Georgia On My Mind, and Yours

Photo portrait of Georgia O'Keeffe by Alfred Stieglitz, 1918.
Photo portrait of Georgia O’Keeffe by Alfred Stieglitz, 1918. [Source: Wikimedia Commons]

In my day job I’ve always regarded network administration with a certain suspicion. It’s a sprawling university network and you have to arm-wrestle with an army of geekish bureaucrats to get anything done. So I didn’t expect to have fun when I began to manage the back end of this blog. But I’ve approach ed it the same way a blind flaneur learns to walk down new streets. I’m tapping my way gingerly through the data. I’m beginning to discern patterns in blog traffic. Environmental cues can be indistinct or incomplete, but hell, I’m used to that. I could always get run over by a bus, but I’m not letting wariness about remote possibilities stand in the way. I’m ready to be surprised.

One recent surprise has been the number of visitors landing here after searching for “Georgia O’Keeffe.” If you are one of them, welcome! Please linger long enough to have a look around. You may not find what you’re looking for, but you might find something else. Such are the ways of a blind flaneur.

I haven’t written about Georgia O’Keeffe – yet. I had every intention of doing so last month when I wrote about where a whiff of pinyon smoke leads, but a dump truck load of firewood redirected my attention. I wanted to illustrate that post with an image of Georgia’s 1942 painting, Black Hills with Cedar. I knew exactly where to find it. Whenever I visit the Hirshhorn Museum in Washington, I seek out this modest canvas and linger before it for some quiet contemplation. A print of it, purchased at the Hirshhorn, hangs in my work room. I had a heckuva time finding it on the Hirshhorn web site, though. When I did, the image was locked down, impossible to copy or channel through a link to the image location. The museum’s Internet presence seems as miserly as its eponymous patron was in the real world of getting and spending.

I did find, along the way, a Lyn Lifshin poem titled Black Hills with Cedar. It reminded me of an interview I did with Lyn in 1976 for an obscure little magazine that probably is lost to the world. Today it would be published on the net and we could find it in a flash.

There are zillions of Georgia O’Keeffe web pages out there, zillions of Georgia O’Keeffe jpeg’s. Most of them are available on e-commerce sites selling posters and prints. Such sites leave a lot to be desired in terms of usability, and many of the images are locked down with Hirshhorn miserliness. There are no images of Georgia O’Keeffe’s art in the Wikimedia Commons, although you will find several photographs such as the 1918 Stieglitz portrait shown above. Georgia O’Keeffe’s Wikipedia page presents only one image of her artwork, Ram’s Head White Hollyhock and Little Hills (1935). This image, like almost every other O’Keeffe image on the Internet, is copyrighted. You should read Wikipedia’s detailed copyright notice if you want to use it.

In publishing this image, Wikipedia is breaking new ground, if not the law. I followed Wikipedia’s lead and used the image for Where a Whiff of Pinyon Smoke Leads. As a result, the humble blind flaneur lands near the top of the heap when people search Google Images for Georgia O’Keeffe. This has more to do with what people want — low-resolution digital images available for fair use on the Internet — than any savvy strategy on my part. Like a flaneur, I just stumbled into it.

This touches on several larger stories here that I’ll take up another time. One is the place of Georgia O’Keeffe’s art in what Walter Benjamin called The Age of Mechanical Reproduction. Another story is about copyright, fair use, accessibility, and free culture. I’ll continue to tap my way into these stories, discerning patterns from incomplete evidence like a blind flaneur. And I’ll look for other opportunities to discuss this beguiling artist. Please join the conversation.

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6 Responses to Georgia On My Mind, and Yours

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  2. tomrobertstennessee says:

    What comes to mind when I think of Georgia O’keefe is an artist in love with a specific place. She left behind New York City and her husband Alfred Stieglitz to live alone in a desolate part of New Mexico. Her work blossomed. She aged beautifully and lived to be ancient in self-imposed solitude. There was nothing incongruous between O’keefe and the place she loved. Her work was vibrant with motifs from northern New Mexico: canyons, wild flowers, cows skulls, infinite space. She looked like an integral part of the landscape: the parched face with fine wrinkles; her stoic gaze; her beautiful hands. She has deservedly achieved icon status as matron saint of southwestern art.

  3. Mark Willis says:

    O’Keeffe’s way of infusing landscape with a psychological or spiritual dimension has always had power for me. It transcends regions. I’m thinking of several New England landscapes included in an exhibition called The Mystic North, which I saw in Cincinnati in 1984 a month before Brendan the Navigator was born. O’Keeffe’s work was placed alongside that of Marsden Hartley (Mt. Katahdin), Rockwell Kent, Lawren Harris, and an extraordinary Finnish painter whose name I forget. I believe the show included Pic Island, which Ms. Modigliani would take me to see 15 years later at the McMichael Canadian Art Collection near Toronto. She intuited something profound about the nature of my vision when she arranged a pilgrimage to that painting. Seeing it again, standing before it, I felt what the 17th-century mystic Jakob Boehme called “the flame of recognition.” I feel the same flame when I stand before O’Keeffe’s Black Hills with Cedar.

  4. tomrobertstennessee says:

    What a testament to the power of O’keefe’s artistic vision! Most of my experience with her work includes the slide shows from art history classes, her permanent exhibit in Santa Fe, and, of course, the ubiquitous flower prints in every poster store from NYC to LA (which diminishes the power of those paintings). It is difficult for me to separate O’keefe from New Mexico. Maybe it’s because I’ve spent too much time listening to my friends in New Mexico speak of her as one their personal treasures.

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