Saturday, September 5, 2009

Opinions, Onions and Georgia O'Keeffe

She teaches one to look; really really reeeeealy LOOK at a flower... and all of Life.

Something deep in my bones is thoroughly satisfied when I stand in front of a Georgia O'Keeffe painting.  As a rebellious and often misbehaving adolescent, I was periodically on the verge of being removed from various classes or even, sent home. One day my high school art teacher, Mr. Sams, sat me down  in front of and facing, his file cabinet.  "Open the bottom drawer, Paine."

Within that drawer were fat manila folders stuffed with images of various artists from antiquity through modern.  It is probable that they were in alphabetical order, or perhaps arranged in a chronological order, a discernment lost on me at the time.  I flipped through them quickly, irreverently  at first and then more carefully.  At one particular folder I stopped altogether, stunned by images of flowers, desert mountains, bones and intense blue.

From that day forward I walked into the sanctuary of the art room.  I went directly to Mr. Sams desk, sat in his chair, pulled out the drawer, and I know now... meditated on the images of Georgia O'Keeffe.  Mr. Sams did not put names on the folders, he honored his students the freedom of absorbing the images.  It wasn't until I asked him, that I discovered the name of this artist.

Georgia O'Keeffe taught me about aesthetic, composition, color, form, hue, line.  She taught integrity and focus.  She taught the ancient lessons of immersing in one's passion, of following one's bliss, to continue on without the "permission" of status-quo or academic interpretation.  

Which makes me giggle!  How many of us could or would (and I may add... DO!) carry on, guided by whatever guides us, guided by heart,mind and soul to do what we need to do: allow Spirit full freedom to express through and as us?

I picked up the book Georgia O'Keeffe and Ansel Adams, Natural Affinities, this morning and dipped into Barbara Buhler Lynes' essay, "Georgia O'Keeffe and Ansel Adams: Subjects of Self."
Pardon me for saying it is not a remarkable essay.  Maybe I was grumpy.  I observed that there was too much space devoted to how O'Keeffe owes her success to Stieglitz, that O'Keeffe never mentions the "fact" that he set her up to be successful, and financially independent so that she could devote the rest of her life to her artwork.  Do we deduce from this that she was not grateful, and therefore....  who knows?  My opinion is that Stieglitz used his artists for his own gain, consciously or no; why is it so insulting that Georgia O'Keeffe went on to ignore him?

In my reading of the essay I do not find mention of the pain caused by Stieglitz's infidelities.  I do not notice mention of Ansel Adams infidelities, in fact, no one has linked Adams's sexuality or even gender, to his landscapes.  Seriously, this takes the apples & oranges adage to new heights.

And one last thing, here is a quote from Ms. Buhler Lynes, a final blow in describing a photograph from O'Keeffe's autobiography, "the single photograph of her... that is related to the text..." (ouch!)  "appears across from words describing her late-life interest in learning to work with clay.  What is not mentioned, however, is what she wanted kept secret at the time: that she had turned to this medium because, by the early 1970's, she was suffering from macular degeneration, which had compromised her vision and made it impossible for her to paint without assistance.  This photograph... shows her in the pottery studio of her Ghost Ranch house, handling a clay pot, rather like a wizened member of a monastic order handling a religious relic."

Now I would be seriously embarrassed if I had written that paragraph.  

Perhaps Ms. Buhler Lynes has never handled clay, or paint, or brushes.  Perhaps she has never struggled with what lies ahead as one's body ages.  Perhaps she has yet to investigate what we mean when we regard another as "famous" that we then have a patent claim on their work, their lives, their opinions of their lives.

My opinion is that a life, a person's body of work, is like an onion.  My life, my sex, my work, my everything-that-makes-me, Me... is like an onion.  And I peel and peel and peel, every day.

Thanks for hanging out with me!


Annie said...

Laura, you have done a FINE piece of writing here. You have given me food for thought on how my own experience in a high school art class sent me down an entirely different path; you have focused on an artist whom I have hugely admired for longer than I can remember; you have hit all the points of contention that annoy the heck out of me when Stieglitz is mentioned in hushed tones and seems to be credited with O'Keeffe's success (think Kahlo and Garcia for the same feeling); you've underscored how those who might be eaten by just a little bit of jealousy can give a subtle edge to what they write and then claim innocence.

My favorite artist is Edward Hopper and even though Hopper and O'Keeffe are very different in style, I think there is an originality that they share that makes them intimately akin to each other.

Thank you so much for writing this. Your voice is loud and clear and I love how you expressed your point of view without being harshly critical of Lynes but intelligently questioned what she was really saying and meaning.

Sorrow said...

is that what i am doing?
I like that..
Peeling back the layers of self.
My desires to know more
about me, about the world, about what touches and moves me,
these days the clay does not speak to me. I am un-centered.
These days it is color and glass,
and my drops of blood that drip when i do not handle the glass with the reverence it is do.
like a Georgia O'keefe painting.

Stefanie Freele said...

Those Blues! I needed Those Blues! Thank you.

Susan Cornelis said...

I'll hang out with you any old day! Glad I can at least get together with you in blog life. You are so very readable.

A wildlife gardener said...

I love Georgia O'Keefe's work too as I paint in watercolour and silk, and it's mostly flowers :)

swallowtail said...

The responses to this post have been awesome. Thank each one of you who have stopped me in my tracks, emailed and responded here. Often it feels as though, as a writer, we work in a vacuum... and worse! a silent vacuum!!! Your essays in response to my essay are fabulous. Thank you thank you thank you.

Celeste Maia said...

I am so glad to have "discovered" your fantastic blog, thank you so much for bringing me here.
I too love Georgia O'Keefe and agree with you entirely about Stieglitz and their relationship. I loved reading about your enlightned Mr. Sams, I wish all teachers would be like him.
Thanks a lot for leaving your great comment.

Rosa's Yummy Yums said...

Nice shots! I love Georgia O'Keefe's art! So amazing!

Have fun picking prunes!



Merry ME said...

I've never taken an art class. I guess because I figured I had to be able to draw to be an artist. It never occurred to me to take an art class to learn to like art!

Three cheers for the teacher who had the good sense to open his drawer full of magic and let you pick what you liked. What a great lesson.

I must go find a book about O'Keefe and Steiglitz.

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