Life and Work of Georgia O’Keeffe
Georgia O’Keeffe was born on November 15, 1887, and grew up
on a farm near Sun Prairie, Wisconsin. Even as a child, she was
interested in the wonders of nature. As she grew older, she began
to collect specimens to study or draw. When O’Keeffe showed
early promise as an artist, her abilities were recognized and encouraged
by her parents and teachers.
After the family moved to Virginia in 1902, O’Keeffe attended
Chatham Episcopal Institute, a boarding school for girls. She was
chosen to be the art editor of the school’s first yearbook,
and her watercolor painting of red and yellow corn won the Chatham
art prize. O’Keeffe went on to pursue her studies at the Art
Institute of Chicago (1905-1906) and the Art Students League in
New York (1907-1908). Her oil painting, Untitled (Dead Rabbit
with Copper Pot), won the League’s William Merritt Chase
Despite these successes, O’Keeffe turned away from art in
her early twenties. She could no longer afford to go to art school,
and at this time women were generally discouraged from attempting
to become serious artists. In addition, O’Keeffe became ill
with measles, which temporarily affected her eyesight.
Her interest in art was rekindled when she enrolled four years later
in an art class taught by Alon Bement. He introduced her to the
then-revolutionary ideas of his teacher in New York, Arthur Wesley
Dow. O’Keeffe was taken with Dow’s idea that filling
space in a beautiful way could give even simple tasks an artful
quality. This provided an opportunity for O’Keeffe to exchange
her realistic painting style for something more abstract.
For the next several years, O’Keeffe worked either as an art
teacher in Texas or as Bement’s assistant in Virginia. In
1915, she accepted a position teaching art at Columbia College in
South Carolina. While there, she began a series of charcoal drawing
in an effort to develop her own style. She mailed some of these
drawings to a friend and former classmate in New York, who showed
them to the famous photographer and gallery owner, Alfred Stieglitz.
Stieglitz was impressed, and even went so far as to exhibit ten
of the drawings without her knowledge or consent. O’Keeffe
was not pleased when she learned of the exhibition and went to the
gallery where she confronted Stieglitz angrily. Following a heated
argument, the two artists had lunch together. This event marked
the beginning of a relationship that lasted until Stieglitz’
death in 1946.
The two artists began corresponding regularly. In the spring of
1918, O’Keeffe accepted Stieglitz’ offer of financial
support to paint for a year in New York. She left Texas to join
him, and after several years together in New York, the couple was
married in 1924.
Even after her marriage, O’Keeffe continued to travel widely.
She first visited New Mexico in 1929 and fell in love with the stark
landscape. She began spending summers there and, after taking time
to settle Steglitz’s affairs following his death, moved to
New Mexico full time in 1949. She split her time between her Ghost
Ranch house, which she purchased in 1940, and a house she purchased
in Abiquiu in 1945.
While in New York, O’Keeffe often painted the buildings and
skyscrapers, but she was drawn to the stark beauty of the natural
environment in New Mexico. She became best known for her large paintings
of New Mexico landscapes, desert flowers, and sun-bleached animal
bones. Because of the way the subject matter was enlarged; the stark
linear quality; thin, clear coloring; and bold patterns in O’Keeffe’s
work, she is often considered an abstract expressionist. However,
she often handled her subject matter representationally, and remained
a realist at heart.
Georgia O’Keeffe became famous during her lifetime, breaking
through a barrier that previously existed for women artists. She
lived well into her 90s, spending her final years in her beloved
Women Artist’s DVD Series: Georgia O’Keeffe
Adapted from the poster series titled questionArte
by Marilyn Stewart PhD, published by CRIZMAC (Item # 1000 $62.00)
How do we know what an artwork means?
• What kinds of information should a responder have available
in order to interpret the meaning or message of an artwork?
• What makes on person’s interpretation of an artwork
better than another person’s?
• Is it ever a good idea to know what the artist intended
the artwork to mean? Must we know what the artist intended?
From the Teacher’s Guide of questionArte
“Talking about particular works of art, as well as about art
in general, can be the most satisfying activity associated with
learning about art and art-makers. Students gain new insights as
they examine and investigate works of art and offer possible interpretations
about meaning. Students learn from each other in the process of
discussing important questions about art. They learn about their
own art-making as they consider what they have accomplished through