Get to Know Georgia O'Keeffe

Get to Know Georgia O'Keeffe

 
The meaning of a word – to me – is not as exact as the meaning of a color. Color and shapes make a more definite statement than words. 
 
Georgia O’Keeffe, 1976
 
Taylor, Charlotte. Get to Know Georgia O’Keeffe. New York: Enslow Publishing, 2016.
 
On November 20, 2014, at the famed art and antique auction house, Southerby’s, Alice B. Walton paid $44.4 million to acquire Georgia O’Keeffe’s 1932 over-size oil painting Jimson Weed (also known as White Flower No. 1) as a gift for the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art. The sale set a new record as the highest price for a work of art created by a woman at any time or place in the world. The phenomenal selling price also stands as one of the highest amounts ever paid for any American painting.
 
Georgia O’Keeffe’s life, career, and legacy serve as splendid examples of creativity, giftedness, and a remarkable work ethic. She created more than 2,000 works of art in an extraordinary career that spanned six decades. O’Keeffe is equally a great role model for the crucial trait of resiliency she displayed in her very long life. When she became blind in her later years, she did not give up art. She became a pottery artist using her hands when her eyes failed her. 

Charlotte Taylor’s well-illustrated children’s biography is a retrospective of O’Keeffe’s life told in chronological order from her birth on a Wisconsin farm on November15, 1887 to her death in her much beloved high desert world of New Mexico 98 years later. One of seven children of Frank O’Keeffe and Ida Totto O’Keeffe, Georgia was the oldest daughter in a family of five sisters and two brothers. Early on in her life Georgia was fortunate to have parents who encouraged her artistic gifts including the provision of early art lessons. Three traits that would characterize O’Keeffe’s very long life surfaced in her early years. She was passionate to create art, she was a loner, and she was a nonconformist. By the age of 12 years, she knew that she wanted to be an artist. This resolve occurred at a time when women did not yet even have the right to vote and very few professional art teachers would even consider giving lessons to girls or women. The prevailing notion in the art world of Georgia’s youth and young adulthood was that the most females could hope for were positions as school art teachers. During her early twenties O’Keeffe did support herself as an art educator briefly in South Carolina, Virginia, and Texas. She also worked during her early career as a commercial artist for such well-known companies as Dole Pineapple and Steuben Glass. Within a remarkably short time, however, Georgia O’Keeffe became one of the most famous and successful fine artists of the 20th Century. 
 
Taylor refers to O’Keeffe as the “Mother of American Modernism” and goes on in her fine glossary to define modernists as “artists who painted in new ways; they often painted nonrealistic shapes, objects, or scenes.” During her early education in art classes, especially in Chicago and New York City, the prevailing practice in the education of painters was to first learn to imitate Old Masters. O’Keeffe rejected that practice. From the beginning of her adult career, Georgia believed that she should paint what her feelings dictated. The O’Keeffe oeuvre includes at least three signature subjects: larger-than-life flowers, animal skeletons and bones bleached white by the desert sun, and Western landscapes that she painted while living at Ghost Ranch and Abiquiu in northern New Mexico. 
 
The most influential person in O’Keeffe’s life was her patron, friend, and husband Alfred Stieglitz who was well recognized as both a famed photographer and the owner of New York City art galleries that featured avant-garde works of art. One example. Stieglitz introduced the works of Pablo Picasso to American artists and collectors. Without her knowledge, Stieglitz hung (and sold) twelve of O’Keeffe’s early drawings in 1916. A year later Stieglitz gave O’Keeffe her first solo exhibit at his prestigious 291 Gallery. Despite her penchant for extreme privacy, Georgia O’Keeffe was one of the most photographed women of her time. Stieglitz alone created more than 300 photographs of the artist. The couple married in 1924. It was an unusual marriage. O’Keeffe had by then discovered the startling light and spacious skies of the high desert scenery of New Mexico. She spent her summers very much alone and worked prodigiously to discover and paint the beauty of the American West. She spent her winters with Stieglitz in New York City. There, she was fascinated by the brand new skyscrapers that were beginning to dominate the city skyline. As with all her works of art, she did not create photographic images of towering buildings; she painted the feelings these monolithic structures represented to her. 
 
Get to Know Georgia O’Keeffe is one volume in the Famous Artists series by Charlotte Taylor. Other painters featured in this collection include Andy Warhol, Edward Hopper, John Singer Sargent, Mary Cassatt, and Norman Rockwell. Each volume in the series features valuable end matter that include a glossary, a timeline of each artist’s life, recommended print and Internet resources for further study, and an index. Boxed features referred to as “Art Smarts” highlight the narrative chapters of each volume in the series. Such side trips provide answers to questions that readers may have such as, “Why did Georgia O’Keeffe paint such large flowers?” Get to Know Georgia O’Keeffe is available in multiple formats, including eBooks, from <enslow.com>.  
 
The Georgia O’Keeffe Museum in Santa Fe, New Mexico opened in July of 1997. It is the only museum in the United States that is devoted chiefly to the works of a female artist. 
 
Activities for Teachers and Home Schoolers
 
Get to Know Georgia O’Keeffe offers fascinating reading for younger readers and may serve as a terrific springboard for older students to read the vast array of books on the artist’s life and work, many written at the high school or adult level. As noted, O’Keeffe rejected the practice in art education of exactly reproducing the paintings of great artists of the past. Student may, however, choose to experiment with unique media and styles such as cut-paper collages and folk art renderings of some of Georgia’s favorite artistic images, including giant flowers and vast landscapes. Creative youth may also use the factual information from Charlotte Taylor’s biography to fashion their own recreation of Georgia O’Keeffe’s life as an illustrated imagined autobiography. Regardless of the extensions gifted learners choose to execute, they should be encouraged to follow the great artist’s most ardent advice: create with feelings.