The Legend of Alice Neel 

The language of art is embodied in paint and line on canvas or paper, in stone or clay or plastic or metal — it is neither a sob-story nor a confidential whisper.  LINDA NOCHLIN  What makes an artist great? For the duration of the cultural drought that engulfed the plague year, as the rates of illness and death rose, there was hardly an opportunity to consider so decadent a question. Museumgoers were starved, subsisting largely on virtual exhibition tours and Instagram profiles dedicated to Old Master paintings. The ersatz screen-gallery is uniquely numbing. Zooming into and then scrolling through post after post of factureless paintings is like kissing through a sheet of glass. There is a semi-spiritual sensation which can grip a viewer who comes face to face with the actual product of a master’s hands. Standing in front of a genuine work of art, it is possible to enter the charged liminal space between one’s own mind and the artist’s. If one knows how to look, to silence all distractions and concentrate attention entirely on the work alone, the space between the two minds becomes asymptotic, and the capacity to see the world through the eyes of another human being, a brilliant human being, is within reach. This experience is possible only in proximity to the original.  When word of the vaccines’ efficacy was reported like the olive branch in the dove’s beak, the art-craving population was in no position to be picky. Museums were opening again and we would eat whatever was put on our plates. This is generally true of the public, pandemic or no pandemic: it will admire what it is told to admire by the appointed experts, but it is especially true regarding visual art. Most people have no idea what makes it good or

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