After a break, I went back to reading My Faraway One. In my June 20 post about the first two hundred pages of correspondence between Georgia O’Keeffe and Alfred Stieglitz, I asked myself: At this point, does O’Keeffe think of herself as an artist?
Lo and behold, within another hundred pages, O’Keeffe addresses this very question. And my hunch was correct. In 1918 she writes:
“My things not art – Well – I’d just like to know why art or painting should be any particular thing – I’m not saying that my work is either – you understand – I’m quite content that it shouldn’t be either if many things I’ve seen are. [ . . . ]
“My things are only a means of relieving my mind – I don’t care whether they are painting or what they are – It doesn’t matter to me in the least – .” (p. 266)
“ – It never seemed that my painting was so important – or important at all – It was just something I wanted to do – had to do usually – ” (p. 291)
At this very early point in her career — before she even has a professional career — she does not self-identify as an artist. At least out loud. She is in the midst of creating what are now considered modern masterpieces, but she calls them a necessity, something she “had to do” that “relieve[ed] my mind.” It’s about the process, not the end product. It rings true, then, that she mails her paintings to Stieglitz so haphazardly packaged.
Reminds me of something performance artist Carolee Schneemann told me once: that an artist has no choice but to make art.