What does it mean to be ‘the first’ at something when it comes to success? Innovation is a complex and thoroughly difficult process. To be able to in some way understand many contemporary and necessary histories in order to clearly perceive the present situation, and also be far flung through imagination towards something unknown, is a beautifully mysterious harmony. Whether in the arts and culture or by science and the analytical pursuits, these individuals and groups that help birth novel and important ideas, are champions of a bewildering kind. Georgia O’Keeffe is a grand example of such a character of innovation.
At the early age of 10 years old she decided she was going to be an artist. This began a lifelong process of education and meandering towards her profound accomplishments through painting. She came from humble origins in Wisconsin, as her parents were dairy farmers. Though throughout her years she found herself becoming ‘top of her class’, ‘one of the first’, ‘first woman to’, and these phrases come up again and again. It is interesting that when she was delving into her creative development she was a woman in the early turn of the 20th Century. This means her accomplishments were being forged while it was much harder for women to participate in what was primarily a masculine field. In this she became somewhat controversial and famous for the first ways she broke into the art scene. O’Keeffe’s Flower Paintings have been often considered to represent female genitalia, although she denied this, but alongside nude photographs of her that were done by Alfred Stieglitz, a lover and later husband, she became a potently female icon of her era.
Her life was full of success but also sickness and pain. Having experienced setbacks from measles, getting ill in the flu pandemic of 1918, nervous breakdowns and being hospitalised for depression because of the effect of a prolonged affair her husband was keeping, she nonetheless survived all these and lived to the age of 98. Her painting Jimson Weed has sold for more than any other work by a woman artist as of 2014, and she was the first woman to have a retrospective at the Art Institute of Chicago, and then at the MOMA. O’Keeffe’s images are so common and profound they have permeated the whole of American Culture, and this is a testament to her never giving up and never surrendering to any of the difficulties during her journey to fully realising herself through painting.
Artistic creation is an integral part of the human spirit and when someone like Georgia O’Keeffe pours themselves into searching out a new way to look, to see, to imagine the world and represent that view, it blesses the community with visions that inspire and encourage us to both be connected to the moment and look out far beyond the horizon and consider our possibilities.
Author: Jonathan M. Bessette