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Georgia O’Keeffe: Look for yourself
“White Flower,” 1932. Abby Aldrich Rockefeller gave this Georgia O’Keeffe painting to the College of William & Mary to mark the artist’s honorary Doctorate of Fine Arts. (Copyright Georgia O’Keeffe Museum, ARS) (Muscarelle Museum of Art)

That Kate Alfriend must have been one heck of a charmer. In 1938, Georgia O’Keeffe made no speech when she accepted her honorary Doctorate of Fine Arts at the College of William & Mary, but she did choose to give a few words to the girl reporter for the student newspaper.

This may be the most direct, explicit, extended statement by O’Keeffe about her art that I have read in the O’Keeffe literature. But can you unring a bell once it’s been rung? Will viewers ever get beyond the so-called “vaginas” that they’ve been told to see?

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That’s what O’Keeffe wanted. For us to really look — at her paintings, and at the world around us.

Don’t ever believe anything you read about a work of art except what you see in it yourself.

I suppose the reason that art critics write long and flowery criticism about works of art is to make a living. My paintings, but especially my flower compositions do not have any deep meaning or any great emotional significance behind them. Nevertheless, people like my paintings because they are novel and different, often read into them their own feelings and experiences, which do not belong to the paintings.

When I first began to exhibit my paintings I realized that people seldom notice a small flower composition. Therefore, I greatly magnified their scale to attract attention, and not to be original.

Ann Daly PhD is an essayist specializing in women and women's history. She is working on a book about Georgia O'Keeffe.

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