How to Be an Artist, According to Georgia O’Keeffe

“The notion that you can make an artist overnight, that there is nothing but genius, and a dash of temperament in artistic success is a fallacy,” artist Georgia O’Keeffe asserted when she was 40 years old in 1928. The year before, she’d been given her first retrospective at the Brooklyn Museum—an indisputable marker of success. But O’Keeffe, who would live to the age of 98, wasn’t done developing as an artist—or contemplating what it meant to be one.

“Great artists don’t just happen, any more than writers, or singers, or other creators,” she continued. “They have to be trained, and in the hard school of experience.”

O’Keeffe never formally recorded her theories about art. She did, however, leave a long trail of interviews and letters that reveal how she approached her painting practice—and the rituals, experiences, and environments that inspired her. Correspondence with her husband, photographer Alfred Stieglitz, in particular, offers a raw, honest glimpse into O’Keeffe’s creative mind. The two exchanged 25,000 pages of letters between 1915 and 1946, during which time she found her voice as an artist: first, through her flower paintings, and later, through landscapes and surrealistic still lifes inspired by her mountainous, skull-studded surroundings in New Mexico.

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