Charcoal. Paint. Marble. Watercolor. Camera. All of these are just some of the mediums used to create artwork. Paper. Brushes. Chisel. Canvas. Darkroom. All of these are the means by which artwork is made. All artists come into contact with these items in their work, but only few are considered masters.
Michelangelo, for instance, was a master at the art of sculpture. He often said that the statue was “existing within the marble” and he need only to “set it free.” Dorothea Lange was a breakthrough photographer during the Great Depression. She captured on film many of the life's fleeting moments people faced during these hard economic times.
Just as Michelangelo mastered his marble and Dorothea Lange perfected her photography, another artist crafted her canvases. Her extraordinary use of paints and unusual view of simple subjects propelled her into artful stardom. Like Michelangelo and Dorothea Lange, Georgia O'Keeffe was one of the major artists of her time. Her work remains to this day an inspiration and something to be valued for years to come.
Born on November 15, 1887, Georgia Totto O'Keeffe was the first daughter and second child of seven children of dairy farm parents in Sun Prairie, Wisconsin. She and her sister were instructed how to draw from a grammar school teacher. In addition to her drawing lessons, O'Keeffe was educated in painting by a local watercolorist. Even at the age of 12 years old, O'Keeffe knew she wanted to be an artist.
After graduating in 1905 from a Wisconsin high school, Georgia began her official artistic training at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. During her freshman year there, she received top honors. In the fall of 1907, O'Keeffe earned a scholarship from the New York's Art Student League, and continued her studies there.
In 1912, Georgia O'Keeffe briefly worked as a commercial artist in Chicago, but soon took a teaching job for the Chatham Episcopal Institute in Chatham, Virginia. A year later, she was hired as a public school drawing supervisor in Amarillo, Texas. There she stayed for two years, then began instructing at the Texas State Normal College and became the head of her department.
Feeling the urge to paint instead of teach, O'Keeffe began producing charcoal drawings. Having accumulated a number of drawings, she sent them to a New York friend, Anita Pollitzer, who in turn showed them to photographer Alfred Stieglitz. Stieglitz, who owned an art gallery called Gallery 291, displayed O'Keeffe's drawings against her wishes. Upon hearing this, she traveled to New York to confront Stieglitz, but eventually surrendered because of the attraction her drawings were gaining.
At the time, Alfred Stieglitz was married to another woman. After meeting Georgia O'Keeffe, he divorced his wife of 31 years in 1923, and in 1924, he and Georgia married. The couple moved into a New York apartment, and lived there for 12 years. O'Keeffe continued to paint in New York, but needed more motivation. Traveling to New Mexico every summer would be her new inspiration until Stieglitz's death in 1946. Following her husband's death, Georgia continued to display her works, only working from New Mexico.
Her paintings from New Mexico proved to be some of the most famous ones she'd create in her career. In 1972, her eyesight deteriorated so much that her last unassisted painting was made in that year. However, despite her decline in eyesight, many people were seeing her work, and recognizing it as true works of art. O'Keeffe received several awards and honors, including the Medal of Freedom, given by President Gerald Ford, and the National Medal of Arts presented by President Ronald Reagan.
After a long and successful life, Georgia Totto O'Keeffe died at the age of 98 on March 6, 1986 in Santa Fe, New Mexico.
For generations, Georgia O'Keeffe's paintings have changed the way we view works of art, and even ordinary objects, like flowers and bones. In her time, her works were considered radical, but today, they are far from it. Georgia O'Keeffe was considered a Modernist painter, meaning she broke away from traditional art and had increased artistic expression and freedom to paint whatever she felt like painting. The works of artists like O'Keeffe weren't realistic, but more personal. She described her work this way:
Everyone has many associations with a flower. You put your hand to touch it, or lean forward to smell it, or maybe touch it with your lips almost without thinking, or give it to someone to please them. But one rarely takes the time to really see a flower. I have painted what each flower is to me and I have painted it big enough so that others will see what I see.
However, during her lifetime, Georgia received some harsh criticism for her work. Having been a Modernist in a non-modern world, many people viewed her work as gender based. One critic, who was of the opposite gender, said that her work had “found expression in delicately veiled symbolism for ‘what every woman knows,' but what women heretofore kept to themselves.” This upset O'Keeffe because she didn't want to be thought of as more than just a woman artist. She wanted to be considered what the rest of the members of the art world were - to just be an artist.
Georgia O'Keeffe has been one of the most acclaimed female artists to have every lived. Not only did she live out her passion for painting, but she inspired in her viewers a new perspective at looking ordinary objects and seeing the beauty within them. Though she is no longer alive to share her great works, her paintings remain behind, showing both the beauty of nature and the beauty of the person who created them. As Georgia O'Keeffe herself once said, “Where I was born and where and how I have lived is unimportant. It is what I have done and where I have been that should be of interest.”
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