Georgia O'Keefe is a famous American painter who painted beautiful flowers and landscapes. But she painted these images in such a way that many people believed she was portraying sexual imagery. "O'Keefe's depictions of flowers in strict frontality and enlarged to giant scale were entirely original in character . . . the view into the open blossoms evoked an image of the female psyche and invited erotic associations." (Joachimides 47) O'Keefe denies these allegations and says that she "magnified the scale of the flower only to ensure people would notice them." (Haskell 203) O'Keefe's artwork was misinterpreted because of cultural prejudice, her non-traditional lifestyle, and gender bias art criticism. But despite these accusations, Georgia O'Keefe's artwork was not based on sexuality.
O'Keefe was born on November 15, 1887 in Sun Prairie, Wisconsin. Her parents were dairy farmers and throughout her childhood she lived on her family's farm. Georgia had a rough childhood growing up on the farm. Her mother did not especially like her and when she was not busy ignoring her, she treated her very badly. Although her mother disliked her, Georgia's father loved her unconditionally and gave her the love her mother deprived her of. But he also molested her, a tramatizing drawback that would follow her for the rest of her life. Although she knew what her father was doing was wrong, she refused to admit this to herself because he was the only loved one she truly had. So, when Georgia's father left, she was heartbroken (Hogrefe 14). "The abandonment she must have felt when he left the family had repercussions for the rest of her life as she refused to get close to many of her male companions . . .her closest male friends were homosexual . . . and she spurned men who sought sexual intimacy with her." (15) After her father left, Georgia was sent to live with her aunt who punished her frequently by secluding her in her room and often by slapping Georgia in the face. When she was a teenager she was sent to an all girl's boarding school. This is where she was finally able to receive art classes and build on her talent. Georgia's mother did not allow her to be cultured, because it was forever trapped in the ways of the late 1800's and if you were a lady, it was not worth it (17). Georgia O'Keefe was brought up in a very untraditional environment and many critics looked at her bleak childhood and made it a reason for her to create sexual paintings (when in fact it just made Georgia a stronger person). When she began creating beautiful artwork in school and was being commended by other teachers and students, she gained an incredible sense of self worth and put her painful childhood in the back of her mind. (19) She grew up to be a very strong, independent person and she did not care if she was judged, as long as she liked who she was. As a result of her father leaving when she was young, she felt that males were not good enough for her and she developed a strong sense of feminism. In fact, for awhile, Georgia explored her sexuality and dated predominantly women for a significant part of her life. This factor did effect her painting, but not in a sexual way. She painted images that were close ups', allowing you to see deep into them and to be close to them. She yearned to be close to someone but was afraid to be hurt again. Georgia's non-traditional lifestyle did affect her life, but did not force her to create sexual female images. "It may be more accurate to read her drawings as intimations of a less literal and more profound view of reality." (Peters 29) Georgia grew up in a time where people still had little respect for women. A woman's role was to stay home and be a housekeeper. They had no self-worth until they were married. So, when women started to get jobs just like their husbands or lived their lives without a husband, people were shocked and most looked down upon them. Georgia was...
Bibliography: Eisler, Benita. O 'Keeffe and Stieglitz: An American Romance. New York: Double Day, 1991.
York: Abbeville Press, 1989.
Hogrefe, Jeffrey. O 'Keeffe: The Life of an American Legend. New York: Bantam Books, 1992.
Robinson, Roxana. Georgia O 'Keeffe: A Life. New York: Harper & Row Publishers, 1989.
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