Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Georgia O'Keeffe: American Artist

Georgia O'Keeffe

Georgia O'Keeffe played a pivotal role in the development of American modernism and its relationship to European avante garde movements of the early twentieth century. Producing a substantial body of work over seven decades, she sought to capture the emotion and power of objects through abstracting the natural world. Alfred Stieglitz identified her as the first female American modernist, whose paintings of flowers, barren landscapes, and close-up still lifes have become a part of the mythology and iconography of the American artistic landscape.

Key Ideas

O'Keeffe incorporated the techniques of other artists and was especially influenced by Paul Strand's use of cropping in his photographs; she was one of the first artists to adapt the method to painting by rendering close-ups of uniquely American objects that were highly detailed yet abstract.
O'Keeffe did not follow any specific artistic movement, but like Arthur Dove she experimented with abstracting motifs from nature. She worked in series, synthesizing abstraction and realism to produce works that emphasized the primary forms of nature. While some of these works are highly detailed, in others, she stripped away what she considered the inessential to focus on shape and color.
Through intense observation of nature, experimentation with scale, and nuanced use of line and color, O'Keeffe's art remained grounded in representation even while pushing at its limits. From the 1940s through the 1960s in particular, O'Keeffe's art was outside the mainstream as she was one of the few artists to adhere to representation in a period when others were exploring non-representation or had abandoned painting altogether.

Childhood and Early Training

Georgia O'Keeffe was born near Sun Prairie, Wisconsin in 1887, the second of seven children. She received early encouragement to study art from her mother and took watercolor lessons from a local artist, Sara Mann. O'Keeffe came from a family where female education was stressed and she was fortunate to attend the School of the Art Institute of Chicago from 1905 to 1906 where she studied with John Vanderpoel.

In the fall of 1907, O'Keeffe moved to New York City and attended classes at the Art Students League, studying under the artist-teacher William Merritt Chase. A prize she won for one of her still lifes, allowed her to attend the League's summer school in Lake George, New York. While in NYC, she frequented exhibitions at Gallery 291, which was owned by photographer Alfred Stieglitz and was one of the few places in the United States where European avant-garde art was exhibited. For the first time O'Keeffe was exposed to popular European artists, such as Auguste Rodin and Henri Matisse. She abandoned the pursuit of art as a career in 1908 for four years, taking a job in Chicago as a commercial artist.

She began focusing on her art again in 1912, after attending a drawing class at the University of Virginia's summer school. Her teacher, Alon Bement, professed an innovative teaching style that was heavily influenced by the artist Arthur Wesley Dow. While teaching at Columbia College in South Carolina in 1915, O'Keeffe began to experiment with Dow's theory of self-exploration through art. She took natural forms, such as ferns, clouds, and waves, and began a small series of charcoal drawings that simplified them into expressive, abstracted combinations of shapes and lines. After completing this series, O'Keeffe mailed a few of them to her friend Anita Pollitzer, a former classmate, who brought the drawings to the attention of Alfred Stieglitz in January 1916.

Mature Period

Recognizing her potential, Stieglitz began a correspondence with O'Keeffe. Unbeknownst to O'Keeffe, he exhibited ten of her charcoals at his Gallery 291. He sent her photographs of her drawings on exhibit and this began their professional relationship. While O'Keeffe continued to teach, she returned to New York in 1917 to view her first solo exhibition, arranged by Stieglitz at 291. During this time, O'Keeffe and Stieglitz began a love affair that would last until his death. In 1918, Stieglitz offered to financially support O'Keeffe for one year so that she could live and paint in New York. She took a leave of absence from her teaching position and for the first time dedicated herself solely to making art. Stieglitz divorced his first wife, and he and O'Keeffe married in 1924.

Legacy

Georgia O'Keeffe spent 70 years making art and contributing to the development of American modernism. She was a prominent member of the creative Stieglitz Circle, influencing early American modernists. She is notable for her role as a pioneering female artist, and although she disavowed their interpretation of her work, she was a strong influence on the artists of the Feminist art movement, including Judy Chicago and Miriam Shapiro, who saw feminine imagery in O'Keeffe's flower paintings. A prolific artist, she produced more than 2000 works over the course of her career. The Georgia O'Keeffe Museum in Santa Fe is the first museum in the United States dedicated to a female artist, and its research center sponsors significant fellowships for scholars of modern American art.
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Quotes by Georgia O'Keeffe

I said to myself 'I have things in my head that are not like what anyone has taught me- shadows and ideas so near to me - so natural to my way of being and thinking that it hasn't occurred to me to put them down.' I decided to start anew, to strip away what I had been taught.

When you take a flower in your hand and really look at it, it's your world for the moment. I want to give that world to someone else.

I hate flowers - I paint them because they're cheaper than models and they don't move.

Nobody sees a flower really; it is so small. We haven't time, and to see takes time - like to have a friend takes time.

I've been absolutely terrified every moment of my life - and I've never let it keep me from doing a single thing I wanted to do.

I found I could say things with color and shapes that I couldn't say any other way - things I had no words for.

You get whatever accomplishment you are willing to declare.

The days you work are the best days.

I decided to start anew, to strip away what I had been taught.

I feel there is something unexplored about woman that only a woman can explore.

I've been absolutely terrified every moment of my life - and I've never let it keep me from doing a single thing I wanted to do.

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Paintings by Georgia O'Keeffe

























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