Georgia O'Keeffe loved to paint. She also loved to write. Many books have been published with excerpts from her letters to close friends and colleagues. These letters express her feelings about critics, about her dreams, about her art, and everyday trivialities. This page will give you insight into the mind of one of the great American artists of the 20th century.
To Anita Pollitzer (friend), 11 October 1915:
"Still Anita - I don't see why we ever think of what others think of what we do - no matter who they are - isn't it enough just to express yourself..."
To Anita Pollitzer, 20 October 1915:
"Anita? What is Art anyway? When I think about how hopelessly unable I am to answer that question I cannot feeling like a farce - pretending to teach anybody anything about it.
I won't be able to keep at it long Anita or I'll lose what little self respect I have unless I can in some way solve the problem a little, give myself some little answer to it. What are we trying to do, what is the excuse for it all? If you could sit down and do just exactly what you wanted to right now for a year, what in the dickens would you do? The things I've done that satisfy me most are charcoal landscapes and things - the colors I seem to want to use absolutely nauseate me.
I don't mean to complain; I am really quite enjoying the muddle and am wondering if I'll get anything out of it and if I do what it will be. I decided I wasn't going to cater to what anyone else might like, why should I, and when you leave that element out of your work there is nothing much left. I'm floundering as usual"
To Sherwood Anderson (a writer), September 1923:
"...whether you succeed or not is irrelevant. There is no such thing. Making your unknown known is the important thing and keeping the unknown always beyond you, catching crystallizing your simpler clearer version of life only to see it turn stale compared to what you vaguely feel ahead - that you must always keep working to grasp. The form must take care of its self if you can keep your vision clear. I some way feel that everyone is born with it clear but that with most of humanity it become blasted one way or another. I can never show what I am working on without being stopped. Whether it is liked or disliked I am affected in the same way - sort of paralyzed."
To William M. Milliken (Director, Cleveland Art Museum), 1 November 1930:
"Dear Mr.Miliken: I have been hoping that you would forget that you asked me to write you of the White Flower, but I see that you do not.
It is easier for me to paint it than to write about it and I would so much rather people would look at it than read about it. I see no reason for painting anything that can be put into any other form as well.
At the time I made this painting - outside my door that opened on a wide stretch of desert these flowers bloomed all summer in the daytime.
The large White Flower with the golden heart is something I have to say about White - quite different from what White has been meaning to me. Whether the flower or the color is the focus I do not know. I do know that this flower is painted large to convey to you my experience of the flower and what is my experience of the flower if it is not color.   I know I can not paint a flower. I can not paint the sun on the desert on a bright summer morning but maybe in terms of paint color I can convey to you my experience of the flower or the experience that makes the flower of significance to me at that particular time.
Color is one of the great things in the world that makes life worth living to me and as I have come to think of painting it is my efforts to create an equivalent with paint color for the world, life as I see it.
Yours very truly,
To Jean Toomer (poet), 8 February 1934:
"Even my show I do not particularly enjoy thinking of. There are paintings of so many things that may be unpaintable - and still that can not be so. The feeling that a person gives me that I cannot say in words comes in colors and shapes..."
To Cady Wells (artist), late February 1938:
"...I knew that when I wrote that I was hurting the artist in you and I like it that you kick back and spit at me. It isn't that I have a particular liking for being treated that way but I like the artist standing up for himself - believing in his own word no matter what anyone may say about it. Believing in what one does ones self is really more important that having other people pat you on the back."
To Maria Chabot (friend, photographer), November 1941 (written on an airplane):
"It is breathtaking as one rises up over the world one has been living in, looking out at and looks down at it stretching away and away. The Rio Grande, the mountains, then the pattern of rivers, ridges, washes, roads, fields, water holes, wet and dry. Then little lakes, a brown pattern, then after a while as we go over the Amarillo country, a fascinating restrained pattern of different greens and cooler browns on the square and on the bias with a few curved shades and many lakes. It is very handsome way off into the level distance, fantastically handsome - like marvelous rug patterns of maybe 'Abstract Paintings'.
The world all simplified and beautiful and clear cut in patterns like time and history will simplify and straighten out these times of ours. What one sees from the air is so simple and so beautiful I cannot help feeling that it would do something wonderful for the human race, rid it of much smallness and pettishness if more people flew. However, I am probably wrong because I will probably not really be very different when I get my feet on the earth than I was when they left it."
To Dorothy Brett, 15 February 1932:
"that memory or dream thing I do that for me comes nearer reality than my objective kind of work."
To Sherwood Anderson, late February 1924:
"My work this year is very much on the ground. There will be only two abstract things-or three at the most-all the rest is objective, as objective as I can make it . . . I suppose the reason I got down to an effort to be objective is that I didn't like the interpretations of my other things-"
To Waldo Frank, 10 January 1927:
"I would like the next [exhibition] to be so magnificently vulgar that all the people who have liked what I have been doing would stop speaking to me. My feeling today is that if I could do that I would be a great success to myself."
To Henry McBride, 1929:
"You know I never feel at home in the East like I do out here and finally feeling in the right place again I feel like myself and I like it . . . Out the very large window to rich green alfalfa fields-then the sage brush and beyond-a most perfect mountain-it makes me feel like flying-and I don't care what becomes of art."
Writings and Works:
Georgia O'Keeffe is remembered as one of the great American painters of the 20th Century. Often, it is hard to understand what motivates an artist to paint what they did, in the manner in which they chose to do it. Here you will find O'Keeffe in her own words, explaining some of the mystery behind some of her greatest pieces of work. You will also find direct Quotes which shed light onto her works, her life and her thoughts. As well, you can read excerpts from Letters she wrote to her friends and colleagues, divulging her views, feelings, and emotions about her work and her life.
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