Georgia O’Keeffe

Posted on June 10th, by S. Bartron-Miscione in Creative Conversation. 8 comments


Georgia: A Novel of Georgia O’Keeffe, was a very good book recommendation for me, and I appreciate being included in the conversation about it — thank you, Esther. I am interested in sharing thoughts about women working in the arts: how our issues are the same as other women who work, and how our personal histories are unique to the creative process.

Reading Georgia was stunning to me, because I saw so much common ground in the story of OK’s life, (as one of her friends referred to her), which was a little creepy: like the author lifted material from the blog on my website about the things that source my subject matter and the “realness” I’m looking for in the forum of realism.  On the other hand, there is probably much that all women who paint will have in common — maybe that is true for all women who work with the creative process!

I have some questions that were inspired by the book, Georgia, and the book club venue.  I’m extending an invitation to everyone in your book club to respond to my questions and submit their own comments and questions on my blog @

To the four women artists, I’m extending the invitation to become a guest artist on my blog. If you’re interested in doing that, send the answers, questions and comments to my email address, along with a high res file of one of your works using:

I will have your material posted within a day or two of receiving your material.

Reading about Georgia O’Keeffe and writing about her issues inspired me to open my blog to a few invited women-in-the-arts, for the purpose of: building a forum for ideas, showcasing work, discussing our shared art issues, and our individual creative processes.  I hope you will join me — this could get interesting!

For starters: you have to be ruthless to carve out the time to be an artist. That is true for men and women, but way more so for women, because the bulk of daily grind, unpaid work, and care giving has always been, and remains, the responsibility of women.  Unless there is a culture that I don’t know about, it is a universal truth.  It means that it’s probably not a good idea for a women artist to try to combine her life as an artist with a family life.  Any woman who becomes a wife and mother, contributes to the family income and participates in all of the social convention that those roles entail, will not have the time, or a place in her life devoted to making art — it’s not a reasonable expectation.  Outliers to the obvious, who can carve out enough time to make art, (they don’t sleep?), will still have to give up the goal of being involved in the business of art, or she must be independently wealthy, retired w/financial security, or the mistress/wife of Alfred Stieglitz — or a reasonably accurate version of him.  The options being what they are for women who paint, he was pretty unique in his devotion to OK and her success.  I don’t know any other woman artist who had, or has anyone like A.S. promoting her work.

The other “elephant in the room” of a woman’s life in art, is unending sexism that makes it close to impossible to get shows, favorable reviews and sell work.  That is the business of art that cumulatively builds recognition, increases price per painting, and demand.  In fact, during the Renaissance, and for a time following, several women did gain considerable recognition and fame, unrivalled since — even though those women and their work are now so “forgotten” that you have to do some serious research to know anything about them!  The percentage of women exhibiting their work was actually higher after the French Revolution in Paris, the art capital then, than it is in the NYC capital now.  Here’s a current example of the percentage of women being represented in galleries and museums in NYC:  at the reopening of MoMA in 2004, out of 400 objects exhibited in the museum, 16 or 4% came from women artists.  Compared to Paris in 1820, the percentage of women currently showing in New York is down, drastically down.

Note: those statistics are from the recent article: The Shoes Under the Art World.

So, if Georgia O’Keeffe’s story is read, framed by the facts of what it means to be a woman artist in real time, she comes as close as anybody I’ve ever know to having lived a charmed life in art!  She was, by most accounts including mine, an exceptional artist, but there was so much more to recommend her! Georgia was a unique beauty with a unique artistic style; she was willing to break with conventional mores to allow other artists to make nude images of her – in life drawing as a model, and in the famous nude photographs by A.S.  She was also independent and self contained enough to resist domestic convention by living openly with a married A.S., showing disregard for anyone who got in her way, and she was lucky! The sun, moon and stars were perfectly aligned for her to find her way from the prairie to Alfred Stieglitz, who recognized all of that and fell in love with her.

A.S. was correct: that his self-serving strategy for presenting his beautiful nude photographs of her would shock people and get them thinking about her before the paintings went public — a no-brainer if ever there was one!  There was a fascination with her personally – a buzz that set her apart.

I also think she was the same kind of career catalyst for him — they were that for each other.

Artists have been exhausting that modus operandi with “shock art” ever since — and look at the careers that have flourished because of it.  The ‘nudes’ were painful for her, and contributed hugely to her becoming “male identified,” but was it worse for her to be male identified as an artist than it is for any other woman?  I think not, since the art world was, and continues to be a boy’s club, it seems highly unlikely that she would have had anything more than local participation in an art scene without A.S.  On the other hand, being male identified as an artist and a woman would be so all encompassing, so complete, that there would be nothing left to call your own…

I want to end this with this quote:

“The task of art, Stieglitz says to the art critic, Paul Rosenfeld, is not to render things as they visibly are, but to call forth an unseen spirit, to draw what’s abstract and timeless out of what is tactile, concrete, personal.”

A.S. got that, so did Georgia, and so does any artist whose work is worth looking at.  The genderless, personal relationship of the artist with their work – at this level – will be the most enduring relationship of their lives.  I think it’s the reason that, against all odds, women will make art without recognition or remuneration.         

8 thoughts on “Georgia O’Keeffe

  1. Very well said, Stephanie. You lay the groundwork for an important conversation and I look forward to hearing from others. As way of introduction, I am a childhood friend of Stevie’s (yes, we called her Stevie and I would like to continue to do so). I am a retired sociologist and currently in the Masters for Writing Program with Johns Hopkins University. Looking forward to meeting many creative others on this blog. Best, Jane

  2. I’m sure that you will take the conversation in very interesting directions with your unique perspective as a sociologist who has spent more time cultivating art appreciation in the museums of the world than anyone I’ve ever known! I look forward to reading what you have to say about
    Georgia O’keeffe’s life, and I’m very interested in how the writing process compares and contrasts with the creative process. I suspect that it’s the same thing, except resulting with a different product.

  3. Hello Artists!
    I just recently picked up Virginia Woolf’s book, A Room of One’s Own, a book I read in 1997. You might ask how I know the year, actually I can tell you the date, too, May 15th. I tell you this because I vandalize every book I own; underline and write in the margins. It is always interesting for me to go back to a book and see what it was about the book at a certain time in my life that was interesting/noteworthy.
    As you know, Virginia Woolf was primarily a writer of fiction, but A Room of One’s Own is a nonfiction essay, a feminist conversation about the importance of having the liberty “to travel and to idle, to contemplate the future and the past of the world, to dream over books and loiter at street corners and let the line of thought dip deep into the stream.” I have to think that this quote applies to all artists because having the liberty to do such things is where our ideas emerge to become a passion.
    She also believed that writing needed to be genderless in that it must come from both the masculine and feminine areas of our being. Remember how Georgia balked at her work being critiqued as primarily feminine?
    A Room of One’s Own is, at a certain level a metaphor for a number of things Woolf believed to be basic to an artist’s life. But I want to throw out questions surrounding a literal interpretation of A Room of One’s Own: Where is your room? Do you have a studio at home? Do you rent a space? Are you happy with your room? How much does your room reflect you? Or is an actual room not so important, rather, your room is in your soul (whatever that might mean)? Have you had to fight for your room? How grateful and/or fortunate do you feel about a Room of Your Own?
    And finally, trying to stay on task talking about Georgia, Woolf had something to say that resonated with me after having read the book. She said, “Women have served all these centuries as looking-glasses possessing the magic and delicious power of reflecting the figure of man at twice its natural size” (p. 38). Was this what Georgia did for Stieglitz? Maybe in the end? In the end she was paying the bills. But in the end Georgia admitted “I have worked hard to build a legend to replace the one he fashioned for me.” What did you make of this complicated relationship.
    This novel, or perhaps a work of creative nonfiction, has lots of fascinating areas to discuss and I look forward to your opinions. Happy New Year and Happy Creating!

    Jane Hegstrom

    • I’m not a plein air artist, so studios have always been square one for making art.  The space itself influences what happens on the canvas, as does the quality of the light, and the comfort level of being in that space.

      While working on my MFA at OU, I was assigned a cavernous, rectangular space with an indestructible concrete floor to work in.  It was part of a former military barracks owned by the University and offered for studios to students working on advanced degrees in the School of Art.  There was nothing like that available in any other MFA program in the country at that time, and the work produced in those studios was quite exceptional — for student work.

      Looking back, I remember the years in that studio as the most significant period of growth in my ability to turn myself inside out for art. That wasn’t only because of 24/7 access to a great studio for making art, but also, and just as important, it was about the time I could devote to being the artist.  It was my job to be there working, it was my life, it was me becoming fully realized as an artist.  Pretty heady artistic transformation happened because of those studios and the endless time available to work in them. The three artist professors on my committee in the MFA program told me, “There might never be another time in your entire life when you will have this kind of time and space to produce art!”

      I found out right away how true those words were after I got married and became a mother!  My little family lived in Ridgefield, CT for seven years.  During that period of time, I managed to establish a relationship with The Silvermine Center for the Arts in a nearby town, and with a local organization: The Ridgefield Guild of Artists.  The Guild offered me the room upstairs from the gallery to use as a studio, and called me their “Artist in Residence;” the same year I received an Individual Artist Grant from The Connecticut Commission for the Arts. Now, all I had to do was find a way to get to that little room and work a few hours here and there while trying to keep my balance with being a full-time mother and homemaker! After seeing me struggle with that, Scott Miscione converted our sunny living room into studio  — an extraordinarily generous commitment of space subtracted from our living area in a small condo.  He has provided studio spaces for me ever since that one, and each one represents a different stage of my life, in general, and my life in art.

      When we moved to Brooklyn, NY in 1980, I had another huge, indestructible, commercial work space with plenty of time.  It was very important to me to be separated from the laundry and everything else involving domesticity, because I wanted to be taken seriously as an artist and I didn’t think that could happen if I brought someone to a spare room in my home to see my work — none of the boys had to do that, they all had studios that were separated from home life.

      After my son was in school, my time to work was diminished further by the need to make more money than was possible from the sale of my paintings, so I went back to teaching for several years.  Summers in Maine were the only time I was able to have immersion with painting, and those Maine summers were what I looked forward to as though I life depended on it.

      I worked in an old barn attached to the house by a breezeway.  There were gaps in the wallboards and floors, and lots of wildlife shared the studio: squirrels, mice, birds, and every kind of insect.  I found myself becoming more and more interested in the small details that come together to make things happen — the years of working with children, especially my own, beloved son, will certainly reintroduce that element of discovery!  I became less interested in the drama of the “big picture”, and began searching visually for the unrecognized universal elements of ordinary things all around that are too common to see with clarity.  It became my goal to uncover and reveal truths from the minutiae of the ordinary.  That transformation happened in the worst, most uncomfortable, cluttered, dirty studio I ever had — it was my special place.

      I think that’s the point; whatever space is your place to make art, it must be your own.  It needs to be the way you left it yesterday when you return tomorrow, so that you can pick right up where you left off the day before.  It needs to be convenient enough, so that when you only have a few precious hours there, time isn’t wasted getting to the studio and warming it enough to work.  I don’t care at all anymore that my Brooklyn studio was my sons’ childhood bedroom, I don’t need to prove that I’m a serious artist by looking the part, I am the part.  I love it that in both NYC and ME studios, I can hear the washer & dryer buzzers reminding me to get out of my chair at the drawing board and MOVE around a little!  Without the domestic chores that I can conveniently keep going all day, I would sit still for too many hours lost in my work, living in my head.  I no longer fight to carve out the time to be an artist, although I’ve done a lot of that, now I just take it.  The consequences don’t cause much suffering, because I’m never more at peace, more content, happier with my life than I am when I’m in a “room of one’s own,” painting.

  4. Hello everyone: K Christianson here. I also am a friend of Stevie’s and Janie’s. How lovely that we have remained in each other’s lives for all this time. I am very honored to be invited to participate in this blog.
    We grew up in a small town in South Dakota. remote to a degree, but were lucky to travel and have a bit of ” outside exposure” .. As I look back, I have to smile when I think of my friends teasing me and laughing about my style and interest in fashion. I loved to DRESS. Vogue and Harper’s were the magazines of the day for this girl ! I loved all sports, culture, and the like, but my favorite was fashion and of course JEWELRY and PERFUME. I attended the University of North Dakota where I majored in Speech and Jorunalism. I interviewed on a ” fluke” with a major airline, and was accepted to be a Stewardess. I spent 37 years as a domestic and International flight attendant. During this time, I had many other ” outside artistic pursuits” … I sold art and antiques, designed sports clothing in Korea and shipped it back here for a little ” side business” and of course, spent hours in the Jade Market in Hong Kong… always thinking that some day I would design my own jewelry. My area of creativity is in metal work.. designing copper and sterling “funky” jewelry. I also design beautiful necklaces with old African Trade beads and Ethnic pendants. the discussion on Georgia O’Keeffe fits right in with my work. I became aware of her work in college. I adored her sense of style, both in fashion and in her work. Simple, yet elegant .. the art is loud, yet draws you into itself, getting lost in the color and splash of it all. I also was fascinated with her relationship with Stieglitz. I loved his photography, but was also enchanted with this hot love affair, the letters, and the fact that through it all, they both were with other people !! they never stopped loving each other ..
    This brings me to another artist I have been intrigued with over the years..Frieda Kahlo. Frieda could not be more different than Georgia, in lifestyle, trauma, and art style. Her style of dress was outrageous at times but to me, always interesting. The issue that ties these two together in my mind is the men. Frieda had two loves in her life.
    Diego Rivera and of course, the Hungarian Photographer, Nicholas Murray. Interesting that these two world renown women lived ‘Avant garde’ lives that were very ” artsy” and totally unconventional for their time. Interesting that they were both involved with photographers. All were highly successful. Truthfully, I have always wanted to live in this time.
    My questions: what role did these men play in the lives of these women? What, if any, influence did these men have in the women’s work ?
    Finally, Janie, I had to laugh when I read your questions. I do have my own studio .. and attend classes and go to many other studios. My space sadly is ME … it is a mess !! burning, polishing, cutting and shaping metal is a dirty business. I will at some point, perhaps have photos of a piece of jewelry from start to finish. To see the lovely piece in a store or a show, is amazing when you think of the total torture the grinding of the stone, and the shaping of the metal endured to get that result . It is always a happy surprise in the end !

  5. Today is February 27th. I will begin my ” journey of isolation” for a time. A local gallery has invited me to create for presentation, a group of African Trade Beads and Ethnic Pendants. I have had many of these old beads and the pendants for around 12 years. Newer beads and pendants … ” reproductions” are available now, of course. One has to be careful to purchase from trusted traders in order to get authentic pieces. I am thrilled to own these elegant old pieces. Before starting the necklaces, I have been perusing my two favorite books: AFRICA DIRECT/ETHNIC JEWELRY. I have located many of my old pendants. Initially, I purchased many of these pendants from the lady who owns the online store ” Africa Direct Beads” . She lives right here in Aurora. I am going there on Thursday to get some sort of appraisal on these pendants and beads. Most are from the 18th century and have traveled all over the world. Because of this,some have little nicks and ‘scars’ on them.. a part of their charm! I am thrilled to have this opportunity to purchase a few new beads and to chat about my beautiful pendants. This weekend is the Denver Gem and Mineral show. My African Trader, Abujabar, will be there, as well. He is a trusted trader whom I also have been using for 12 years.
    My process always involves good relaxing music, and takes a long time to lay out the bead combos the way I SEE them and want them. I am a BIT too picky but it seems to work.
    For me, as with many artists, my issue has always been one of self confidence in my work. It has taken time for me to realize that people may like the work, but just not interested in the style or … quite often.. the size of the pieces. Many are large.
    Today, I will close with a quote from my tactful Mother. ” Well, K’s beads are lovely… but they ARE quite large, and certainly NOT for everyone”
    It has taken time for me to GET this !! It makes me smile.

    • K,
      When I wear one of your amazing pieces I simplify everything else, except make up, and become the presenter. I choose a single complimentary color and don’t wear any other distracting element – so that the presentation of your art work is fully appreciated and thought provoking. It’s a good idea for you to tell the backstory of these Objets d’Art,
      because whoever wears them will be asked. Perhaps a little hand written story included with the packaging would add appreciation to the fact that each one-of-a-kind piece is it’s own story – just like a wearable still life.

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