Deborah Solomon interviewed Marlene Dumas on the New York Times in June 2008, and there Marlene commented on “cruelty” in art as a quality an impressive artwork has. I have never used the word cruelty for art, but I totally agreed when I read the article.
I (D. Solomon) asked her (M. Dumas) if she saw a difference between European figurative painting and its young New York cousins, exemplified by artists like Elizabeth Peyton, with her dreamy, jewel-like portraits of rocks stars and friends. “For me, that is not cruel enough,” Dumas said. “I like it a bit crueler. Francis Bacon once said that is why he went for figuration against abstraction — he didn’t like Pollock as much because he said abstraction couldn’t be cruel enough for him. I did get things from Francis Bacon — the fact of the figure in an abstract background. It is a figure, but where is the figure?”
It is like when Mishima talked about quality of good novel. He said something like, a good novel won’t answer any question, but it leaves us with an unanswered question in a very cruel way.”