Despite common misconceptions about the sexuality of her work, Georgia O’Keefe was adamant that her artistic muse was nature, not sex. The abstract nature of many of O’Keefe’s pieces led critics to interpretation, however it seems that her husband’s photography was the actual root of the incorrect perception of sexuality.
Alfred Stieglitz was a photographer and published a number of nude and sexually intimate photos of O’Keefe. He was a well-known photographer, and therefore the pieces gave O’Keefe a certain notoriety. Her own artwork could stand alone as masterful, but the added fame of Stieglitz along with the implied sexuality in the paintings added allure to her nature-inspired landscapes and flora.
This sexuality may not have been as interesting if the subject of the photos had been a man, as women are objectified more easily than men. At the time, if O’Keefe had taken and published nude photos of her husband, it would have been considered an oddity, not worth much discussion. But a woman was an easy sexual target. In today’s world, sexual imagery is more accepted among each sex, but O’Keefe’s time was more old-fashioned or transitional. Even today, a woman is more objectified, but as gender neutralizes and lines between men and women become greyer, objectification is more content-based rather than superficially sexual.
One interesting aspect of the implied sexuality of O’Keefe’s work is that the sexuality cannot be removed from the interpretation now that it has been falsely placed. O’Keefe’s work may always be named sexual, and even her attempts to paint realistic objects or become a lone desert woman will not remove that label from her work any time soon.
Georgia O’Keefe’s work has been given proper recognition, as it should continue to receive. She was a learned artist that broke the molds of her education and inspired artwork around the world. It is a shame that her intentions were mislabeled.
- Karin Haanappel. “Georgia O’Keefe: A Life in Art.” Online Video Clip. You Tube. YouTube, 28 Nov. 2013. Web. 30 March 2016.