5 Cool things I learned from Georgia O’Keeffe

by P. Braithwaite

Dead artists follow me around. Seriously. I’m not crazy.

From time to time an author or artist will follow me around. They will pop up in random conversation, their books will jump out at me on the subway, or they will show up in television dialogue or something.

Typically, if folks show up more than 4 times in a short period of time, I’ll give in.

This has been the case with Georgia O’Keeffe – which is odd because, well, I didn’t think we had much in common.

I was doing my best to ignore Ms. O’Keeffe until I came across Karen Karbo’s biography called How Georgia Became O’Keeffe: Lessons on the Art of Living. I saw a review of it in O Magazine (after avoiding O’Keeffe for a week), and I caved and purchased it.

I have to say I loved this book. Not only is Karbo hilarious (I laughed aloud several times), this book made me love O’Keeffe’s personality as well as her art. It also made me realize that art is an extension of personality. A cowardly person creates cowardly art. The book even inspired me to use colored-pencils and draw a vagina flower. (I failed).

Here are a few of favorite reasons why we should all love Georgia:

Love…hard: Georgia O’Keeffe loved hard. She also loved stupidly and diligently and defiantly, but the passage that struck me most was when Karbo wrote, “Georgia abandoned painting. She went back to charcoal, a humble impossible material. She unrolled cheap manila paper on the floor and had at it, late at night, after she was done teaching, tramping and letter-writing. She wrote to Anita that she developed bad cramps in her feet from crawling around the floor…she embodied the wisdom I heard somewhere once, that to create something meaningful you must love the expression of your heart more than you love yourself” (79)

My thoughts: Deep and self-explanatory.

Don’t be afraid to do dumb sh!t: Karbo writes, “One of the things I love about O’Keeffe is that for all of the ways in which she was a one-of-a-kind genius- busy giving birth to abstract expressionism while Jackson Pollock was still in kindergarten, while also demonstrating how women, who still didn’t even have the right to vote, might live a life of both passionate connection and equally passionate independence – she still made a lot of the same errors in judgment the rest of us do” ( 110).

My thoughts: Karbo is referring to the fact that O’Keeffe posed nude for a photographer (who later became her husband) who then created an entire exhibit behind her back (Karbo compares this to sexing or Kardashian-esque sex tapes). Ironically this huge lapse in judgment catapulted O’Keeffe’s work. Sometimes stupid decisions contribute to your overall growth/progression.

Be Brave: In Chapter 9 Karbo quotes O’Keeffe. “My feeling about life is a curious kind of triumphant feeling about –seeing into bleak – knowing it is so and walking into it fearlessly because one has no choice” (179).

My thoughts: Okay, so this one is a bit of a downer but, honestly I think it’s so deep. O’Keeffe understood the landscape of her soul (and her vagina) she made beautiful haunting pieces turning skulls and skeletons into beauty. True alchemy.

Sublimation leads to awesomeness: Karbo writes, “If Georgia had lived, say, now, she would not have poured her raging heart into her work. She would have rolled up her sleeves, Googled, “How to get and keep your man,” sprung for a weekend workshop on applying the principles of The Secret to her situation, moved to New York, waxed the proper boy hair, found out which power Yoga class Author [Macmahon] frequented, and arranged to accidently bump into him. In short she would have found a way to make him hers…Sublimation is a powerful thing. Best of all, it’ll never let you down. ..The good news is, we needn’t fix anything…we need only start a blog.” (76-78)

My thoughts: I know what you’re thinking – I only love this passage because I’m a writer and a (sometime) blogger, but that’s not true. Part of my spiritual practice right now is to feel things. Often we think there is an elixir in a book (or bottle), we run around trying not to feel. Art = feeling. If I can feel deeply I can learn to create more deeply.

F*ck watcha heard: Georgia O’Keeffe says, “If I stop to think of what others – authorities would say…I’d not be able to do anything at all” (107).

My thoughts: Again…well-said and self-explanatory

This book was really really inspiring. You should buy it. But NOT from Amazon (that’s a post for a different day, I guess.) So my friend, tell me, who inspires you??