GEORGIA O'KEEFFE
(1887–1986)

Georgia O'Keeffe
Even when she was a baby, Georgia O'Keeffe saw the world around her a little differently than most people do. Can you describe anything that you saw before you were a year old? Georgia O'Keeffe could. The shapes and patterns on a quilt she played on before she could even stand up were still clear to her almost eighty years later!

When Georgia O'Keeffe was growing up, most girls learned embroidery and other sorts of artwork that help decorate a house. Some girls became art teachers. But very few girls were encouraged to try to make their livings as artists! O'Keeffe didn't see things that way at all. She started taking art lessons, and when she was twelve years old, she decided to become an artist.

One day, in her high school art class, she experimented with a new way of looking at the world. Holding up a wildflower, her teacher showed how important it was for her to examine it carefully before drawing it. O'Keeffe did look at it closely, but she did a lot more than that. She turned it in different directions, drawing it over and over again. Then she tried drawing just a part of it, to see what that would look like. Every time she drew it, she made the shape of the flower look more simple.

Someone looking at her drawing might not have recognized the flower at all. That didn't matter to Georgia O'Keeffe. To her, just to copy the flower was dull. In her drawings, a flower became a world to be explored.

After she'd been painting for a few years, O'Keeffe realized that she'd begun copying other artists. But she still didn't see things the same way they did, so her paintings disappointed her. Then she remembered what she'd learned in her high school art class.

For the rest of her life, she was determined to paint what she saw in her own way. Because her way was so unusual, her artwork sometimes startles us. That would please Georgia O'Keeffe, because that's what she wanted to happen. She said she wanted people to be "surprised into taking time to look…to see what I see of flowers."

Can you see her point of view?

COULD YOU GUESS THAT…

…Georgia O'Keeffe disliked it when people called her a "woman artist"? She didn't think that being a woman should matter to her art. She wanted to be thought of only as "an artist."

…she drew cartoons of her teachers for her high school yearbook? She was the art editor, and her classmates put this rhyme under her picture:

O is for O'Keeffe; an artist divine
Her paintings are perfect and her drawings are fine.
…in 1977, Georgia O'Keeffe received the U.S. Medal of Freedom? This is the highest honor our government gives to a civilian.

…she didn't sign her paintings? She didn't think she had to—she thought people would be able to tell they were hers because of what she painted and how she painted it. Do you think you could recognize one of her paintings?

…Georgia O'Keeffe lived and painted on her ranch in New Mexico until she was almost one hundred years old? Where else in this book have you seen art from the Southwest?

Georgia O'Keeffe
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