Contributing writer for The Artifice.
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Are Georgia O'Keeffe's flowers really hypersexual? Or is that just what we've been told to see.
Georgia O’Keeffe’s flower series are detailed magnifications of countless plants that force the observer to notice common subjects in a way that enhances their wonder. However, today her paintings are synonymous with the female reproductive organ and little else. It is challenging to deny that there is no sensuality in her flowers, as the subject itself is sensuous and beautiful, but it is important to understand the origin and context of that interpretation.
During her career, O’Keeffe moved from pure abstraction, abstraction of recognizable subjects, to representation. This change in methodology may have occurred after the characterization of her work as overtly sexual. The promotion of her art by Alfred Stieglitz and the predominance of men in the art world portrayed her work as first and foremost a female creation. Stieglitz called her art “the expression of a sexually liberated woman” and said she “receives the World through her Womb.”
Even though she painted a subject matter that her male colleagues would have deemed appropriate for a woman, she was still chastised for her innovations, which they said had “promiscuous qualities.” This was not lost on O’Keeffe herself who once stated, “The men like to put me down as the best woman painter. I think I’m one of the best painters.”
This post will explore the development of Georgia O’Keeffe’s art throughout her lifetime and the way it was received by Stieglitz and the men in the art world who felt threatened by it.