Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Art History 101: Georgia O'keefe and the Influence of Zen Buddhism

Georgia-O-Keeffe-Portrait.jpg - Photo by Fred Stein/Archive Photos/Getty Images
Portrait of Georgia O'Keeffe(1887-1986).  Photo by Fred Stein/Archive Photos/Getty Images
Georgia O'Keeffe (Nov. 15,1887-March 6, 1986) is most well-known for her large-scale paintings of flowers as well as for her paintings from New Mexico of the landscape, sunlight, and natural forms of the American southwest - rolling hills, sun-bleached animal bones, wildflowers. Although following a singular vision, she was influenced by the culture and times in which she lived, both in what she rejected and in what she absorbed and embraced. 
Influence of Zen Buddhism
O'Keeffe rejected the traditional realism that was being taught in art school at the time and turned instead to a more abstract style, which although still based on representation,enabled her to express her feelings about what she was painting.  Japanese Art and Zen Buddhism played a large role in her approach to her art.

According to the PBS website, Georgia O'Keeffe, About the Painter/American Masters/PBS,  "Teaching in South Carolina was Arthur Dow, a specialist in Oriental Art. Dow’s interest in non-European art helped O’Keeffe move away from the forms she had found so stifling in her previous studies. She said of him, “It was Arthur Dow who affected my start, who helped me to find something of my own.”  O'Keeffe had abandoned making art in her early 20's because it had no meaning for her, and it was the influence of Dow that brought her back to painting.
In her revealing, insightful, and thoroughly engaging book, How Georgia Became O'Keeffe: Lessons on the Art of Living, author Karen Karbo writes;
"Enchanted by the simplicity of Japanese art, and the voluptuous lines and shapes of Art Nouveau, Dow had tossed the dusty plaster casts aside and asked his students, on the first day of class, to draw a line on their paper, thus beginning the process of defining the space.  This was pure radicalism in 1912. It was the beginning of modernism, a declaration of independence for the artist. "I had stopped acting when I just happened to meet him and get a new idea that interested me enough to start me going again," said Georgia, in a letter to a friend." 

O'Keeffe carried the influence of Zen Buddhism throughout her life in the way she lived and in the subject matter of her paintings.  She loved to paint the objects and organic forms of nature, and lived a contemplative life, often taking long walks alone in the landscapes she loved.
Another well-researched and insightful book,The Influence of Zen Buddhism on the Art of Georgia O'Keeffe, by Sharon Fitzgerald, traces the history of the influence of Zen Buddhism on American culture during the early 20th century, and on Georgia O'Keeffe, herself, through her teacher Arthur Dow and others. One of the concepts O'Keeffe learned about and used in her paintings was Notan, the Japanese concept about the balance of light and dark.  After taking art lessons with Dow, O'Keeffe was no longer tied down to imitative realism, but rather, was freed to express her own ideas and feelings in her drawings and paintings.  When famed photographer and gallery owner Alfred Stieglitz first saw these expressive drawings of O'Keeffe, he was immediately moved by their power and energy and shortly thereafter, in 1916, exhibited them in his New York City art gallery.

An example of Arthur Dow's painting style

1 comment:

  1. Hi, Barbara...kind of a stern looking lady, right? I've always enjoyed the color in her paintings.