Introduction

by Kate Kastelein

This chapter is a free excerpt from Biography of Georgia O'Keefe.

When she was 10 years old, Georgia O’Keeffe decided she was going to be an artist, and she sure did. She went on to become the most celebrated and prolific female artist of the 20th century.

Georgia O’Keeffe is known for her close up paintings of flowers as well as her portrayal of New Mexico’s landscape. Her juxtaposition of thematic symbols such as skulls, flowers, and landscapes brought much critical acclaim. She is a pioneer of American abstract art and is renowned for advancing the status of women in art.

Her iconic close up pictures of flowers and desert landscapes of New Mexico are immediately identifiable. The bright bold colors of her pallet and abstract depiction of everything from bones and flowers to Manhattan are like nothing else in the art world. Since she rose to fame in 1916, O’Keefe has become a household name, and a beloved painter.


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When she was 10 years old, Georgia O’Keeffe decided she was going to be an artist, and she sure did. She went on to become the most celebrated and prolific female artist of the 20th century.

Georgia O’Keeffe is known for her close up paintings of flowers as well as her portrayal of New Mexico’s landscape. Her juxtaposition of thematic symbols such as skulls, flowers, and landscapes brought much critical acclaim. She is a pioneer of American abstract art and is renowned for advancing the status of women in art.

Her iconic close up pictures of flowers and desert landscapes of New Mexico are immediately identifiable. The bright bold colors of her pallet and abstract depiction of everything from bones and flowers to Manhattan are like nothing else in the art world. Since she rose to fame in 1916, O’Keefe has become a household name, and a beloved painter.

Blue and Green Music, Georgia O’Keeffe image via Wikipedia Commons

It’s a feat in itself that Georgia O’Keeffe rose to fame in a time when there were few women American art scene. At the time she started showing her works in New York, art education for women was severely lacking.

O’Keeffe understood at a fairly young age, that painting might be the only way for a woman at that time to enjoy a solitary lifestyle. One where she was free to be alone with her thoughts, and not be thought odd for doing so. The New York Times reported, “‘One day,' Miss O'Keeffe recalled in later years, ‘I found myself saying to myself, 'I can't live where I want to. I can't even say what I want to.’ I decided I was a very stupid fool not to at least paint as I wanted to.''

Though O’Keeffe’s work is most often associated with the American southwest, and specifically New Mexico, she spent years in Manhattan and created a number of works featuring various New York City buildings in her signature abstract style.

Her paintings were unlike anything being done at the time. One might include a horse skull hovering in the sky over a mountain. Traditional perspective did not matter to her. O’Keefe might use an entire canvas to depict the curve within the base of an eye socket from a cow skull.

She was a dedicated and focused artist, who did whatever it took to complete her vision.

“Miss O'Keeffe was strong-willed, hard-working and whimsical. She would wrap herself in a blanket and wait, shivering, in the cold dark for a sunrise to paint; would climb a ladder to see the stars from a roof, and hop around in her stockings on an enormous canvas to add final touches before all the paint dried.” - The New York Times 

Though some associate O’Keeffe’s focused paintings of flowers with female genitalia, O’Keeffe firmly denied the association. The New York Times reported, “O'Keeffe, though she posed willingly for the photographers' studies of her nude form, always insisted that her paintings' sexual attributes existed only in the minds of their beholders.”

O’Keefe proved her meteoric rise to fame was not a fluke, and remained the top female painter in the country until her death in 1986. The New York Times said her career, “embraced virtually the whole history of modern art.”

Though she had set her sights on becoming an artist early in life, and went on to achieve that goal, there was a time when she gave up painting altogether. If it hadn’t been for a few chance circumstances, the world might have missed out on this great talent.

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