How can we artistically express the grey area between doing what is right even if it hurts our interest versus justifying doing what is wrong to protect our interest at the cost of the other’s.
In the Netherlands, May 4th is the annual Remembrance Day of the Dead, remembering the Dutch – and other – casualties of World War 2 and all other wars and conflicts the Dutch have been involved in. With the current war in Ukraine, clearly it has special significance this year.
Every year, a prominent Dutch person is invited to give a national speech for this occasion. This year historian Hans Goedkoop gave a speech about “the banality of evil”, clearly inspired by Hannah Arendt.
Cut short, his message was the following.
How do we deal with (my words) the grey area, the gliding slope, between doing what is right even if it hurts our own personal or group interest versus slinky justifying or excusing for ourselves doing what is wrong to protect our own personal or group interest at the cost of the other’s interest.
The grey area between right and wrong
Immediately it made me think of a supporter of Dutch extreme-right politician Thierry Baudet about something he had said. She said: “It is not true, but it is right.” (“Het klopt niet, maar hij heeft wel gelijk.”) To me, it is the eternal battle in our heads between ratio and emotion. Doing what is morally right versus excusing doing what is morally wrong. We all know it, we’ve all been there, and we will all do it again.
I call it the grey area of right and wrong.
Clearly, there are two things that need clarification.
- How do we determine what is morally right or wrong?
- And how do we determine what is my, your and our interest?
As always, the extremes are clear. Me killing you, stealing from you, speaking evil about you, etc is – almost always, here we go already – morally wrong. My ultimate interest is my survival, your ultimate interest is your survival, our ultimate interest is our survival.
But what to do, if I can serve my personal interest in a big way at the cost of a little bit of yours? How morally right or wrong is that? How carved in stone are morally right and wrong, anyway? This is where it gets fuzzy, the grey area. How strong are we to do the right thing even if it hurts our own interest?
And there’s more.
The grey area between reality and fantasy
The area of mind models, the realities that we create to shape ourselves. What happens if we believe, make ourselves believe or are seduced – or forced – to believe something is morally right even if it is morally wrong. And again, who determines what is morally right or wrong? Intuition? International law? Whose intuition? Whose laws?
Isn’t that exactly what Hannah Arendt meant by the banality of evil? Can you do evil without being evil? Can you do wrong, while sincerely innocently believing you do right? I’m afraid you can. And are there people who purposefully and intentionally do wrong, knowing they do wrong but telling themselves they do right or willfully ignoring or setting aside that knowledge? It happens every day.
And where lies the dividing line between sincerely innocent and purposefully intentional?
I call it the grey area of reality and fantasy.
The grey area between now and later
And there are many more grey areas. Grey areas are the only interesting areas in life. Another interesting one is between short and long term, between now and then, between now and later. It is also, often, the grey area between instant gratification and deferred gratification. I once said: instant gratification is deferred regret.
With the rising level of prosperity and wealth in the world, instant gratification is becoming maybe the biggest threat for humankind. We always have been instant gratification junkies. But until now it was not abundant. That is rapidly changing for millions, if not billions of people. I have written stories about it in the line of The Century of the Self and I will soon do one more.
Grey areas in my art
You know, my art is about mind models, the realities that we create to shape ourselves, our self image. The difference of reality and fantasy? No, the somehow sort-of-consistent combination or merger of the two, of universal, scientific, group and personal realities. To me, this fundamentally describes who we are, what we do and why we do the things that we do.
I try to express the somehow sort-of-consistent combination or merger of our realities in my art – creating artworks with both an identifiable tension and an identifiable feeling of comfort, that I call “Warm Grounding“ … representing exactly what continuously happens in our brain: trying to get a grip on the overwhelming amount of observations that we make every second by creating an interpretation of the world that is realistic enough to make life predictable to a sufficient degree and at the same time to make our self-interest serving activities justifiable enough to carry on without too much feeling of moral guilt in order to be hopeful or inspiring enough – fulfilling our need for feeling status, certainty, autonomy, relatedness and fairness – to carry on in life.
How exactly? By mixing well-thought intent and spontaneous expression in the moment of creation, and by using mixed media techniques, such as acrylic, pastel and oil paint, markers and spray, combining different color palettes, graphic and painting styles, abstract and realistic elements, different scales and more.