Thursday, September 24, 2009

Inspirational woman artist: Georgia O'Keefe

Watercolor painting of western scenery.
More contemporary, western scenery on my website:

For many women artists, Georgia O'Keefe has been the most inspirational artist. When I was in college as a young student I didn't know of many famous women artists. O'Keefe and Cassett were it. When I went back to college in the 1990's I took a few classes in art history specifically about women artists. I learned that there were, indeed, a lot of women artists and very good women artists throughout history but they had been ignored.  As good as they were, they were not famous.

Georgia O'Keefe was a rarity in her time. As the story goes the reason she was not ignored as an artist was that she had a powerful mentor, Alfred Stieglitz. He was a photographer and also active in the art community in New York City. There was a great age difference and he as the older, experienced, knowledgeable photographer was able to guide her career.

When O'Keefe was in college, before Stieglitz came into her life another student (male) asked her to pose for him. She declined and his reply was that she would end up teaching in a girl's school somewhere and he would go on to be a famous artist. She relented and posed for a portrait.

We all know the impetuousness of youth! Of course, this is one of those cocky comments a college student might make but needless to say the this artist did not go on to be famous. The most famous work he did was the portrait of Georgia O'Keefe. In fact, I would venture the opinion that the most famous photographs that Alfred Stieglitz did were the many portraits of Georgia O'Keefe.

Her work is wonderful but her life is also a work of art. She was adventurous. She was opinionated. She was outspoken. She lived her life in a way that most women did not in those days.  Rough, rugged and independent she lived alone in New Mexico after Stieglitz died.

Her life was long.  She died at the age of 98 but Stieglitz was her only husband.  She did not have children.  I read that she wanted to have a child but Stieglitz said no. He said it would ruin her as an artist. In those days people believed in some of the Freudian nonsense about women. If she didn't have a child, she was more like a man. If she had a child, she would lose her creative edge.

Fortunately, today women can have children and paintings as well. Alice Neel managed to do both. Suzanne Valadon was an excellent painter and mother to the artist Maurice Utrillo. I know that Frida Kahlo was pregnant but she did not deliver a healthy child.

If you can think of another truly famous female artist who was also a mother, please comment.