I have come to admire artists, those who can see things that others can’t, those who can create beauty from oil on canvas, clay or marble and those who can challenge our perceptions and help us to see life in a different way.
I don’t know much about the art world however, yet I finally got around to watching a programme I had recorded about the artistic life of Georgia O’Keefe. A major exhibition had been put on at the Tate Modern to celebrate her work, thirty years after her death. I doubt I will get the chance to go and see it, although I do admire her work.
I enjoyed the programme much more that I was expecting to. What I was expecting I do not know yet I felt I had had an insight into the creative process she went through and the freedom to express herself that she found once she had broken free from her more traditional training. Two things stood out for me. Firstly, her realisation that she could only be herself if she painted what she felt.
‘I was taught to paint like other people and I know that I’d never paint as well as the person I was taught to paint like. There was no reason why I should attempt to do it any better. I hadn’t been taught any way of my own.’
How many people are trapped doing other people’s work? We still teach people to do things in the way that we would rather than allowing them to express themselves by finding their own way.
The second thing that stood out for me was that she repeated the same motifs throughout her work. She painted the same picture over and over again, trying time and time again to perfect what she was trying to achieve. It was as if the painting was inside her and she had to work hard for it to appear on the canvas. She was aiming for her ideal of perfection and no one else’s.
Art doesn’t just appear. It is like all work that is worthwhile. It takes effort, practice and determination. The viewer remembers the masterpiece yet forgets the multitude of sketches and discarded work that went before. Perfection, whatever that means, is hard won.
O’Keefe was certainly able to plough her own furrow. She was able to push back her own boundaries. She showed us things in ways we had never seen them and helped us to arrive at new perceptions. As her Russian artist and friend had said, ‘We may go as far as the artist is able to carry his (or her) emotion.’