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One of America's top industries for generating revenue both domestically and abroad is the arts sector. Music is at the top of the list of the arts, followed by literary pursuits like poetry. However, the painting sector began to pick up steam later in the 19th century after a protracted period of stagnation. Georgia O'Keefe, who was born in 1887, was one of the exceptional, successful artists who, during the course of her 70-year life, managed to revolutionize the painting medium and bring it to a global audience. This essay therefore, shall focus on specific paintings of O’Keefe like the Hawaii flowers and Landscapes of Maui, exploring the social connotations and analyzing the artistic styles she used to portray America in relation to other developed countries in the 19th century.
Following a period of relative stagnation in the early 1900’s, O’Keefe received a surprise invite by the pineapple company Dole to make specific paintings to be used later for an advertisement campaign. According to (), 1939 reflected a positive turnaround in O’Keefe’s painting career. Despite accepting the generous offer, O’Keefe gave a condition for her service. Her condition was that while in Hawaii, she could be allowed to paint anything she pleased. The social implication of this request was a wake- up call to many artists. In the 18th century, American artists always followed orders given by the employers. Minimal opening was given to bargain the painting prices either. The art freedom was thus curtailed. O’Keefe’s demand revolutionized the arts, and more specifically the painting field worldwide. Other than the ability to name their prices, artists gained freedom of exploring the talents without much inspection from the employers.
Color- various images of the many Hawaii flowers painted in the 9-week tour can be noted. As stated by (), color red was predominant, with few shades of white, green and yellow either at the centre or the background. In the external view, the blend of colors brought about the simplicity and beauty of nature. In an article, (), comments that the mix of colors denoted the imperative interdependence of all people in the society, irrespective of their color and social differences. Just as the mountains needed the flowers to add color, the flowers needed the mountains to grow on.
The distinct shapes represented by the Hawaii flowers included circular and oval in the periphery and sometimes rectangular at the corners of the mountains. The lines of the flowers were often curvy along the mountain slopes. Other than outlining the shapes of flowers in the Hawaii’s vast exotic flowers, the real world had a lesson to learn. The curvy lines on the slopes showed the steep slopes the American economy was just recovering from after the great depression of 1929-1939,(). A notable shape of the flower paintings reflected the private parts of the woman kind. Some considered these nude but () speculated the paintings to mean a better realization of the woman, her role and space in the world. The Hawaiian splendid flora always soothed O’Keefe as she performed her assignment that turned into a tour.
According to (), the materials used in the Hawaii paintings consisted of simple extracts of petals stuck with wax. Her intention was to represent the protection that external wax, thorns and fleshy leaves give to the fragile flowers. In the same contest, human’s fragile internal organs are likened to the flower which are thus protected by the skin, eyelashes and white skin in the palms and feet. () ,notes that, to the religious sect, the vulnerable human kind is protected from nature’s catastrophes like wind and earthquakes by a powerful supernatural being known by many in different titles as God and Allah.
It is vital to note that though O’Keefe did not immediately make a painting of a pineapple as requested by Dole, under the guidance of Charles Coiner who was a member of Dole’s avert agency, she was able to draw and appreciate a budding pineapple fruit in the midst of the thorns.
O’Keefe’s love for New Mexico extends as far as 1917 when she visited San Fransisco and later on permanently resided at the Ghost Ranch in 1949 after the death of her husband in 1946,(). The frequent visits and permanent residence in New Mexico allowed O’Keefe to have a deeper understanding and knowledge of the Hawaiian geography. Maui landscape paintings expanded from mere hills, to valleys, mountains, beaches and cliffs.
The peak of O’Keefe’s love for New Mexico was the 1939 visit to Maui Island. Using the happiest words, she describes Hawaii as her ‘far away place’ and, in turn, gave it her best efforts evident in the painted works.
O’Keefe used different colors to paint the Maui landscape. The cliffs, Lao valley, and shores using bright colors like white, green, and light blue. In her analysis, (), stated that the bright colors in water bodies and the environ around them symbolized life and purity. In the real-life situation, the world cannot exist without water similarly to the human body that is made of water by 75%. Other landscapes like mountains and hills nearby were shaded in brown represented the soil in the land. A distinction was made between the soil in the highlands and lowlands by vitiating the brightness of the brown color. The sprouting flowers and shrubs explained the life that struggled to grow in the harsh conditions.
New Mexico and Hawaii’s eastern coast had highly active mountains that in eruption produced lots of lava. O’Keefe tried to exemplify the ruggedness of the terrain by using the black color in uneven magnitudes. As she explains to one of her friends in a letter, O’Keefe was impressed by the landscape of Maui even though at the onset of her journey, she feared the uncertainty of nature.
The landscape paintings represented a world full of different potentials. Valleys varied in depths, mountains differed in heights coastal line varied in length as volcanic eruptions occurred at different times. In this, we see the varying aspects of life in several segments. Growth of the human mind, and body greatly determined by the active age of the youths, economic depressions and booms, and the incredible value of nature in all of these factors. The interdependent relationship in nature, with strict adherence to the roles of each other, work together to give a symbiotic relationship. Interference of one affects the output of another and the overall synergy is hence not achieved.
In the 19th century, art was mostly valued in Europe and America. O’Keefe’s work was greatly after the similitude of renowned European artists like Paul Strand and Arthur Dove. However, she challenged many American painters of her time, many of whom were males. The use of naturally explicit and detailed paintings like the Petunia captured the attention of artistic analysts. A new era of painting began. As () depicts, painters felt the need to bring out more natural meanings and explanations from their artwork since such would easily be understood by the readers.
The woman was given an entry point into the art of painting and she could now show more of her talent to the world. The American and European society appreciated the woman even more hence more employment opportunities arose. The economic growth was not left behind as profits and income increased through sales of paints during exhibitions,(). In the contemporary world, people have preferred such informal talent-based jobs that allow for freedom to test new creations compared to the white-collar jobs. The most important gift we can give to the world is our talent, (). The lessons learned from paints impact our society positively for a relatively long period of time. O’Keefe’s lessons encouraged harmonious social integration among people from all different walks of life. By accepting each other and understanding the noble duty and value of each of us in the general good of the society, human can be more considerate to one another and keen to conserve nature which forms the foundation of our livelihood. The outcome is a better world, a place to love to stay in like O’Keefe and New Mexico.
Novesky, Amy, and Yuyi Morales. When Georgia O'Keeffe Painted What She Pleased. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2012. Print.
Jennings, Patricia, and Maria Ausherman. Georgia O'Keeffe's Hawaii. Hawaii: Koa, 2011. Print.
O'Keeffe, Georgia. Georgia O'Keeffe: One Hundred Flowers. N.p.: Wing, 1995. Print.
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