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Georgia O’Keeffe: never a catholic, maybe a buddhist

In my last post (“Holiday greetings from Georgia O’Keeffe”), I struggled to describe Georgia O’Keeffe’s relationship to religion with any specificity. At least, I decided, I could use the current phrase “spiritual, not religious,” with confidence.

But, as the research goddess would have it (as a friend of mine says, “synchronicity is the new black”), I have since then read in the archives what O’Keeffe had to say for herself about religion:

She visited catholic church services as a child, with an aunt. As one might guess, she took great pleasure in the stained glass windows and the decorative vestments. And the aroma of the incense. The congregational church that she also visited — not so much. There she found only “the color and smell of the very rich.”
“Black Cross, New Mexico” (1929).

And while she felt sympathetic to the catholic church, O’Keeffe never bought on to its doctrine. “I couldn’t be a catholic,” she said. For one thing, there were those wedding vows. “The woman has no chance at all.” (When O’Keeffe married Alfred Stieglitz, it was only at his insistence. She refused to say, “love, honor, and obey.”)

“I might be a buddhist. I like the art that came out of buddhism much more than the art that came out of the catholic church. […] There is a tranquility and peace in buddhist art that I don’t find in catholic art.”

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So, was O’Keeffe a “religious person”? Yes, she said, making a distinction between “religion” and “religious.” “I feel I’m a very religious person — religion to me means respect for people — but I’m not in a religion.”

All religions, she acknowledged, are human-made. “I can accept that. I’m willing to have them make a really superior religion.”

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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