Georgia O'Keeffe's Way of Living Was as Beautiful as Her Iconic Paintings

Georgia O'Keeffe, Women Who InspireArtist Georgia O'Keeffe is most commonly associated with large-scale, boldly hued paintings of flowers, which many are quick to liken to the female anatomy. But those who reduce the Mother of American Modernism to mere petals and stems are missing out on the essence of a woman who was a trailblazer in every sense of the word. Her life's work and her inimitable spirit are why we honor her this Women's History Month.

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You don't need to be an art historian to recognize or appreciate the work of this icon.

Who She Is

Born in Sun Prairie, Wisconsin, in 1887, O'Keeffe went on to become one of the most influential and intriguing artists of the 20th century. Considered the "Mother of American Modernism," O'Keeffe studied at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago from 1905 to 1906 before moving to Manhattan, where she learned the techniques of traditional realist painting. There, she found a champion in photographer and art gallery owner Alfred Stieglitz, who would become her husband despite his being 24 years older than she was.

After visiting New Mexico in the 1920s, O'Keeffe became so enchanted with and inspired by the rugged landscape that she moved there in 1946 following Stieglitz's death.

Forever true to herself and her vision, O'Keeffe died at the age of 98 in Santa Fe.

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How She's Shaped History

O'Keeffe left behind a vast legacy, including more than 900 paintings with subjects ranging from her signature flowers and landscapes to skyscrapers and stark skulls and bones.

These definitively American images have gone on to shape artists of future generations. Allowing nothing to stand in the way of her dream, O'Keeffe paved the way for fellow female artists. Her determination to live on her own terms was radically ahead of her time and a beacon to those who vowed never to conform to someone else's idea of who they should be.


Her Words to Live By

Without her intrepid spirit, you have to wonder how different American art would be today. Thankfully, she lived by her own words:

I've been absolutely terrified every moment of my life -- and I've never let it keep me from doing a single thing I wanted to do.

Here, don't you love how O'Keeffe refuses to allow herself to be relegated into a single category?:

The men liked to put me down as the best woman painter. I think I'm one of the best painters.

O'Keeffe's dismissal of everyone else's opinion allowed her complete artistic freedom:

I have already settled it for myself so flattery and criticism go down the same drain and I am quite free.

And that landed her great achievement.

Happy 125th Birthday Georgia O'Keeffe!! Museum admission is free all day, so come celebrate with us!

A photo posted by The Georgia O'Keeffe Museum (@okeeffemuseum) on

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Why She Inspires Me

When I traveled to Santa Fe in the mid-1990s, I visited the Georgia O'Keeffe Museum. To be quite honest, I had time to kill before a conference began and this seemed like a nice way to spend the afternoon. While initially I went to simply admire her work, I left completely enamored with the way she lived her life.

As you move through the museum, you have the opportunity to hear O'Keeffe's voice as she describes her fascinating journey. Even as a child, she knew she would become an artist. When her mother tried to discourage her, she simply stopped talking about it, but never ceased dreaming of and planning for her future career. 

When others told her she wouldn't make it as an artist or she wasn't talented enough, she simply ignored them and followed her heart and her spirit.

Her love for the Southwest landscape led her to live alone contentedly at a time when that was completely uncommon for a woman to do. O'Keeffe's ability to find comfort in solitude and beauty in all that surrounded her makes her an inspiration.

When I returned to Santa Fe in 2000, the Georgia O'Keeffe Museum was my first stop.


Image via Bettmann/Corbis 

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