Essay, Research Paper: Georgia O'Keeffe


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Totto O'Keeffe was born in the year on November 15, 1887. She was one of seven
children and spent most of her childhood on a farm, with the typical farm
animals and rolling hills. O'Keeffe's aunt, not her mother, was mostly
responsible for raising her. O'Keeffe did not care much for her aunt, she once
referred to her as, "the headache of my life." She did, however, have
some admiration for her aunt's strict and self disciplined character. O'Keeffe
was given her own room and less responsibility. The younger sisters had to do
more chores and share close living conditions. A younger sister stated that
O'Keeffe always wanted things her way, and if she didn't get them her way,
"she'd raise the devil." It was found through family and friends that
O'Keeffe was like this throughout much of her life. O'Keeffe began her training
early with private art lessons at home. The foundation of her future as an
artist was made. When O'Keeffe was in the eighth grade she asked a daughter of a
farm employee what she was going to do when she grew up. The girl said she
didn't know. O'Keeffe replied very definitely, "...I am going to be an
artist!"--"I don't really know where I got my artist idea...I only
know that by that time it was definitely settled in my mind." She entered
the Sacred Heart Academy, an art school in Madison, Wisconsin, in 1901. At
school she discovered her blooming talent for artwork. Her art seemed to be the
only stable element in O'Keeffe's younger life. In 1902 her parents moved to
Virginia and were joined by the children in 1903. By the age of 16, O'Keeffe had
5 years of private art lessons at various schools in Wisconsin and Virginia. One
particular teacher, Elizabeth Willis, encouraged her to work at her own pace and
granted her opportunities that the other students felt were unfair. At times she
would work intensely, and at other times she would not work for days. When it
was brought to the attention of the principal, she would reply..."When the
spirit moves Georgia, she can do more in a day than you can do in a week"
After receiving her diploma in 1905 she left for Chicago to live with her aunt
and attend the Art Institute of Chicago. She did not return to the Institute the
following year after getting Typhoid Fever. Instead, in 1907 she enrolled at the
Art Student League in New York City. Discouraged with her work, she did not
return to the League in the fall of 1908, but moved back to Chicago and found
work as a commercial artist. During this period O'Keeffe did not pick up a
brush, and said that the smell of turpentine made her sick. She moved back to
her family in Williamsburg, Virginia in 1909 and later enrolled at a nearby
college. In 1912 a friend in Texas wrote to her explaining of a teaching
position was open in Amarillo, Texas for a "drawing supervisor".
O'Keeffe applied for the position and was hired for the fall semester. O'Keeffe
also made trips to Virginia in the summer months to teach at the University of
Virginia. She would remain working at Amarillo until 1914. After resigning her
job in Amarillo, O'Keeffe moved to New York City to attend Columbia Teachers
College until accepting a teaching position at Columbia College in South
Carolina. Having a light schedule, she felt it would be an ideal job that would
give her time to paint. It was at this time that she left behind all she had
been taught about in regards to painting and began to paint as she felt. "I
have things in my head that are not like what anyone has taught me...shapes and
ideas so near to natural to my way of being and thinking that it hasn't
occurred to me to put them down..." During her summers, she studied and
taught art at the University of Virginia, working with Alon Bement, who
introduced her to the theories of Arthur Wesley Dow. Returning to New York in
1914, she enrolled at Columbia Teachers College to study under Dow, whom she
later credited as the strongest influence on the development of her art. In
1916, O'Keeffe's friend Anita Politzer showed some of these abstract drawings to
photographer Alfred Stieglitz, who exhibited them at his avant garde gallery
291, on Fifth Avenue in New York. He exclaimed, "At last, a woman on
paper!" and told Anita the drawings were the "purest, finest,
sincerest things that had entered 291 in a long while.". He explained that
he would like to show them. O'Keeffe had first visited 291 in 1908, and later on
several occasions, but had never talked with Stieglitz, although she had high
regard for his opinions as a critic, "I believe I would rather have
Stieglitz like something...anything I had done...than anyone else I know
of...". In April Stieglitz exhibited 10 of her drawings, and she had not
been consulted before the exhibit and only learned about it through an
acquaintance. She confronted Stieglitz for the first time over the drawings and
later agreeing to let them hang in his gallery. Needing a job, and missing the
wide, flat spaces of northern Texas, Georgia accepted a teaching job at West
Texas State Normal College in the fall of 1916. While in Texas she would often
make trips to the nearby Palo Duro Canyon, hiking down the steep slopes to
observe the sandstone formations. At least 50 watercolors were painted during
the time spent in Canyon, Texas. "It was all so far away...there was quiet
and an untouched feel to the country and I could work as I pleased."
Georgia's first solo show opened at the 291 gallery in April 1917. Most of the
exhibit had been these watercolors from Texas. After the show Stieglitz decided
to close 291 due to financial difficulties but said, "Well I'm
through...but I have given the world a woman." During the winter Georgia
became ill with a flu that was sweeping the country. She took a leave of absence
from the teaching job and later resigned. It's possible that there was pressure
from the community to encourage her resignation. One good reason was for what
people called "radical views", which she had concerning the United
States' entry into the war in Europe along with other rebel opinions that were
shocking to the small Texas town. She was encouraged by Stieglitz to return to
New York. By this time he had fallen in love with O'Keeffe and wanted to pursue
a relationship. He being in an unhappy marriage, had moved out from the family
home and into his studio. She boarded a train in June of 1918 to return to New
York, Stieglitz, and to a new life that would make her into one of the most
important artist of the century. Shortly after her arrival, Alfred took Georgia
up to the Stieglitz family home at Lake George in the Adirondack Mountains. They
would return to the lake home each summer for years to come. Georgia produced
many paintings of the Lake George countryside during these years. Stieglitz was
Georgia's most avid supporter. He arranging shows, and sold her paintings.
Buying an "O'Keeffe" was not only expensive, but a collector needed to
meet Stieglitz's somewhat hazy standards for owning one. By this time she was
known only as "O'Keeffe" to the art world. She rarely signed a
painting, but instead would sometimes print an "OK" on the back of the
canvas. Alfred's wife divorced him in September 1924 and he began to press
O'Keeffe into marriage. She was reluctant to do so since they had lived together
since 1918 and had survived the scandal, seeing no reason to marry now. She
finally gave in and they married late in December. During the long winter months
in New York she began to paint her very large flowers, some of her most popular
work today. She completed her first enormous flower painting in 1924. The giant
flower paintings were first exhibited in 1925. A Calla Lily painting would sell
for $25,000 in 1928 and had drawn media attention to "O'Keeffe" like
never before. O'Keeffe's financial success would finally prove to her that an
artist could make a living with a paintbrush. In 1925 she and Stieglitz moved to
the Shelton Hotel in New York, taking an apartment on the 30th floor of the new
building. They would live here for 12 years. With such a spectacular view,
Georgia began to paint the city. By 1928 O'Keeffe began to feel the need to
travel and to find other sources for painting. The demands of an annual show
needed new material. Friends returning from the West with stories stimulated
Georgia's desire to see and explore new places. Alfred had no desire to leave
New York and Lake George...he hated change of any type. In May of 1929, Georgia
would set out by train with her friend, Beck Strand, to Taos, New Mexico...a
trip that would forever change her life. Georgia found that the thin, dry air
enabled her to see farther and at times could see several approaching
thunderstorms in the distance at once. She affectionately referred to the land
of northern New Mexico as "the faraway", better defined as a place of
stark beauty and infinite space. Soon after their arrival, Georgia and Beck
where invited to stay at Mable Dodge Luhan's ranch outside of Taos for the
summer. She would go on many backpacking trips exploring the rugged mountains
and deserts of the region. On one trip she visited the D.H. Lawrence ranch and
spent several weeks there. While in Taos she visited the historical mission
church at Ranchos de Taos. Although she painted the church as many artists had
done before, her painting of only a fragment of the mission wall silhouetted
against the dark blue sky would portray it as no artist had before. "...I
often painted fragments of things because it seemed to make my statement as well
as or better than the whole could...I had to create an equivalent for what I
felt about what I was looking at...not copy it." Being a loner, Georgia
wanted to explore this wonderful place on her own. She bought a Model A Ford and
asked others to teach her how to drive. After one particularly exasperating
moment, one of her teachers declared that she was unable to learn the art of
driving. Only her determination was to lead to mastering her machine. In her
yearly visits to New Mexico she would travel the back roads in the Model A ford.
O'Keeffe remodeled her vehicle. She removed the backseat, and would unbolt the
front seat, and turned it around so that she could prop her canvas against the
back wall of the car. Georgia would return to New Mexico, which she considered
"her land", each summer until Stieglitz's death in 1946. O'Keeffe
spent three years in the city settling his estate. In 1949 at the of age 62, she
made New Mexico her permanent residence. She dividing her time between her
summer home at Ghost Ranch and an adobe house she had renovated in the historic
village of Abiquiu. O'Keeffe traveled internationally, painted and continued to
enjoy her status as a supreme American artist. To add to her accomplishments, in
1977, she received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from Gerald R. Ford. The
final days of O'Keeffe's life were spent in her home. She was well into her 90's
and was tired with life. One friend stated that when visiting her had asking of
her current condition, O'Keeffe stated "it's time for me to go.". By
this time she had lost most of her sight, and could only hold onto her art by
sculpting and working with ceramics. However the results were unsatisfactory to
her. As her health began to fail, many people remarked at her solid grasp on
reality, and her calm peace of mind. She would not make it to her 100th
birthday, she died on March 7, 1986, shortly after entering a Santa Fe hospital.
She was 98.

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