15 November 2009

Georgia Today

You learn something, however insignificant it might seem, every day. Or so I've heard.

So, what did I learn today? No, not The Meaning of Life or the key to the Unified Theory of Creation (if indeed there is such a thing!). How to make a kajillion dollars with my laptop? If only...

Today I learned that this date is the birthday of someone I've loved, hated and now love more than I ever did before. No, I'm not talking about a family member, friend or former lover. In fact, I have never met this person; I know about this person only from what she created.

OK, so now I've narrowed it down to 51 per cent of the population. (Why is that considered a "minority?" All right, I know I'm not the first one to ask that question.) So who is this grande dame (I've narrowed things a bit more) of whom I speak?

Of course, she's none other than Georgia O'Keeffe. Back when I first encountered her work--in a book--I loved the way she used the colors and shapes she saw around her. I hadn't seen anything like it; I still haven't.

You might say that when I saw this painting--a reproduction, anyway--I understood, for the first time, something that now seems entirely elementary to me: The purpose of art is not only to represent how something looks; it is to convey the way something feels. It took me many more years to understand just how rigorous the work that underlies such an enterprise is. To show how something feels in a way that's entirely yours yet reaches people whom you'll never meet: Really, what else is there for an artist to do?

Plus...How can I say this?: No artist (at least no artist of whom I know anything) is more essentially female than O'Keeffe. Many people have labelled her work as "ultra-feminine," as often as not in a pejorative way, because of paintings like "Pink Tulip," the one I've linked. I made that same mistake for a time in my life, which is what led to my disenchantment with her work. That was also the time in my life when I found myself hating--or at least ridiculing--all of the Impressionist painters except for Cezanne, Mozart and just about all of the Russian composers--and Pink Floyd. And, for good measure, let's not forget Henry James and John Milton.

Now, I'm not saying all of those artists, composers and painters were "feminine," whatever that means. They simply began to make me feel things that made me uncomfortable for feeling. I'm not talking about my gender identity or sexuality, though some would argue that the discomfort I felt with the works of all those artists I mentioned had to do with my discomfort with myself. That, as reductive and glib as it seems, is a pretty good, if not complete, explanation.

So what reminded me of Georgia O'Keeffe and the fact that today is her birthday? Well, Edward Byrne's blog, One Poet's Notes, paid homage to her. And he posted a reproduction of "Red Rust Hills" along with his and another writer's musings about her and her work.

It seems like a particularly appropriate piece for this date, the fifteenth of November, which feels--even on a day as mild as today has been--most like the date on which the season seems to turn from being a segue out of summer and the beginning of the descent into winter. Is it ironic--or appropriate, or simply a coincidence--that Georgia O'Keeffe was born on this date?