The Art of Not Sitting Pretty
St. Martin's Press: 479 pp., $35
Here comes that old question, the one that pops up when a new biography of a prominent artist or writer is published: Do we judge an artist by the life or the work? Or is it both? Alice Neel is best known for her extraordinary portraits of the people she knew and for her self-portraits. Her life story is a powerful narrative of the 20th century that touches on various dominant themes: the hopeful charisma of the 1920s, the poverty of the 1930s, World War II and its immediate aftermath, the widespread paranoia of the 1950s, the identity questions and feminism of the...