Flat out, Georgia O’Keefe is my favorite artist among this cycle’s pics. Her colors are so vibrant, she makes you really SEE the beauty of a blossom (which was her point!), and she did so many types of work, landscapes, flowers, bones, abstracts, that you can usually find something among her work that calls to you.
I saw my first O’Keefe in over a decade just over a week ago at the Eiteljorg Museum of Native American and Western Art in Indianapolis. I squealed like a fan-girl when I glimpsed it in a gallery, alongside many other artists I knew, and several I was learning about.
Of course, at that moment, my kindergartner shouted “I need to go potty, Mommy!” loud enough for the whole gallery to hear!
When we got back from the emergency tour of the bathrooms, my husband, (who had lost us, but echo located our general location, thanks to our youngest) held the kids back while I excitedly photographed, examined (within an inch) and gave a running commentary on this beautiful landscape. Welcome to my form of geek-dom. But anyway…it’s in the tutorial. I’d have posted a photo here, but WordPress is being snippy at the moment.
O’Keefe lived so extraordinarily long, she saw technology, politics, international situations, even the role of women in society, revolutionize during her lifetime. When she was born, women wore corsets and ankle-length, long sleeve dresses, couldn’t vote, and rarely worked outside the home. The Ottoman Empire, the Austro-Hungarian Empire, the Russian Czar, were all real places and people. By the time she died, women voted, wore pants, (and neon hair!), the Ottoman Empire had fallen, along with the Czar, leaving Nazis (who had fallen in their turn) and Communism (which was on the cusp of falling) in its place.
O’Keefe was also a bit of a rebel-turned-feminist role model. (and I’m using feminist in a classical term–she wanted to be recognized as a great artist, not a great female artist, as though that was a secondary class).
That being said, there are a couple things about her and her work, which, if you or your students want to look into her life and work deeper, you may need to be aware of.
-Many art critics of her time, and some still today, believed the extreme up-close paintings of flowers were suggestive of female genitalia and even suggestive of relations between men and women. O’Keefe spent most of her professional life stridently denying what these critics (most of whom were men) thought she was saying in her work. O’Keefe always maintained that her desire was to force people to see the beauty of flowers by making each blossom so large, you were forced to really SEE it, rather than glance at a small flower (usually done as part of a much larger work) and move on. So you may see these suggestions of eroticism, sexuality, ect., in some histories of O’Keefe and her work. Just be aware of that. (I chose to take O’Keefe at her word-she is the artist, after all-so those suggestions are absent from the tutorials.)
-O’Keefe posed for thousands of photos in her lifetime. A tall woman with a striking bone structure, many photographers used her as a muse, starting with the man who would become her husband, Alfred Steiglitz. Some of these photos, which are available online, are nudes. They are few compared to other images of her, but they are there, so if you go looking for photos of O’Keefe, just know there is a possibility those could come up, even on “safe search” mode.
The Timeline this week is nearly identical (in fact, I think it IS identical) to last week’s Norman Rockwell. I hope you end up liking her works as much as I do. I am not fond of most 20th century art (I can appreciate it, but I don’t LIKE it), but O’Keefe is one of my exceptions. I LOVE her work, even her abstracts.
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