Artist of Influence – Georgia O’Keeffe
Artist of Influence – Georgia O’Keeffe (1887 – 1986)
Georgia Totto O’Keeffe was an America artist who’s was best known for her abstract paintings of enlarged flowers, New York skyscrapers and New Mexico landscapes. O’Keeffe has been recognised as ‘the mother of American modernism’.
Stating ‘The notion that you can make an artist overnight, that there is nothing but genius, and a dash of temperament in artistic success is a fallacy’
O’Keeffe who lived to be 98 continued to develop as an artist and contemplating what it meant to be one is highlighted in the statement
‘Great artists don’t just happen, any more than writers, or singers or other creators. They have to be trained, and in the hard school of experience’.
Although O’Keeffe never formally recorded her theories about art, she did however leave her many interviews and letters that revealed how she approached her painting practice including the rituals, experiences and environments that inspired her paintings.
Correspondence with her husband photographer Alfred Stieglitz which amounted to 25,000 pages of letters offers an honest glimpse into her creative mind. O’Keeffe’s place as an artist began through her flower paintings and continued later through her landscapes a surrealistic still life paintings.
O’Keeffe’s writing highlighted lessons indicating the importance of observation, organisation, perseverance and giving ones self over to the wild joy of painting.
The lessons in brief:
Lesson1 ‘Observe the world around you-closely, hungrily’
O’Keeffe absorbed what she saw around her then isolated the components that struck her. It was her favourite lines and colours that filled her canvases, soft, saturated folds or pared-down desert vistas.
Through this process of close observation the essence of her surroundings were portrayed in her paintings. Stating ‘it is only by selection, by elimination, by emphasis that we get the real meaning of things’
Described by historian David W Galenson as “a progressive simplification of the shapes of real objects”
Lesson 2 ‘Organisation is key to productivity’
Despite her reputation as a free spirit, O’Keefffe thrived when her materials were meticulously organised and she followed a regular daily routine. Throughout her life her studios were always kept clean and neat.
After O’Keeffe’s death a cache of 300 colour cards were discovered in her studio. Together the swatches served as an archive of the hues she had used in particular paintings, something she was able to refer back to as needed. Organisational strategies like this allowed O’Keeffe to more easily experiment with her palette, as well as the translucency and texture of the paints she used.
Lesson 3 ‘Don’t sweat the mistakes – learn from them’
O’Keeffe acknowledged that producing bad work was inevitable and was simply part of the creative process. Throughout her career she depicted the same objects and scenes over and over again until she created one that she was happy with. She rejected the importance of financial success or fame even when she knew a painting was compositionally strong in her eyes. Even when knowing a painting may not be palatable to a wider audience, she found value in finishing it and keeping it for her own personal reference and enjoyment.
Lesson 4’ Pay no attention to tends – be yourself’
O’Keeffe’s aim was to depict the beauty off nature and used sumptuous colours in her work, she did not mind her paintings being described as pretty, at a time when many artists were insulted when their artwork was described ‘beautiful’ or ‘pretty’.
Her vibrant palettes were not favoured by men in particular, describing her artwork as ‘hopeless’ or ‘too bright’. O’Keeffe remained resolute and ignored their criticism stating’I like colours’.
She did not follow the trend of the majority of artists of the time who lived in New York, she chose a solitary space Lin which to be creative in New Mexico.
O’Keeffe desired freedom from the artistic trends of the time and produced unique and revolutionary works of art which have continued to inspire artists to this day.
A lesson to be learnt by all artists today – follow your own instincts and desires and enjoy being creative.