Critical Rethinking: Informative Mistakes

Letter submitted to the New York Times Op-Ed (not selected for publication)

In an online forum for perspective college students on arts in liberal learning, I referenced an alumna who personifies the importance of intellectual breadth within the practice of making. “Google Jordan Casteel”, I said.

Coincidentally, the Times had just published a video of Casteel on a walk through tour of her current exhibition, situating herself among contemporary cultural icons (author bell hooks, artist Alice Neel) and explaining her practice of collaboratively interweaving identities of subject, culture, and self.

In a revealing “mistake”, (later corrected) the Times identifies Casteel as the artist who painted Michelle Obama’s portrait. But that portrait is painted by a different artist of color, Amy Sherald.

The error justifies one of our school’s key course requirements–Social and Cultural Analysis: Critically examine the relationship between dominant and marginalized cultures, subcultures or groups.

Is it the case that as a dominant group we all look alike?

Serwaa and Amoakohene
Oil on canvas, 90 x 78 inches, 2019
used by permission of the artist