Why Alice Neel’s Radical Humanism Resonates Today.

Alice Neel with paintings in her apartment, 1940. Photo: Sam Brody. © Estate of Alice Neel

Alice Neel’s (1900–1984) sweeping show at the Metropolitan Museum of Art comes at a precarious time for women, both in and outside of the art world. The Coronavirus has exposed a lot of our societal weaknesses and women, particularly women of color continue to be the most vulnerable. Last September, four times as many women as men dropped out of the labor force ( 865,000 vs. 216,000). In December, economists reported a drop in job growth, with women accounting for 100% of losses. These statistics are so mind-numbing and devastating that it’s easy to lose sight of the individual story…


Nameless and Friendless, Emily Osbourn, 1857. The painting depicts a widow trying and failing to make a living as an artist, a trade dominated by men.

In 1970, American art historian Linda Nochlin was asked, “why have there been no great women artists?” Her response, printed in the January 1971 issue of ARTnews, was a groundbreaking essay and serves as a masterclass in recognizing and rejecting assumptive precepts innocently posed as questions. While this mere eight-word question-asked by a prominent white, male gallerist of a female art historian-may have been innocent on its face, it packed a punch: it presumed, perpetuated, and provoked. It sought-or rather expected-acquiescence to all that it implied. Like most questions of this nature, it was a lazy, quasi-intellectual attempt to maintain…


THE RELENTLESS STAYING POWER OF WHITE SUPREMACY ENDURES BECAUSE WE LET IT.

Image via Jon Cherry/Getty Images

One of the first things I learned about white supremacy in the United States is that it is a system without consistent rules. It is amorphous and has one goal only: to persist. The “rules” are made up, tweaked, or erased on the fly in order to accommodate a nonsensical racial hierarchy. Once I understood this simple fact, I saw it everywhere. Now I see it daily (hourly?) …


December is the cruelest month because he’s deceptive. He rolls in unexpectedly, spooking you from behind while you are still washing Thanksgiving dishes and chastising yourself for overindulgence. In the very moment you are promising yourself a few weeks — or even days (hours?) — of restraint, December comes up from behind, pokes your side and squeals, “surprise!” You want to get annoyed, but how can you? “Aww…you…” You make an attempt at being stern but notice he has those irresistible twinkly lights on and that ridiculous holiday sweater…

“POP!” a cork flies past, skimming your temple and hitting the…


In a column filed four days before Donald Trump was elected President of the United States, New York Times columnist Ross Douthat offered a historically familiar argument for what ails us as a nation: the decline of the traditional American family. As a nation we’ve spent a lot of time and money nurturing the myth of this heteronormative, intact, two-parent family structure. Reading his lament, I couldn’t help but wonder if the idea of the “traditional American family” that we’ve been faithfully clinging to has finally run out of oxygen. The notion that the “traditional American family” was helicopter-parented to…


In March 1965 the United States Department of Labor released a report entitled The Negro Family: The Case for National Action. Informally known as the Moynihan report, in reference to 37-year-old Assistant Secretary of Labor Daniel P. Moynihan, the documents primary, although unattributed author. Much has been written of Moynihan’s background, politics and intentions since the release of the enduringly controversial report and great care has been taken to acknowledge it within the context of when it was written. In 2015 historian James T. Patterson wrote that “Moynihan cherished a “can-do” faith in the capacity of expert knowledge and governmental…


December is the cruelest month because he’s deceptive. He rolls in unexpectedly, spooking you from behind while you are still washing Thanksgiving dishes and chastising yourself for overindulgence. In the very moment you are promising yourself a few weeks-or even days (hours?)-of restraint, December comes up from behind, pokes your side and squeals, “surprise!” You want to get annoyed, but how can you? “Aww…you…” You make an attempt at being stern but notice he has those irresistible twinkly lights on and that ridiculous holiday sweater…

“POP!” a cork flies past, skimming your temple and hitting the ceiling. Champagne sprays all…


I get twitchy if I’m not reading a good book. I am often reading two or three books at a time, giving one of them time to “take” and then dropping the others…for now. As a mother, whose kids usually end up in my bed at night I read one book on my kindle (so I can read in the dark) and one old-fashioned page-turner. I carry the paper book around with me during the day to read in waiting rooms, long lines and on trains. If I don’t have a stack of books on deck I’m off my game…

Beth Cavanaugh

Writer, mom, feminist. I write about life at the cross-section of art, politics, and power.

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