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Title:"Music that makes holes in the sky": Georgia O'Keefe's visionary romanticism
Author(s):Mitchell, Brenda Marie
Doctoral Committee Chair(s):Manthorne, Katherine
Department / Program:Art History
Discipline:Art History
Degree Granting Institution:University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Art History
Women's Studies
Abstract:At the time of Georgia O'Keeffe's death in 1986, she was stereotyped as provincial American who was untouched by literary or intellectual stimuli, a "frontier" woman attached to nature by gender rather than philosophy. O'Keeffe's extraordinary abstractions and their sources remained largely unexplored in favor of of her more popular depictions of flowers, desert landscapes, and bones, and even these were not examined in the depth they deserved with respect to their content and sources. O'Keeffe herself attempted to direct attention from the depth of her interest in literature. Yet in her reading and in her friendships with writers, a multifaceted spirituality emerges as a recurring theme. It also seems to have provided a key stimulus for her revolutionary abstractions of the teens. Georgia O'Keeffe was a modern romantic, emphasizing individual experience, intensified emotional responses, an interest in the sublime, music, synaesthesia, and the irrational forces of nature, including human nature, much as nineteenth-century Romantic artists did.
O'Keeffe likely encountered mysticism and Theosophy during her early years in Chicago. In the 1920s, she was friends with Theosophist architect Claude Bragdon and novelist Jean Toomer who was a follower of the Russian mystic G. I. Gurdjieff. During the 1930s she met writers interested in mysticism such as Aldous Huxley and Gerald Heard, and much later she befriended Thomas Merton. This study addresses mystical and spiritual sources for her early abstractions and how these themes continued throughout her long artistic career. It includes case studies of the relationship between Bragdon's writing and O'Keeffe's architectural series of the 1920s, and of her abstract and disguised portraits. O'Keeffe's disguised portraiture, in which she depicted Jean Toomer, D. H. Lawrence, and Gerald Heard as trees, may be viewed as an example of the Romantic and mystical idea of the artist-as-seer, and brings up issues of ideas about nature and technology in the period of modernist literature and visual art. In some of her statements, O'Keeffe portrayed herself as the clairvoyant artist representing the true essence of her subject through images ultimately recognizable to her alone. What first appeared simply as an instance of a woman of nature painting trees, now becomes proof that O'Keeffe participated in a sophisticated intellectual dialogue with the artistic and philosophical issues occupying many of the thinkers of her generation. This study concludes with her continued relationships with writers in New Mexico and the connections between her early abstractions and work she produced in the "land of enchantment".
Issue Date:1996
Rights Information:Copyright 1996 Mitchell, Brenda Marie
Date Available in IDEALS:2011-05-07
Identifier in Online Catalog:AAI9702611
OCLC Identifier:(UMI)AAI9702611

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