Georgia O’Keeffe: A Way Of Seeing

My Shanty, Lake George, 1922

Had I discovered this small, straightforward painting hanging in a gallery, I doubt that I would have recognized it as the work of Georgia O’Keeffe: an artist I generally associate with big flowers, big buildings, and big landscapes.

Today, I know that O’Keeffe created My Shanty almost on a whim — as a bit of sly commentary, or even as an artist’s practical joke — but that knowledge doesn’t make her story of its genesis any less delightful.

The clean clear colors [of a Lake George shanty] were in my head. But one day as I looked at the brown burned wood of the shanty, I thought, ‘I can paint one of those dismal-colored paintings like the men. I think just for fun I will try — all low-toned and dreary with the tree beside the door.’
In my next show, ‘The Shanty’ went up. The men seemed to approve of it. They seemed to think that maybe I was beginning to paint. That was my only low-toned, dismal-colored painting.

As her trust in her intuitions developed and her methods matured, her observations grew more trenchant.

I had two [avocados] — not so perfect. I painted them several times, when the men didn’t think much of what I was doing. They were all discussing Paul Cezanne, with long involved remarks about the ‘plastic quality’ of his form and color.
I was an outsider. My color and form were not acceptable. It had nothing to do with Cézanne or anything else. I didn’t understand what they were talking about — why one color was better than another.
Years later, when I finally got to Cézanne’s Mont Sainte-Victoire in the south of France, I remember sitting there thinking, ‘How could they attach all those analytical remarks to anything he did with that mountain?’ All those entire words piled on top of that poor little mountain seemed too much.

When it comes to O’Keeffe’s own mountainous work, there has been an equal tendency to pile on words. Her 1974 publication of Some Memories of Drawings (a compilation of work done between 1915 and 1963, accompanied by personal comments about the influences behind them) was, at least in part, a reaction to what others had written about her.

 I write this because such odd things have been done about me with words… I make this effort because no one else can know how my paintings happen.
The meaning of a word — to me — is not as exact as the meaning of a color. Colors and shapes make a more definite statement than words.

When an opportunity to visit Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art presented itself this spring, I was delighted to find that the featured exhibit would be The Beyond: Georgia O’Keeffe and Contemporary Art. Presenting over thirty of O’Keeffe’s works alongside those of emerging contemporary American artists, it promised to be a day well spent.

Intentionally or not, the exhibit has been arranged in much the same way as O’Keeffe’s Some Memories of Drawings. Seeing the artist’s works juxtaposed with her words, not as large blocks of text but as epigrammatic quotations — some of which could fit on a refrigerator magnet — is especially effective.

Perhaps inevitably, the introductory painting in the exhibit is Jimson Weed/White Flower No. 1.  When Alice Walton purchased the painting at a Sotheby’s auction in 2014, her $44.4 million winning bid made it the most expensive work of art ever painted by a woman, and one of the most expensive works of American art. First displayed at Crystal Bridges on March 28, 2015, it provided a perfect introduction to the new O’Keeffe exhibit.

In flower paintings like Jimson Weed/White Flower No. 1, the influence of photographers Paul Strand and Alfred Stieglitz can be discerned. They contributed to O’Keeffe’s movement toward a style that, while rooted in realism, tended toward abstraction by virtue of techniques borrowed from their lenses and darkrooms: foreshortening, extreme closeups, lens flare, and cropping.

But convictions shaped her use of the techniques. In the exhibit hall, next to her luscious petunias and jonquils, these thought-provoking words are posted:

 Exact realism does not equal awe. I had to create an equivalent for what I was looking at — not copy it.”
Petunias, 1925
Yellow Jonquils #3, 1936

Of course, O’Keeffe was perfectly capable of portraying the world around her in a realistic manner. Her paintings of New York City, including views from the apartment she and Stieglitz shared in the Shelton Hotel at Lexington and 49th, offer recognizable scenes from a rapidly changing urban environment.

East River from the 30th Story of Shelton Hotel, 1928  (not included in the exhibition)

In other New York paintings, apparently straightforward images contain both personal references and hints of the natural world. Radiator Building, Night sets Stiegiltz’s name in red next to the Scientific American Building, while drifting steam from a nearby rooftop suggests the folds of O’Keeffe’s flowers.

At the time, so-called ’emblematic portraits’ were in favor. Images, sometimes realistic and sometimes abstract, conveyed information about one or more individuals without presenting an exact likeness. Radiator Building, Night is such a portrait; its buildings represent O’Keeffe and Stieglitz, with the red sign serving as a clue.

Radiator Building, Night, 1927

Traveling west, O’Keeffe found analogues for the towering skyscrapers of New York in the vast, expansive deserts and mesas of New Mexico: a connection acknowledged by exhibition curators who paired Radiator Building, Night with a series of evocative landscapes in a section titled “Cities and Deserts.” 

Not until some time had passed did I recognize one relationship between my  favorite painting of the exhibition — Black Place II — and Radiator Building, Night.  The commonality is electricity: generated in the case of the New York skyscraper, but naturally occurring as lightning in the dark hills of the Bisti Badlands, about 150 miles northwest of O’Keeffe’s home in Ghost Ranch. Whether O’Keeffe intended to represent lightning, I can’t say: but she surely delighted in the phenomenon.

Today I walked into the sunset to mail some letters. After I mailed the letters I walked home and kept walking. The Eastern sky was all grey blue — bunches of clouds — different kinds of clouds — sticking around everywhere and the whole thing lit up first in one place then in another with flashes of lightning — sometimes just sheet lightning and sometimes sheet lightning with a sharp bright zigzag flashing across it.
I walked out past the last house and sat on the fence for a long time looking — just looking at the lightning. 
Small Purple Hills, 1934
Abiquiu Sand Hills and Mesa, 1945
Black Place II, 1944

As an exhibition category, “Cities and Deserts” is straightforward enough, but “The Intangible Thing” is less easily grasped — until O’Keeffe’s own experience is considered.

During her years in Texas, and particularly during her time in Canyon (1916-1918), O’Keeffe wrote again and again about the delights surrounding her.  In a letter to Anita Pollitzer in 1916, O’Keeffe’s exuberant love of her new world shines:

I am so glad I’m out here – I can’t tell you how much I like it. I like the plains – and I like the [painting].  Everything is so ridiculously new, and there is something about it that just makes you glad you’re living here .
You understand, there is nothing here — so maybe there is something wrong with me that I am liking it so much.
Evening Star No. II, 1917
Woman With Blue Shawl, 1918

After moving back to New York in 1918, she spent time in an entirely different environment: Lake George. A number of paintings from those years, represented here by Maple and Cedar, Lake George, help to illustrate O’Keeffe’s musings about “the intangible thing.”

Objective painting is not good painting unless it is good in the abstract sense. A hill or tree cannot make a good painting just because it is a hill or a tree. It is lines and colors put together so that they say something.
For me that is the very basis of painting. The abstraction is often the most definite form for the intangible thing in myself that I can only clarify in paint.
Maple and Cedar, Lake George (1922)

 
The thought that a section of The Beyond would be devoted to specific, tangible objects — still lifes — would seem strange only if you imagine still lifes to be limited to stereotypical vases spilling flowers onto a table, or bunches of grapes and nectarines huddled next to an overripe cantaloupe.

In O’Keeffe’s world, still lifes are more varied than that; more interesting; and never meant to depict the world with perfect realism. In the midst of her vision, her words resonate:

Nothing is less real than Realism. Details are confusing. Only by selecting, omitting, and emphasizing do we advance to the true meaning of things.
White Feather, 1941
Farmhouse Window and Door, Lake George, 1929
Black Rock on Stump, 1970s

Rocks, skulls, bits of flowers, and feathers: the randomness of the natural world’s detritus helped to form O’Keeffe’s art. The impulse to collect and consider seems to have been as natural to her as breathing.

 I don’t remember where I picked up the head — or the hollyhock. Flowers were planted among the vegetables in the garden between the house and the hills and I probably picked the hollyhock one day as I walked past. My paintings sometimes grow by pieces from what is around.
I have used these things to say what is to me the wideness and wonder of the world as I live in it.
Feather and Brown Leaf, 1935
Flying Backbone, 1944

In the exhibition’s last room, two large abstract paintings dominate the space. The first, Sky Above Clouds/Yellow Horizon and Clouds, recalls the better known Sky Above Clouds IV. 

Sky Above Clouds / Yellow Horizon and Clouds, 1976-1977 

The painting seems to embody the thoughts O’Keeffe expressed years earlier, in a 1923 letter to Sherwood Anderson:

I feel that a real living form is the natural result of the individual’s effort to create the living thing out of the adventure of his spirit into the unknown.
From that experience comes the desire to make the unknown known. By ‘unknown’ I mean the thing that means so much to the person that he wants to put it down – clarify something he feels, but does not clearly understand..

As for the final painting of the exhibition, curators Chad Alligood and Lauren Haynes have this to say:

The title of the exhibition, The Beyond, comes from O’Keeffe’s last unassisted oil painting, which she completed in 1972. An abstract fugue of blue, black, and gray horizontal layers punctuated by a ribbon of white, the painting suggests a distant horizon, either darkening or lightening.
The Beyond, 1972 
O’Keeffe had lost her central vision in the previous year, and she painted this work using only her peripheral sight. ‘The ‘beyond’ in this picture might represent what then remained just beyond the realm of her perception: what stood at the approaching horizon.
At 84 years of age, she must have been thinking, too, of what lay beyond her time on earth.

No doubt. But among the multitude of souvenirs being offered in the exhibition gift shop, I chose to forego a reproduction of The Beyond in favor of a trio of magnets bearing O’Keeffe’s words.  One recalls a young, feisty painter who turned away from low-toned, dismal shanties, and never looked back.

“I still like the way I see things best.”
Georgia O’Keeffe

Comments always are welcome. For additional information about contemporary artists included in the exhibition, please click here.

 

130 thoughts on “Georgia O’Keeffe: A Way Of Seeing

    1. I was happy to have the time to immerse myself in the exhibition — not only O’Keeffe’s work, but that of the contemporary artists, as well. There was an opportunity to ‘do’ as well as to see. A small area had been set aside with some rocks, shells, and other objects scattered about. Paper and pencils were provided, and visitors were invited to try their own hand at sketching the bits of nature found in O’Keeffe’s paintings, and then pin them up for others to enjoy. It was great fun to see — especially the drawings done by the children.

    1. I’m glad you enjoyed it, Jeff. It was a wonderful exhibition, that I wanted to share. In the end, one thing led to another, and it turned into a somewhat lengthier piece than I usually post, but it seemed important to include some of O’Keeffe’s words, as well as photos of her paintings. I certainly see her differently in some ways, now.

  1. With all that variety surely there is something for everyone. My favorite – the Petunias. I want to touch that velvety feel. Thanks for bringing more of her story.

    1. Aren’t those petunias wonderful? They do seem to want touching, and the color seems fairly true to what I remember seeing. The variety surprised me, Oneta. There were paintings included that I’ve never seen, such as Woman in Blue Shawl and Farmhouse Door and Window. Since coming home, I’ve found that she painted Kachina dolls, too, and I don’t remember seeing those. I’ve never been inclined to visit the O’Keeffe museum in Santa Fe, but now the thought has crossed my mind.

  2. You’ve woven well, pictures (hers) and words (yours and hers).

    The two paintings of the feathers remind me how often I come across feathers when I’m out walking in nature. The large ones usually settle to the ground. The smallest ones sometimes get stuck on plants, creating curious juxtapositions.

    1. I’m happy with the result: although, to continue the weaving analogy, there were a lot of bits and pieces trimmed off by the time I finished.

      You’re right about the ubiquity of feathers. And while a single feather is just a feather, even when visually interesting, feathers can be a clue to the hidden life of birds.

      Two experiences this week brought that home. In one case, I noticed a number of rather large feathers on the ground beneath a tree. Looking up, I found six black-crowned night herons sitting on its branches. When I mentioned it to a fellow fishing from the dock, he laughed and said, “Yup. They’re waiting for me to walk away from my bait bucket again.”

      A second, less amusing sight was a large, round area of white on a well-groomed lawn. It looked as though someone had dumped a large cooler of ice, but when I walked over to look, it was an explosion of white feathers and down. I suspect a ground dweller, like a dove, had an unhappy experience with a hawk. It certainly was an extraordinary sight.

    1. Over the years, I’ve read biographical materials about O’Keeffe, but rarely have spent much time reading her own writing. It’s been a pleasure, and one I probably wouldn’t have undertaken had I not visited the museum.

  3. A great artist. A free soul. She wasn’t afraid. She dared to explore and move away from the pre-conceived. She broke the mould and took delight in the change.
    That’s how I see her and her work. Great post, Linda.

    1. Actually, one of my favorite O’Keeffe quotations is, “I’ve been absolutely terrified every moment of my life and I’ve never let it keep me from doing a single thing that I wanted to do.” I suspect there’s a bit of exaggeration in the statement, but it’s a sentiment I recognize.

      She certainly did make conscious decisions along the way to forego much of the advice she was offered, not to mention cultivating a certain benign neglect when it came to conventions of the day.

      There’s a good interview with her from 1974 where she makes a very interesting observation, saying, “Often I’ve had the feeling that I could have been a much better painter and had far less recognition. It’s just that what I do seems to move people today, in a way that I don’t understand at all. Now and then when I get an idea for a picture, I think, How ordinary. Why paint that old rock? Why not go for a walk instead? But then I realize that to someone else it may not seem ordinary.”

  4. I too feel as I have received an art lesson. Lovely.

    Her comment, after receiving so many comments about her style, is profound and a gift to any of us who aspire to produce art of any kind. I, and I know other writers, photographers, musicians, are so influenced by what “others think” that we lose the uniqueness of what we have to offer.

    I especially like Woman in Blue Shawl, but so many others as well.

    1. I thought of you while visiting the museum, and while writing the post. It must be grand to be easing back into such wonderful country after being so rudely interrupted.

      There were some nice additions to the exhibition, including interactive views of her drawings and her home, as well as opportunities to “play O’Keeffe” and practice sketching some of the objects she favored. I didn’t take the time for any of those, which I regret, but there was simply too much to see.

      If I could manage it, I’d like to go back before the exhibit ends, both to see what I missed of O’Keeffe and to give more attention to the other featured artists. A few were beyond me, but I found several whose work was fascinating; in at least two cases, I’d be willing to hang their work on my wall.

      I’m only now beginning to explore the work she produced while in Texas. Like you, I’m drawn to Woman in Blue Shawl, but I’d never seen it before The Beyond. One of first essays that drew me to O’Keeffe was written by Joan Didion, in her 1979 book The White Album. It touches on the issues of confidence and style you mention, and I always love an opportunity to quote the passage:

      “At thirteen, in a Dominican convent, she was mortified when the sister corrected her drawing. At Chatham Episcopal Institute in Virginia she painted lilacs and sneaked time alone to walk out to where she could see the line of the Blue Ridge Mountains on the horizon. At the Art Institute in Chicago she was shocked by the presence of live models and wanted to abandon anatomy lessons. At the Art Students League in New York one of her fellow students advised her that, since he would be a great painter and she would end up teaching painting in a girls’ school, any work of hers was less important than modeling for him. Another painted over her work to show her how the Impressionists did trees. She had not before heard how the Impressionists did trees and she did not much care.

      At twenty-four she left all those opinions behind and went for the first time to live in Texas, where there were no trees to paint and no one to tell her how not to paint them. In Texas there was only the horizon she craved.

      In Texas she had her sister Claudia with her for a while, and in the late afternoon they would walk away from town and toward the horizon and watch the evening star come out. “That evening star fascinated me,” she wrote. “It was in some way very exciting to me. My sister had a gun, and as we walked she would throw bottles into the air and shoot as many as she could before they hit the ground. I had nothing but to walk into nowhere and the wide sunset space with the star. Ten watercolors were made from that star.”

      In a way, one’s interest is compelled as much by the sister Claudia with the gun as by the painter Georgia with the star, but only the painter left us this shining record. Ten watercolors were made from that star.”

  5. Men and women see things differently. I firmly believe that. Men are very hierarchical; rank and status is very important to them. Women tend to look at things in terms of use. What use is it to me? What can I do with it? And then there is that whole boys’ club thing, “No gurlz alowd!” — They don’t want girls in the club. Girls don’t know the rules. They don’t know how to play the game. They spoil everything. (Girls don’t see the need for playing the game in the first place, but never mind.)

    I relate to Georgia O’Keeffe; her independence, her refusal to get caught up in all the man-games. She didn’t fall into the trap people tend to fall into in the flat lands. They look around and say, “There’s nothing here.” Oh, but there is. You just have to look closer. That’s what O’Keeffe did. She saw the way the land works, the colors, the patterns. What’s more, she saw the details. The thing people never seem to get about art is that you’re never just looking at a painting. There’s an artist standing between you and it. What you see has been filtered through the artist on its way to the canvas. That’s the part about art that fascinates me: Looking at the painting and trying to deduce the artist in between.

    I wish that when I was in my teens, I’d known what I know now about Georgia O’Keeffe. My dad attended church retreats that were held at Ghost Ranch during the early1960’s when O’Keeffe was still alive and living at Abiqu. I was so close to something and someone legendary and magical, and never even knew it.

    1. I agree that men and women see things differently, although I might describe those differences — well, differently. And there’s a bit of an irony that today things have been flipped, and there are women who don’t want boys in the club: who’ve made up new rules to exclude them. There are some interesting discussions about that whole subject in the exhibition catalogue.

      Beyond that, it’s easy to forget that O’Keeffe was constrained by more than artistic prejudice about what women “should” paint. After all, she was in her 30s before women were allowed to vote, and her Irish identity apparently led some to consider her “less than white.” Such oddities we have in our history. But, as she said, there was so much she couldn’t do because of social and cultural constraints, she decided to focus on what she could do: paint as she pleased.

      You’re exactly right about the flatlands. I don’t think I could count the number of times I’ve been told “There’s nothing to see in west Texas [Kansas, Oklahoma, the Panhandle, Nebraska, Iowa].” It’s no mistake that one of the bits of O’Keefian advice enshrined on one of those refrigerator magnets is, “Take Time To Look.”

      When I passed through New Mexico, and stopped at Ghost Ranch and Abiquiu in the ’80s, I knew about O’Keeffe: that’s partly why I was there. But I knew so little, and didn’t really take the time to look. I had different eyes then, and no camera. Maybe another trip will happen some day.

    1. I’ve searched for and can’t find just now a comment of O’Keeffe’s I was going to include, and then didn’t. I’ll paraphrase it as best I can; she said, “I don’t paint subjects. I paint what I see.” I think that helps to explain the diversity of her work. It wasn’t programmatic or ideological. It was a response to the world around her: east, west, urban, rural. It made for quite a life, and quite an oeuvre.

  6. How fortunate you were to see such a beautiful exhibition. I am not sure when I first started to follow your blog but one of my earliest comments was on your first post about the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art.

    1. One of the nice things about any museum is that each visit is different. This time, I didn’t set foot into the permanent collection, but spent my time in the O’Keeffe exhibit, on two trails I’d not walked before, and in a Frank Lloyd Wright house that was moved to Bentonville and reinstalled piece by piece on the museum grounds. Had I been by myself, I would have lingered and spent more time with my camera, but there always are those subtle pressures when you know someone’s waiting.

      I did discover some treasures on the trails — more about them another time.

    1. She’s a remarkable painter for any time, I’d say. Her canvases and drawings certainly are worth seeing in person. Of course, that’s true for any artist. As much as we love the internet, seeing a painting online simply isn’t the same as seeing one in a gallery. Some of her paintings were larger than I’d anticipated, but some were much smaller — and it’s always fun to see the details like brushstrokes.

  7. To me, art is is the eye of the beholder and O’Keefe certainly had enough styles of painting to accommodate a large audience.
    I learned something else new today – thanks!!

    1. That really is true, GP. I know plenty of people who don’t have one minute of time for her floating skulls, but who love her flowers; others can’t stand the flowers, but love the paintings that emerged from her life in New Mexico. I’ve been thinking of visiting Palo Duro Canyon–one of the places O’Keeffe painted while living in Texas. I suspect there’s even more to learn about that.

    1. Clearly, there’s a reciprocal relationship between her words and her paintings (or drawings, or sculpture). Sometimes, she’d ponder something in a letter that later would show up in a painting. Other times, she’d create a painting, and only later find something in it to puzzle or delight her.

      I didn’t purchase the exhibition catalogue when I was at the museum because of the cost, but once I was home and trying to find a way into this post, I realized I needed it. Online images just don’t convey the vibrancy of her work, or stir thought, the way the catalogue does. It’s a work of art in its own right — and it will be useful if I decide one day to write about any of the other artists whose work was shown.

  8. So many here I love, Linda. The petunias and jonquils or daffodils (I forget) and the one at the end with the yellow and blue and white. So many more. This is a fascinating exhibit and I can see why you were mesmerized by both the history and the art itself. It appears to be very well curated. I am always amazed at how many styles and interpretations she does and I shouldn’t be. We all play with lots of styles before we settle on our own and even after we do will sometimes return because what we do just calls for it.

    Beautifully written, explained and photographed. Thanks for starting my morning out this way!

    1. I learned a good bit about art history while writing this, Jeanie. I didn’t know about Precisionism (an influence in her New York years), or the existence of emblematic portraits. And I didn’t know that O’Keeffe did sculpture, too. One of the pieces, called Abstraction was in the exhibition, and it was beautiful. Part of the beauty of her work, for me, is that despite quite different images from different times in her life, she never seems to be “trying on” styles, in order to choose one. There’s an undeniable sense that no matter what she sees, it’s always the same eye that’s seeing.

      I knew that her sister, Claudia, was with her in Texas, but I had no idea that they spent so much time exploring together, or tramping through areas of the Panhandle that I’ve visited. I’ve thought from time to time that I’d like to revisit New Mexico, just to experience some of her landscapes again, but Palo Duro Canyon’s just as close. No hiking the canyons until it’s cooled off a little, though!

  9. Interesting to see Georgia O’Keeffe’s landscapes with architectural motifs. In this post you have shown some of the more unusual works by her. It is fascinating to see how a painter like her tackled the urban theme and the symbolisms therein. For me, some of the works with the floating bones, windows and feathers are somewhat reminiscent of Rene Magritte, who was one of the pioneering surrealists of the time. The more I see her work now, I realize that she was a surrealist at heart, although her work is also expressionistic, which was another movement going on in her time also.

    However, I also realize with this post that O’Keeffe was also an abstract painter. It’s incredible that she handled so many different styles in her life, and that she was so prolific with her painting until well into her years and despite many a medical condition/ailment.

    1. Speaking of floating skulls and such, there’s a wonderful 1974 interview with her in The New Yorker magazine that takes on some of the more fanciful interpretations of her work. I thought this was just wonderful:

      “When she painted desert flowers with a skull (“Summer Days,” 1936), she says, there was no symbolism intended. Nor was there in “Horse’s Skull with Pink Rose” (1931). O’Keeffe explained to me that she had a collection of artificial flowers, which the Spanish people in her part of the country used for funeral decorations. “I was looking through them one day when someone came to the kitchen door,” she said. “As I went to answer the door, I stuck a pink rose in the eye socket of a horse’s skull. And when I came back the rose in the eye looked pretty fine, so I thought I would just go on with that.”

      The more I read from her and about her, the more I appreciated her straightforwardness: and not only in regard to her own art. In that same article, I found this gem: “O’Keeffe does not believe in giving advice [to aspiring artists]. ‘Go home and work.’ That’s all I can tell anyone,” she said.”

      1. That is genius Linda, the fact that she saw so much beauty in the interconnectedness of nature. Who would have thought that a horse’s skull could be so beautiful. Thanks for sharing this curious aspect of her way of working.

  10. I love the way you’ve woven your experience, and Georgia O’Keefe’s biography into this post. I was surprised at how much of her life I actually knew.

    I’ve enjoyed her work for years, but never had a passion for it. Your passion came thru and increased my enjoyment. Thanks for that, Linda.

    1. I’ve felt the same way, Gary: surprised by how much I knew about O’Keeffe, but also surprised by how much I didn’t know.

      A little strangely for me, I decided to approach the exhibition without reading up about it beforehand. I didn’t have a clue which pieces would be included, what the critics had said, how the curators had described the show — none of that. I think in in the end the approach was just right. Instead of other people’s words in my head about what I was seeing, I had only my own reaction. Maybe that’s what came through for you, and I’m glad of it.

  11. I love you how you were able to mix O’Keeffe’s paintings with her written words to help us understand how she worked and how she saw the world. Of those paintings you shared ‘Petunias’ is my favorite, but as you already know I’ve never been a big fan of her work. However, my appreciation for what she accomplished in the era she did it in, is growing as I see her work more and more. I’ve never liked living or wearing strong colors as they effect my emotions too much which, I think, explains why I’ve never been a fan but in a museum setting it must have been an exciting experience to see that exhibit. Art is good for the soul.

    1. One of the things I truly love about Crystal Bridges is how welcoming it is. Not only is the artwork beautifully displayed, there are sofas and reading rooms and beautiful views of the natural world everywhere. There are staff people willing to answer any silly question, and I can’t remember seeing a single uniformed security guard anywhere. Of course they’re paying attention — there are multiple artworks worth millions around — but they do it with class. I watched a woman I suspect must have been security sidle up to a woman who was taking notes with a pen in the O’Keeffe exhibit, and simply slip her a pencil, with a murmured reminder that pens weren’t allowed. No embarassment, no heavy-handedness. Nice.

      Of course I remembered that you’re not a fan of O’Keeffe’s, but I must say the variety in the exhibition — far more than I’ve shown here — probably would have provided something for you to enjoy. And for non-O’Keeffe fans, the combination of her work with some of today’s young artists was pure genius: it increased the “something-for-everyone” factor. One of my favorites was a grouping of 360 small oil paintings by Cynthia Daignault, called Light Atlas. During a 2014 road trip across the U.S., she stopped about every twenty-five miles and painted what she saw. It’s just extraodinary — I found the Houston skyline, and I could have spent a couple of hours just looking through her work.

  12. Some of her work I truly enjoy, particularly those flowers. Other pieces, I just don’t enjoy, probably because I don’t understand them. Sadly, art appreciation courses in my schools were few and far between — and reserved primarily as electives or for art majors. Thank you for adding to my appreciation today, Linda!

    1. On the other hand, it might not be a matter of understanding, Debbie. I’m no art critic, but there are a few pieces I understand pretty well, and I still wouldn’t have them on my wall. They just don’t appeal. There are a few of O’Keeffe’s that leave me cold, too. And what’s most interesting is that I may like one of her paintings — like the Flying Backbone up above — and yet not like other of her skull paintings at all.

      What has intrigued me is seeing the ways in which I’m similar to O’Keeffe: not in artistic talent, but just in how I live my life. For example, my house is full of things that clearly would appeal to her: bird nests, rocks, feathers, pine cones, acorns, bison fur. None of it’s going to make HGTV, but I love it all, and I’m always dragging home something new. And despite her deep, vibrant colors, I’ve learned she was a great fan of white, and white flowers, as am I. That’s one reason I included the video of Jimson Weed rather than a simple image. I’ve probably watched that two dozen times; it touches me how often she says, “I wish you could see it.”

    1. When it comes to bringing together pieces representative of her different styles, we can thank the exhibit’s curators for that. They were the ones who put together the engaging collection — one that managed to acknowledge her most well-known genres without being repetitive. I’m glad you enjoyed the piece — I appreciate the kind words.

    1. I remember you talking about losing that book, but I didn’t realize it was an O’Keeffe book. I think you might have said “art book” (or books) at some point. Which book was it? Those are the sort of losses that people who haven’t been through such a thing sometimes don’t think about. Photos, books, documents — a house can be rebuilt, but some losses are permanent.

      I think she would have liked some of your glasswork — especially those feathers.

  13. What a delightful weaving of her work and history. I’m not really a fan of her work as much as of her words.
    I would like to know your take on Jean Jack’s paintings!

    1. She certainly did have a gift of words, as well as of vision. The book I mentioned — Some Memories of Drawings originally was published in a limited edition of one hundred, but it’s been reissued in a more affordable edition, and yes: of course I’ve bitten and will have my copy in a week — thanks to the Lawrence, Kansas public library.

      I’d never heard of Jean Jack. I did the usual image search, and there were dozens of paintings shown. At first view, I’m not really a fan — they all looked the same to me. But that’s a response based on a quick glance. I’ll go back and have another look. If I’ve learned anything about art, it’s that my initial responses can’t always be trusted. On the other hand, there are a few “important” painters that I’d never allow on my walls.

  14. It is always better to read the words of the artist himself, or hear them through his or her work. You wrote about the photographers she knew that ‘they contributed to O’Keeffe’s movement toward a style that, while rooted in realism, tended toward abstraction by virtue of techniques borrowed from their lenses and darkrooms …’ which reminded me of the musicians who can play in any well known style of another musician as mimic or praise. Comics will imitate the accent of a well known personality. A really fine artist in any media can borrow from the features or characteristics of other artists freely. I love what I’ve managed to see of her work, mostly in reproduction, and everything I’ve learned about her has just heightened my respect. Thank you for a magnificent post.

    1. What you say is true, and it reminds me of these words of O’Keeffe’s that are so often quoted: “Filling a space in a beautiful way – that is what art means to me.” In fact, “filling space in a beautiful way” was the guiding principle of one of the teachers most influential in her life: Arthur Wesley Dow.

      In his 1899 handbook for art teachers titled Composition, Dow rejected simply copying nature. Instead, he proposed that landscapes and still-life compositions should be based on the principle of “a few lines harmoniously grouped together.” He discounted the importance of knowing a subject’s history, or worrying about accuracy. “The most important thing,” he said, “is beauty.”

      In 1914, O’Keeffe enrolled at Teachers College, Columbia University, where Dow was director of the art department, and the rest, as they say, is history.

      It intrigued me to read that Dow was instrumental in erasing the division between life and art for O’Keeffe. The adobe house that appears in so many paintings was hers, as were the rocks and feathers that lined her shelves, or the black or white dresses were her black and white sketches, made fabric.

      And that, in turn, reminds me of a favorite quotation from her that I came across: “I began with charcoal and paper, and decided not to use any color until it was impossible to do what I wanted to do in black and white. I believe it was June before I needed blue.”

      I don’t know why that makes me laugh, but it does: every time.

      1. As a photographer, I started out in black & white, doing all the chemical processing myself. When I became a professional, I got requests for color, and was told by fellow photographers that it was next to impossible to do the lab work myself (this was many years ago). I decided to continue in my own fashion, despite the difficulty, and it opened up a new world for me, I can well imagine her switch from charcoal to color painting. As for the laughter, I think there’s something very funny about the truth when presented in a down to earth way by a master.

        1. “Next to impossible” isn’t the same as “impossible,” of course. Your comment reminded me of a phrase that’s relatively well known here, and perhaps in your country: ““The difficult we do immediately; the impossible takes a little longer.” There’s a delightful history of the quotation by one of my favorites, the esteemed Quote Investigator.

  15. I’m back after a delightful visit with O;Keeffe and you. She was a unique woman with her own view of the world around her. And the strength of purpose to carry it off. She saw the world as big so that is how she painted it. This is such a wonderful exhibit. I am hard pressed to say which is my favorite, so it is lucky I don’t have to choose and can keep this post as a gift. I remember the feather and leaf painting from your previous visit. As you know, feathers are my lodestar.

    1. I did remember that about your feathers — that’s why I included two paintings of feathers, rather than the series of three rocks that were displayed.

      Now, I have to ask you to take another look at White Feather — the one in the vase. Just yesterday I saw it in a new way, and I haven’t stopped laughing since. I’ve not been able to find any details about what O’Keeffe might have intended, or about the painting’s context, but no matter. It’s still funny as heck to me. Once you’ve had a chance to ponder it, I’ll tell you what I see.

  16. It is a magnificent post. I’ve never read her words, but ned to explore them more – they are her truths.
    That about abstracts: “It is lines and colors put together so that they say something.” Even more rare is she saw ALL are abstracts – people just select and accept and determine this line and that color make up this.
    Fabulous person and artist (Irish – figures. Those poets, those storytellers, the musicians, the visionaries that carry something in their genetic code others don’t, I think)
    She may have been painting a drab house in mirror fashion, but she couldn’t leash her brush work and style from sneaking out in sky and hill…guess that was excused because of the building?
    So much here, I’ll bookmark for later.
    Oddly enough I last week dug out and hung in the dining room, one of her ’75 Met. posters that was framed had it in there last house but had to take it down (along with hiding several bleached cow vertebrae “sculptures”) because the realtor said the floating antlered deer skull over a pink sunset background was freaking people out.
    “…My paintings sometimes grow by pieces from what is around.
    I have used these things to say what is to me the wideness and wonder of the world as I live in it.”
    “I feel that a real living form is the natural result of the individual’s effort to create the living thing out of the adventure of his spirit into the unknown.”
    Lovely quote choices…I need to put down the computer and pick up her words to read. Thanks for the nudge.
    (PS. did you see the mystical misty horizontal ribbon “rainbow”floating across the clouds about an hour ago in the West? Managed to snap a couple of pix. The sky was so odd – not the usual clouds – more icy and wintery – with a towering thunderhead building blue and smoky white in the east.
    The German has taken a turn for the worse, not eating. we’ll. see. It may be her trail being prepared )

    1. First — I did see that rainbow. I was on Egret Bay, heading over to the Bay Area Meat Market. It’s the second I’ve seen — remember this one? The colors yesterday were far more vibrant — it really was glorious. I didn’t have my camera with me, and in truth I didn’t even have my phone. If I had, I would have called you, so I’m glad you saw it anyway.

      You’re exactly right: everything in life is an abstraction, to one degree or another. I first started thinking about that truth when I started taking photographs. People kept talking about post-processing: cropping, blurring, and so on. It didn’t take me long to figure out that every time we take a photo, we’re already choosing what to include, what to exclude, what to focus on, what to blur.

      I laughed at your realtor’s advice. Honestly, I can understand it, but there’s another side to that coin. Think how happy it would have made a true O’Keeffe enthusiast. My mother did occasionally cast an eye at my baskets of rocks and vases full of twigs and say, “Why don’t you dump that old stuff?” As I liked to tell her, there are two answers to any question “Why?” One is “Why not?” and the other is “Because.”

      Sorry to hear about the German, but it’s not unexpected. Let us know.

    1. Me, too. Sometimes, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts, and it’s pretty great to imagine O’Keeffe’s floating vertebrae and skulls interspered with Magritte’s floating men in bowler hats. I’d go to that show!

  17. A stimulating discussion of O’Keeffe. My idea of her work is based mainly on the paintings in the Boston MFA, where there are flowers, southwestern abstracts with skulls, but not of the cityscapes you mention here. I need to explore more of her work. The O’Keeffe city landscapes remind me of the Charles Sheeler paintings in Boston, and some of the abstracts you present in your essay remind me of abstracts by Marsden Hartley and Arthur Dove in Boston.
    The O’Keeffe floral paintings bring to my mind Imogen Cunningham’s floral photographs and abstractions more than photographs by Stieglitz or Strand.
    O’Keeffe’s remark that “Only by selecting, omitting, and emphasizing do we advance to the true meaning of things” is more applicable to art practice than epistemology. As she says: “The abstraction is often the most definite form for the intangible thing in myself that I can only clarify in paint.”
    Words to live by, for those of us that make things.

    1. The O’Keeffe-Dove connection was new to me, but it’s interesting. In Katherine Kuh’s biography of O’Keeffe, the artist points to Arthur Dove as the individual who had the most significant impact on her development as a young artist, saying, “The way you see nature depends on whatever has influenced your way of seeing…I think it was Arthur Dove who affected my start, who helped me to find something of my own.”

      In 2009, the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute organized an exhibit titled Dove/O’Keeffe: Circles of Influence that focused on the convergences and divergences in their art.

      As for O’Keeffe’s method, art, and espistemology, one idle thought I had is that when it comes to knowing ourselves, much depends on memory, and the stories we tell ourselves about the past. There’s no question that selection, omission, and emphasis play a role there, too — or that our view of ourselves and our past shifts as the details we choose to focus on change. Perhaps that “intangible thing” that we know as our selves only can be discerned from the inside, and not judged from the outside.

      Thanks for an equally stimulating comment.

      1. I didn’t know about a close connection between Dove and O’Keeffe, but I did know that Stieglitz showed Dove at his gallery, so she must have seen his work. The art in the Lane collection at the MFA in Boston has a lot of painting and photography from the circle around Stieglitz.
        By the way, I believe Lake George was the location of the Stieglitz’ parents house, and a vacation spot for him and O’Keeffe. Besides O’Keeffe’s paintings, Stieglitz took many photographs there.

        1. You’re right about the Lake George house. And here’s a more extensive article about the Dove/O’Keeffe connection. It’s all quite fascinating. To paraphrase John Muir, if we try to pick out any one of that Stieglitz circle, we find them hitched to everyone else, in one way or another.

          1. I started reading about the Stieglitz circle because of Edward Weston – a photographer who wasn’t in the circle at all. (I’m a Weston fan.) Stieglitz and O’Keeffe gave a pretty tough portfolio review of Weston at a transitional phase in Weston’s career in the early 20’s. And later, Stieglitz didn’t do much to help Weston, as he did Ansel Adams and Eliot Porter. Odd, because Weston’s work in the late 20s and 30s is more abstract and modernist than Adams or Porter, and should have fit with the art of the Stieglitz and O’Keeffe circle, especially that of O’Keeffe and Dove.

  18. O’Keeffe’s musings are delightful, so unlike what one reads on those little white cards tacked to the walls at art exhibits. I have often found myself stumbling through the stilted prose that supposedly describes what I was viewing and reminding myself, “a picture is worth a thousand words.”

    1. Isn’t that the truth? I do appreciate names, titles, and dates. A little extra information’s always good, and keywords for further exploration are useful. But I never read the card until after I’ve spent some time with the art work. Besides, depending on a curator to tell me what I’ve seen is just a wee bit similar to having a news commentator tell me what I just heard. I’ll listen, but with caution.

  19. I like her comments about doing the Shanty painting. When I read the reviews by ‘experts’ about works of art, the tastes of wines, and other ethereal things, I am amused at how much they read into them. Their interpretations are often elaborate and wordy. I think most creative works are simpler than that.

    Interesting post. Thanks.

    1. Georgia O’Keeffe would agree with you. One of my favorite passages from her was born of irritation over certain interpretations of her flowers. I always smile when I read it:

      “I made you take time to look at what I saw, and when you took time to really notice my flower you hung all your associations with flowers on my flower and you write about my flower as if I think and see what you think and see–and I don’t.”

      I’m glad you enjoyed the post. I certainly learned a lot while constructing it.

  20. You have changed the way I view Georgia. Went to an exhibit of her work at National Gallery East Wing years ago where they hung a painting of a huge tree viewed from underneath upside down. Really.

    1. I’ll bet I know that tree. It has to be The Lawrence Tree,, shown here in conjunction with the actual tree, which still is alive and standing. O’Keeffe painted it so that it could be hung with any side at the top; I think I remember reading that she preferred the trunk at the lower left.

      I love this story, recounted by a woman who visited the Lawrence Ranch a few years ago. As I recall, O’Keeffe noticed the tree while lying on the picnic table and looking up.

      “My favorite tree may just be the D.H. Lawrence Tree in San Cristobal, NM — a giant sequoia at the D.H. Lawrence Ranch, which Georgia O’Keeffe once painted.

      I just happened to look up while reclining on a bench outside the Lawrence cabins, and there it was — completely recognizable from my having seen the painting, even though I had no idea where the tree in the painting was in real life! I suppose that was partly the power of the painting — but I think it was mostly that like me, the artist recognized the power of the tree.”

  21. Similarly to you, I have always associated Georgia O’Keffe with flower paintings. I really enjoyed reading this post and learning more about the wide range of works that she created. I enjoyed seeing some of the pictures she created when she tried to “paint like a man.” It’s fascinating to think about why some of her paintings became more popular than others.

    1. She used to think about that, too. In fact, she had some opinions about the subject, but I’ve just tried and failed to find the article where I read about it. I do remember her writing about the irony that the fame of some of her work was rooted in a total misunderstanding — or misrepresentation — of what she’d intended. I suppose all artists have to face that reality: once the painting, or book, or whatever, is in the public’s hands, it’s no longer in your control.

      It surprised me, too, that so much of her early work might have been lost. When she moved from Texas to New York in 1918, it sounds as though she packed like I sometimes have — just stuffing things into boxes and barrels. She recalled certain pieces that just seemed to “float away” during the move. I have a funny vision of her traveling down the road, shedding sketches and drawings as she went.

  22. The mind of an artist is a wonderful thing. O’Keeffe, thank God, was wiling to write about her musings and her art. What a gift, leaving both her work and her words. I am also grateful for those who are able to spend time with an artist and present their works and words, such as you just did. Here’s another effort I stumbled upon earlier this month, a portrait of an artist at work: https://vimeo.com/channels/staffpicks/195737724. The thoughts on light were striking.

    1. That’s a beautiful piece. I was struck by certain similarities between his views and O’Keeffe’s. His word is ineffable, while she spoke of making the unknown known. But they’d understand one another. Color, and painting large, probably would give them something to talk about, as well.

      I especially enjoyed his account of walking to the studio with his more analytical friend and coming upon the purple flower. I’ve had that experience, and learned a hard lesson: you can’t make someone see.

      On the other hand, when someone does see, as the professor saw the steps — wonderful things can happen. Seeing and being seen are transformative.

      One last thing: I think his paintings are marvelous. Thanks for introducing me to his work.

  23. She was a fascinating woman. I enjoyed reading a biography several years ago. Your essay on her art brought new revelations to her art and exposed me to some of her work that I was not familiar with.

    1. I’ve discovered a good bit of new art from her hand, too. Some of my favorites are from her time in Texas, like this train rolling across the prairie. I’m looking forward to learning more about her in the months to come, and I’m happy you found some new insights here, as well.

      This afternoon, I found myself wondering how she’d portray one of our Saharan dust-covered sunsets — and then I wondered if she ever had experienced a Panhandle dust storm. More exploration’s called for.

  24. O’Keeffe was such a gift–a true artist; she created what she experienced. Thank you for sharing what you observed and learned. Like others, I’m struck by her lack of pretension.

    1. I knew only the broad outlines of her biography, but as I read more, it became apparent just how complicated — or at least complex — her life was. It certainly wasn’t the airbrushed version I’d picked up along the way. That she could move between such different worlds as the New York and Taos art communities, put up with Stieglitz’s infidelities, and still keep producing art, is a bit of a wonder. I’ve always appreciated her art, but I’ve come to appreciate her in a new way as a person. I’m glad we have her.

  25. Lovely! Thanks for this. I saw an O’Keeffe exhibit in Toronto some years ago, and was so intrigued by the breadth of styles. Many artists move through various styles, even while one or another becomes that by which they are known. Pollack is a case in point. But the art of each stage in their career is important, not just as a stage of development, but for what that mode of doing art says at that time.

    1. I think that’s right. It seemed to me that O’Keeffe’s different styles always were an outgrowth of her interaction with her environment, and what they suggested to her in terms of line and color. The best analogy I can think of in my own life is the occasional etheree that pops up here. I’ve never once thought, “Today, I shall write an etheree.” Instead, there are times when a thought comes to mind and I recognize it as necessarily a part of an etheree — and then I go to work. It’s the subject that determines the form, and not the other way around. I think that’s what she meant when she’d say, “I don’t start with an idea; I begin with the world.”

    1. It’s occurred to me that your gallery talks and blog serve the same purpose as O’Keeffe’s writing about her works. Engaging with an artist is so much more satisfying than simply walking through a gallery or reading an art critic’s opinion — or so it is for me.

      Maybe one of these days I’ll get the chance to write the same kind of post for one of your shows. That would be terrific fun!

  26. I can only add my voice to the threads I see above, typified by the exchange with G.P. Cox, that Ms. O’Keeffe was an artist with such a range of vision that one essentially never finishes “discovering” her. There are simply layers upon layers of style, technique, meaning and image; which, I suppose, was what she *meant*. Thank you.

    1. And of course every time we encounter any artist anew, we’re going to see the work differently. Several of the paintings in this exhibit were familiar from my first visit to Crystal Bridges, but everything from the way they’re currently displayed to my own new knowledge about O’Keeffe added to the experience.

      As Anaïs Nin famously wrote, “We don’t see things as they are; we see them as we are.” It may not be the whole truth, but there’s some truth there nonetheless.

    1. How wonderful that you were able to see that exhibit. I wasn’t aware of it, but when I browsed the website, I was quite taken with the beauty of the paintings they showed.

      I didn’t know she’d gone to Hawaii until I was writing this. Even so, I didn’t know why she had gone. It’s interesting that she was working for Dole. When she was much younger, she also spent some time in Chicago (in 1908) working at an industrial company where she drew designs for lace and embroidery.

  27. Wow; you slammed this one out of the ballpark, Amiga! The page is loaded, and I look forward to giving it a well-deserved second critique when I’m at home. There’s a lot of eye candy here for an artist, and you have woven it into another lovely narrative.

    Last week I delivered the first batch of paintings to the museum – and the group show, slated for June 19, will finally open on August 15th! That show will be up til mid October, then in November, my solo show will open and stay ‘up’ til mid January.

    While these plans have been evolving, the neighbor cut a large hunk of forest near the house, then burned residue, which ignited other areas in an explosive and dramatic finale. That dead bamboo popped and sizzled, nearly reaching the house (which has a thatch roof.|) it’s been a visually-painful few weeks, and I’ve not gone to see the damage from the wildfire.

    Spending time with you and Ms O’Keeffe has been tonic for the eyes and the soul!

    1. I’m glad the dates finally have been set for your exhibits, and that you’re able to begin the process of transporting the paintings. I can’t remember — are both shows at the same museum? Or at least in the same city? It would make life simpler, that’s for sure. I’ll look back at your blog; I know there are details there.

      I thought of you when I came to the in-gallery sketching station that was part of the O’Keeffe exhibit. It allowed visitors to choose among some objects O’Keeffe commonly painted (bones, feathers, flowers, shells) to create their own images. There was a wall where people could leave their sketches, and it was great fun to see them. When I passed through, a couple of teenagers were hard at work, sketching a feather and what appeared to be a raccoon skull. No, I didn’t stop to draw — but there are plenty of rocks and shells here if I get the urge.

      Were you home when the neighbor did his clearing and burning? If something gets out of control, how is it dealt with? Thatched roofs look romantic in the travel brochures, but they do have some downsides. I hope he’s done with his land clearing, and that you have a peaceful return home.

      (Add: I just looked at our weather forecast, and had to laugh. Our NWS office says, “Southeast Texas Forecast: Hot until further notice.” I guess that says it all.)

      1. ‘Hot until further notice.’ – that’s funny! I hope that the summer heat doesn’t get too stuffy.

        Yes, both shows are at the ‘Casa de la Cultura’ (aka the National Museum system) in Portoviejo near the Pacific coast. The museum at Bahia de Caraquez was almost finished with repairs from the earthquake when another minute-long quake did new damage last December.

        The date for the group show, which was supposed to open at the end of June, will open on August 15th. The date of my show has been nudged back a few more weeks, and as of now – the opening date will be Nov 15, and it will run thru Jan 15th.

        Am in the cloud forest, after delivering 19 paintings to the museum for them to store til the shows. it’s a relief to get them out of the house!

        As for the cutting/burning, I’ll be returning to the coast tomorrow/Saturday, because there are meetings on Monday regarding the cutting and burning. The ‘equivalent’ to the governor will be reviewing, and I think/hope that they’re about to get more serious about the protection of ‘what’s left.’ Thanks for asking!

        I really enjoyed reviewing these O’keeffee paintings – thanks for this image-rich post!

  28. I really like that she had confidence in her own vision of what was beautiful, and was not intimidated by the verbiage of the “important artists”. That takes tremendous inner strength. When Judy and I were in Santa Fe we visited the Georgia O’keefe Museum. It was quite an experience.

    1. I’ve never had much of a desire to visit Santa Fe, or the museum, but the urge is stirring. There are some great opportunities at Ghost Ranch and in Abiquiu, as well. When I was in the area the first time, I didn’t own a camera, but the memories of the landscape I saw there remain vivid — vivid enough to pull me back again.

      One of the odd little details I learned about her life is that Stieglitz never went to NM, and she never wanted him to. I suspect her relative isolation there helped her to maintain that vision.

  29. I thoroughly enjoyed reading here and viewing the accompanying paintings. I’ve long been fascinated with the beauty of the Southwest and how others perceive it. I had associated O’Keeffe primarily with brightly colored flower paintings.

    The final painting intrigued me as I viewed it only with my peripheral vision — trying to imagine what she was experiencing as she painted it. Recalled my mother describing to me what she saw and didn’t see with MD as she created colorful unique geometric patterned hooked rugs prized by some collectors. Seemed strange to me that she could design and make these, but said flower designs were no longer possible. So, here was O’Keeffe working in color and in straight lines — easier to visually perceive, or less strain, in blocks of color than curved lines apparently.

    1. I’m sure I came to O’Keeffe through her flowers, although I don’t remember when I first was exposed to her work, or what first impressed me. It seems as though she’s always simply been “there.” Today, it’s her paintings of the southwest that most appeal. When I first visited New Mexico, it was as though I was walking into one of her paintings.

      Your mother’s experience is fascinating, as is its relationship to O’Keeffe’s experience. I hadn’t really thought about the note in the exhibit catalogue that The Beyond was the last painting O’Keeffe produced “unassisted.” Sky Above Clouds – Yellow Horizon and Clouds was painted in 1976-77, some years later. Now, I’m curious. What kind of assistance did she receive? and who provided it. I suppose it’s time to dip into more of her biography to answer those questions, which probably have well-known and obvious answers.

  30. Like so many artists before and after that pushes the art in new directions, she was seen and saw herself as an outsider. Maybe only today can we really appreciate her work as it is without prejudiced blinders. Excellent post, Linda.

    1. She seemed to understand intuitively much of what you write about in terms of creativity. I thought it was so interesting that she determined at about age eight or nine that she was “going to be an artist.” As she said later, she had no idea what an artist actually did, but she figured she’d work it out in time. We should all be so successful!

    1. It’s only by first looking that we can begin to appreciate the world’s complexity. To put it another way, if we never take time to look, we’ll never begin to see.

    1. Given your love of your garden, I’m not surprised she appeals to you. I’m no gardener, but it seems to me it’s not unlike painting: using color and form to create beauty. Glad you enjoyed the post!

  31. What a remarkable exhibit this clearly was. Your choices of paintings and quotations, woven together in a marvelous narrative, is a gift to all who venture by. Prior to your post, I’d never read any of O’Keeffe’s observations about her art, and oh, my, what I was missing! I love this observation, particularly: “The meaning of a word — to me — is not as exact as the meaning of a color. Colors and shapes make a more definite statement than words.” This says so much about the world in which a visual artist must live–as opposed to that of a wordsmith (although she is that, as well). From the paintings you highlight, I was particularly struck by “Feather and Brown Leaf” and its red, black and white backdrop. Of all the subjects and backdrops she might have chosen for this painting, how did she come to this one and how did she know–or did she–that, once chosen, any other configuration of elements and colors would have been the wrong choice?

    1. She hadn’t done any writing for publication prior to Some Memories of Drawings, and of course most of her correspondence wasn’t published until relatively recently. Both are treasure troves of reflections on art, the quirky and interesting people she bumped up against, and the natural world.

      I bought a copy of Some Memories of Drawings, and found it delightful. Her reflections are just that — short paragraphs, or sometimes only sentences — about various drawings, but much of what’s in the book was new to me. Paired with an exquisite drawing of a banana flower is this: “I made several drawings of banana flowers. It was too hot to work long outside and I never took a flower into the house. I didn’t like to cut it.”

      I understood that perfectly. I had read that basket-flowers dry beautifully, and are perfect for dried arrangments. So, I cut a few, hung them upside down, and waited. They did dry beautifully, and it was an interesting experiment, since their pinkness turned to a rich, vibrant purple. But I’ll not do it again. It makes me a bit sad to look at them.

      As for that very interesting question you pose about why this, and not that — I can’t explain it, but I know the experience. For me, it means that some thoughts or phrases or end up as etherees, while most don’t. I never think to myself, “Now I am going to write an etheree.” Instead, a line will come to mind, and I’ll immediately think, “That needs to become an etheree.” It’s really quite strange, but I suspect it’s akin to the choices artists make about line and color: choices are made by the subject itself, and then either accepted or rejected by the artist.

      Have you ever had that experience with one of your collages?

  32. What a fantastic Post this is, Linda. I vividly remember an exhibition of Georgia O’Keeffe here in London 2016. I had no idea of the breadth of her work until I saw that huge exhibition. There was a whole room dedicated to Lake George where she spent a lot of time with Alfred Stieglitz over many years. ‘Here I feel smothered with green’ she wrote about that place. The image at the top of your Post is new to me. I love it for the simplicity of it. You don’t have to paint in detail to convey a landscape or objects within it. Our brains complete the detail to whatever level of complexity that appeals individually.

    1. That sounds like a wonderful exhibit. I was only vaguely aware of her Lake George time until this exhibition. An entire room devoted to her work there would have been interesting.

      Was the “Lawrence Tree” included, by any chance? One of my favorite stories about that painting is that a visitor to Lawrence’s house stretched out on a picnic table to relax for a minute, looked up, and recognized the real tree above her just from O’Keeffe’s painting of it. It’s a wonderful example of what she did so well: while the painting tends toward abstraction, it contained enough of the tree’s reality for the tree itself to be recognizable without prompting.

      You had some delightful photos from this year’s “smothered in green” season, yourself. It’s wonderful to see such apparently mundane scenes through the eyes of an artist.

      1. I don’t know if the “Lawrence Tree” was included but I’ve just viewed an image of it on line and it doesn’t ring any bells – although at seventy, lots of things fail to ring bells these days!

        1. You’re not alone in that regard. In fact, I’ve begun making it a point not to turn to internet search engines when something escapes me. I’ve read a few articles suggesting such practices actually hasten the decline of memory. Maybe so, and maybe not, but it still seems that little mental exercise can’t hurt.

  33. I enjoyed this post a great deal. Never a fan of abstract or realistic type art, this was intriguing to read. I have read very little about O’Keefe so this was great info for me. I find it interesting that she lived on the high plains or maybe it was some part of west Texas. I have been missing from WP because of family issues and then I was quite ill for about 6 weeks with a massive UTI that I did not know I had. I was more than fatigued. I am ok but slowly recovering. Also I am not receiving notices of WP bloggers and it is a problem that I can not fix. I went to my blog to look for comments from my favorite bloggers. So here I am for now.

    1. I’ve known almost nothing about O’Keeffe’s time in the Panhandle, but I’m certainly eager to learn more, now that I’ve been exposed to some of her drawings and writings from those years. I’ve passed through the area, but never stopped to explore. That might be something to do this fall or winter — or even next spring, but not in the summer, for sure. I came across a Texas Parks & Wildlife report on the number of hikers they’ve rescued from Enchanted Rock this summer — I think it was twenty-six. A little caution’s a good thing.

      I’m glad you popped up; you’ve been missed, and I was wondering about you. One reason you crossed my mind is that I finally identified a mystery flower we talked about in the fall of 2015. I finally figured out that it’s called a green lily — Schoenocaulon texanum. Here’s its photo. I was happy to find one with a butterfly perched on top. I actually had it identified once, and then forgot its name. It’s in the lily family, and that’s one place I never looked.

      1. Thanks, Linda for including the excellent photo of the green lily with the butterfly. That is such a good close up. I wish I had your lens. Do you mind sharing which mm lens you used? I don’t remember that post at all. Maybe I missed that one.

        1. I don’t think I had my macro lens when I took this (in 2015). What I do know is that the focal length was 50mm, so it had to be my 18-135mm lens — the first one I had. When I bought my Canon, I decided to get something a little heftier than the kit lens they included, and I’m glad I did. The 18-135mm is a great, all purpose lens to start with. I need to start all over with learning post-processing, so I can figure out how to keep all the data that gets encoded in these photos. Of course, there’s a lot I “need” to do.

  34. What a wonderful tribute and collection of selected pieces and commentary by O’Keefe. One of my favorite American artists to be sure. You included some works that I have not seen before, or if I have, I did not remember them.. such as the view from her apartment in New York and the small house in the landscape – with an interesting comment there from O’Keefe. Definitely an insight into how male artists were given way more attention and superiority and still are today.

    Peta

    1. One of the reasons I wanted to see the exhibition was the number of pieces that would be displayed. I was sure I’d see some things that were less familiar, and I was pleased to find that so. Her flowers and skulls get the most attention, and it can be hard to find her drawings or Lake George paintings online.

      I was pleased to have her words and canvases combined, too. Her plain-spokenness about her own life and art very much appeal to me. Generally speaking, I’ve found that when I’m able to read an artist’s own words about their work, it’s more satisfying than reading the critics.

      Doing things “my way” sounds easy enough when Sinatra sings about it, but actually being able to pull it off is something else. O’Keeffe certainly managed it — no doubt part of the reason she continues to inspire today’s artists.

  35. I thoroughly enjoyed this meditation on O’Keefe’s work. Like you, I have always liked her plain-spoken approach to life and work. It has always baffled me that so many people want to pile up words on her.

    1. I sometimes wonder if art critics/commentators aren’t a little jealous of the artists they critique. Unable to produce the art themselves, and yet eager to somehow participate in its power, they chatter on: attempting to prove by their words that they, too, are part of the magical world of creativity.

      I can’t back that up, of course. It’s just a hunch. But think of how often sports fans will say, “We won” or “we lost.” They aren’t part of the team. They didn’t do a blessed thing but sit in the stands and drink beer. But that magical “we” somehow connects them to the world of the team, and makes them feel as though they’re accomplishing something, too. It’s an interesting human phenomenon, in many fields.

  36. I kept getting interrupted as I tried to read this post but now I have read to the end — and some parts over and over, trying to grasp more of what she is talking about, and what she accomplished. Just before you published your article, I came across “Petunias” and was smitten by that painting. Then yesterday a friend told me about an exhibit of O’Keeffe’s work that she had seen. The confluence of these mentions and your own wonderful post have made me realize how little I knew of her.

    I am particularly struck by her words like this: “I had to create an equivalent for what I was looking at — not copy it.” It is true that her paintings help us see the subjects in a more personal and living way than if we were merely glancing at their “real” selves; the relationship between the thing and the one who sees the thing, is what she was able to paint. To me, who am not an visual artist in that way, it’s magic: I have no idea how she does it!

    That quote from her that you mention in the comment section, “Filling a space in a beautiful way – that is what art means to me,” echoes what she was showing by her paintings, that what she saw was Beauty, and the beautiful world. We all are enriched by her creation of “equivalents” for a thousand of its manifestations. And you have helped make the riches accessible; thank you, Linda!!

    1. There’s no question that she exhibited a certain reticence her whole life. I was amused and pleased to find a third magnet in the gift shop bearing the same words I included in my About page: “Where I was born and where and how I have lived is unimportant. It is what I have done with where I have been that should be of interest.” She not only spoke those words, she lived them — and many of us have known very little beyond the broadest outlines of her life as a result.

      I like what you say about her ability to convey the relationship between object and observer. And I’ve found myself pondering distillation as a metaphor for what she was able to accomplish. It’s as though she takes a subject — those petunias, for example — and then, after filtering it through her own eyes, experience, and technique, drops color and shape and line onto a canvas in such a way that the subject is seen in a purer form.

      If I could design another magnet for the gift shop set, I’d include her words from the video about the White Flower: “I wish you could see it.” She wasn’t about to adjust her vision for anyone, but it’s clear that she was willing to share that vision with everyone.

  37. Linda, my view of O’Keeffe has been obviously limited in that I only knew about her flower paintings. Now, thanks to your post, I know she was much more than that. Thank you for sharing and directing my attention here.

    1. I learned a good bit about her through this exhibition. The museum does have some of her works in their permanent collection, so even if you miss this one, you still can see at least some paintings.

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