Bell

What are the major themes you pursue in your work?

Currently, I’m looking for ways to depict banal evil, a concept developed by the political philosopher Hannah Arendt and outlined in her 1963 book Eichmann in Jerusalem.  In brief, banal evil is evil that is perpetrated by people who don’t know what they are doing is evil.  The concept originally applies to the blameless duties of bureaucrats, specifically Nazi bureaucrats.  For me, banal evil is much more ubiquitous and is manifest as passivity to global goings-on, not taking a moral stance on difficult moral issues, &c. In particular, I am interested in the harmful effects of otherwise beneficial technological advancements with regards to food and energy production in the United States.  In my native Iowa, banal evil is in the harmful effects of mono-cropping corn: environmentally with the widespread use of chemical fertilizers, pesticides, and herbicides, and nutritionally with the complete overhaul of the American diet.

In general, what was the best advice given to you as an artist?

At least half of what you do will be crap.  Reassuring advice that has been voiced by a number of successful artists.

Prefer to work with music or in silence?

I prefer music generally.  Silence sometimes.

If you could only have one piece of art in your life, what would it be?

Lucian Freud’s Interior at Paddington.

Who are your favorite writers?

Cormac McCarthy, Tolstoy (the short novels), John Steinbeck, early Saul Bellow, and Michael Crichton.


About the Author

Katherine Henning is Senior Associate Curator at Saatchi Art. Need help finding art? Contact her via our free Art Advisory service here.