I remember being shown works by Georgia O’Keeffe at a very young age and being bored to tears. My mother has always been a big fan of O’Keeffe’s work. So, any time we were on a family vacation and there was an O’Keeffe exhibit at a museum we could see, we would spend what seemed like hours upon hours gazing at big paintings of flowers and whatever else had been cobbled together on museum walls. In elementary school, my art teachers would often give us a plastic flower and have us use pastels to draw whatever piece of the flower we wanted, to try and mindlessly mimic O’Keeffe’s techniques. (Tennessee Public Schools really do give you what you pay for.) So, naturally, it took me a very long time to have any appreciation for O’Keeffe’s work at all.
I can only imagine many other youths have felt the same way about O’Keefe, at some time or another, as I did at a younger age. In fact, encounters like these have probably turned off quite a number of young people to O’Keeffe and countless other artists.
But, as I got older, I was able to appreciate O’Keeffe’s work to at least a slightly greater degree. One thing that helped with this understanding was learning more about O’Keeffe’s life and her relationship with the natural word. The interpretation of her work as showing female sexuality in nature, while denied by O’Keeffe herself, is a very popular view among the art viewing public, and admittedly an interpretation that gave me a greater personal understanding of her work.
Admittedly, O’Keeffe has still not been an artist I think about constantly. When doing research on the PBS Digital Studios program The Art Assignment for a previous article, I came across this video.
While I don’t cook often, I’ve been fascinated by the culinary arts for about as long as I can remember. Seeing O’Keeffe in this context was unexpected, to say the least. I was never aware that she had had a culinary life before this video, and that is what made all the difference in how I viewed her work. This was the transformation in my mind from viewing O’Keeffe as a collection of well-made, oil painted still lifes in a museum, to a living, breathing person with ideas, values and agency.
One of my favorite artists is Donald Glover. He is a writer, actor, director, music producer, rapper, funk singer and standup comedian. In part, the reason I am able to relate to his work so closely is because I am able to see his ideas and values through this vast variety of artistic lenses. Making and experiencing art in this way allows for the audience to see the multifaceted nature of the artist as a human being, see what themes emerge in different ways throughout the artist’s body of work and distill the very nature of the artist and their work.
Now, viewing Georgia O’Keeffe as a more complete person, I am able to see the themes of the natural world in her painting in a less intellectually isolated way. I am able to see the natural world as it relates to the life style and human experiences of the artist and person that was Georgia O’Keefe.
Watch The Art Assignment here to find a variety of videos that show art and artists in a greater context.
Jacob Levy is a junior at Hendrix College, a DJ at KHDX 93.1, an artist and a poet. He loves learning and helping people find new ways to connect to the human experience through art. He is very happy to be interning in the AETN marketing and outreach department for the summer.