Georgia O’Keeffe, who died today only 29 years ago, first came to The Nation’s attention in 1927, when Frances O’Brien profiled her for a series on “Americans We Like.” O’Brien, as it happened, was a guest of O’Keeffe’s at Lake George in the summer of 1926, when the painter’s husband, Alfred Stieglitz, photographed the journalist while she was skinny-dipping.
Georgia O’Keeffe has never allowed her life to be one thing and her painting another. She has never left her life in disorder while she sat down to paint a picture that should be clean, simple, and integrated. To her art is life; life is painting. What you are is also the thing you put on canvas, or into a symphony or a book. When you look at her pictures you know that she is chiseled, ordered, and fine just as they are. You know that she lives simply, almost as a recluse, that she orders carefully every detail of existence so that the maximum of time may be given to her work. Georgia O’Keeffe is an iconoclast to the old European traditions of art and artists. All the thrilling tales we have heard of life in a studio, of Bohemianism, of cocktail-inspired masterpieces become remote fabrications beside the serenity of this woman of many paintings. We begin to believe that inspiration really comes out of introspection, human sympathy, profound contacts rather than, as we were taught to believe, out of a bottle. America is versatile—producing alongside of jazz and the Black Bottom so austere and ascetic a religion for artists….
Yet there is one potent bond uniting her with the world of humanity. If Georgia O’Keeffe has any passion other than her work it is her interest and faith in her own sex. She married Alfred Stieglitz about eight years ago, and you must not, if you value being in her good graces, call her “Mrs. Stieglitz.” She believes ardently in woman as an individual—an individual not merely with the rights and privileges of man but, what is to her more important, with the same responsibilities. And chief among these is the responsibility of self-realization. O’Keeffe is the epitomization of this faith. In her painting as in herself is the scattered soul of America come into kingdom.
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