Days of Art 2017-01: Georgia O’Keeffe

So, on a whim, I’ve decided to restart our old Days of Art series, with no commitment as to continuing it other than we’ll do so as long as its A) fun to do, B) reasonable within life’s time constraints, and C) read by someone other than us. We look at art constantly a lot and will do so irrespective of others’ interest. But blogging is only a community activity, so it makes sense to limit output according to inputs we receive.

As a first effort on this, the 91st day of 2017, I was thinking of Georgia O’Keeffe; not so much as an artist per se, but as a symbol of endurance and love. People age, art ages, although differently than humanity, and love either endures or dies, but rarely ages. O’Keeffe’s art has survived her, although the jury is out as to whether it shall grow or diminish in time. Given that the beauty of art is in the eye of the beholder, or more aptly, the checkbook holder, that is appropriate. I won’t debate here the quality of her work, other than to acknowledge that she was already a legend by the 1920s and the U.S. Postal Service imprinted her likeness on a postage stamp in 1996.

“Cow’s Skull: Red, White, and Blue,” Georgia O’Keeffe, 1931

To my amateur eyes, her New Mexico work, flowers, and NYC skyscrapers are at once unique and an odd mélange of Andy Warhol’s art of the blasé with a twist of Frieda Kahloian surrealism were Kahlo to have turned her paint brushes to cattle skulls and flowers instead of herself. (I just felt Frieda spit in disgust, but we’ll ignore her for now. The important bit is that you know I’m writing all art-like because of the use of the French words … n’est-il pas vrai ?)

Anyway, who cares? As I said, this is about Ms. O’Keeffe the woman more so than her art. Most of us who were born in the second half of the twentieth century knew her from images like this:

O’Keeffe lived to the advanced age of 98, outliving her husband, Alfred Stieglitz, by some 40 years. Her longevity flew in the face of earlier periods of infirmity and depression, the latter brought on by heartbreak over Stieglitz’s affairs. After physical and emotional breakdowns, she began summering in New Mexico, bringing back artifacts from her outings that would form the basis of some of her most famous work. Her love life had become strained by that point due to his continued infidelities, and by the mid-1930s she was in New Mexico for good.

The woman Stieglitz knew, that icon of feminine determination and sexuality, had faded into history, save, perhaps, the paintings of flowers that others claimed represented female genitalia. She denied it, of course, and who’s to say, since flowers often look like vaginas in real life. Ever seen an orchid up close?

Totally NOT a vajayjay, by Georgia O’Keeffe.

In any case, what endures about Ms. O’Keeffe now that she (and shitheel Stieglitz) are gone are the photos — some 350+ — that he took of her when she was young. We who grew up with white-haired Ol’ Lady Georgia forgot she was once young and vibrant, a thing of beauty and art herself, and not in the way that age adds beauty, but fresh, undiminished by shattered hopes and false promises, the beauty of the innocent.

I’ve taken the original and given it a fresh coat of paint, so to speak, because she deserves it, although she later expressed a detachment from the memories associated with the shots. “When I look over the photographs Stieglitz took of me-some of them more than sixty years ago,” she said, “I wonder who that person is. It is as if in my one life I have lived many lives.”

As have we all, Ms. O’Keeffe. I hope you and Frieda meet up in whatever comes after this life. I suspect you have a lot in common.

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5 thoughts on “Days of Art 2017-01: Georgia O’Keeffe

  1. Nice job with the re-edit. I like that you celebrate Georgia O’Keefe with this post. Female artists have played a very important part in the shaping of art as we know it, yet get little recognition for it, as is still the case even today in our ‘liberal’ times (yeah, whatever… I can hear Frieda spitting profanities at that one). Even Ms. O’Keefe wasn’t allowed to paint flowers for any other reason than because she was supposedly a closet lesbian. Come on people, really?! Yet no-one derided her misogynist husband or his work, despite the fact that he was a lowly piece of crap. Male artists have got away with murder in terms of their behaviour, yet they are still lauded as setting the bar for what is considered great art. The truth is that many of the greats suck. Not saying that female artists are better, but they certainly don’t deserve to be treated any worse.

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