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From the Lake, No. 1

Artist: Georgia O'Keeffe
Created: 1924

O'Keeffe is obviously best known for her breathtakingly beautiful, sexually suggestive paintings of flowers.  Less iconographic, but almost as important a theme for her, are her abstracted landscape paintings, of which From the Lake No. 1 is a fine example.

In this case, we have an image of languid, flowing water.  The method of abstraction is a simplification of line and a delineation of volume.  The complexity of the water is reduced: definite, large shapes replace muted variation.  Bold colors are used in stark contrast instead of more subtle, complimentary shades.  The simple curves and placement of said shapes are substituted for the complex nature of a body of water.

Though the piece seems nonrepresentational, it in fact has a far deeper resonance than a simple traditional landscape painting.  O'Keeffe's abstraction of the natural world serves to enhance our very sense of connection with it.  The painting achieves this by integrating forms of nature with our own reflective capacity.  What we can see in the painting are the shapes, colors, contrasts: the abstract representation of what we know to be a lake.  Our response to this is emotional.  To connect these emotions with the natural world, something the painting depicts only abstractly, we must apply our intellects.  This allows for a deeper and more powerful connection to the natural world than a traditional landscape painting would allow.

This intellectual-emotional combination wasn't understood or appreciated when O'Keeffe first exhibited From the Lake No. 1.  At that time, intellectual creativity in all realms, art included, was thought to be the exclusive domain of men.  Emotional creativity, on the other hand, belonged to women.  O'Keeffe's combination of the two, though now more fully respected, was originally written off as hack work by critics.


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