Yesterday the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum in Santa Fe, New Mexico netted a cool $44.4 million at auction for one of their masterpieces, O’Keeffe’s Jimson Weed. That more than doubled the amount ever paid for a work by a female artist, and was much trumpeted for that fact.
I love that painting. It’s worth the money, if one’s got the money. But there are a couple of points that bother me about all this. A lot. First is the fact that the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum exists to guard and preserve the works of the eponymous artist. So they’re selling what is one of her greatest paintings? This is to guard her legacy? How?
The stated purpose of the sale was to increase their acquisition fund. Acquisition of what? Paintings by Lucian Freud? (In case it just slipped your mind, he’s the male artist one of whose works went for the most money ever paid at auction for an art work.) Which brings me to the second bothersome point.
News stories prominently headlined the word “female”. The most money ever paid for female art, they proclaimed. Like paint tubes perform differently for male and female artists? Or brushes? Or canvas? Hmmm? I thought by the 21st century we were past this “men are the artists, women are the muses” nonsense. Guess not.
Okay, rant over, because what I really want to do in this post is to pass on some inspiring and challenging words spoken by the artist herself:
“I’ve been absolutely terrified every moment of my life — and I’ve never let it keep me from doing a single thing I wanted to do.”
Georgia O’Keeffe was one tough lady. She lived to 98, and lived the life she wanted to. The quote surprised me, though. I knew her biography, and knew how strong she was. But I had thought it was a piece of cake for her to live her own life, because she was so strong. Until I read her words, it never occurred to me that she paid a price for it. That maybe I was reading things backward; that she was so strong because she lived her own life!
For me, inclined to timidity and people-pleasing, bedeviled by phobias (elevators, locks on bathroom doors, heights), terror often stops me from doing what I want to do. Sometimes it even stops me from being fully aware of what I really want to do. That this was the case for one of my heroines never even occurred to me.
Now that it has occurred to me, I wonder if it will make a difference?
How is it for you? Is fear a stranger to you? Or do you, in the words of the adage, “feel the fear and do it anyway?” What part does fear and trembling play in your life, and how do you deal with it?
Fear plays its part in some of my life – I did flying because I wanted to – it didn’t alter the fact that there was always a certain frisson to the activity and heightened adrenalin when challenging myself and the aeroplane with bad weather or a tricky airfield. Equally, a new photographic venue generally raises a few hackles – that’s the fear of not knowing the area and its inhabitants; the fear that you may be placing yourself in danger by being there. I deal with these things by mentally risk analysing the situation as I go along. If something looks potentially dangerous I’ll probably change direction. I have found that looking confident in the way you walk even in an unknown area tends to reduce the likelihood of problems. Doesn’t work with aeroplanes though 😉
On a more general level I think the fear of change that comes with the decision to settle down and have children is one that most people suffer from without conciously realising it at the time.
Epi and I chose a Georgia O’Keefe Sunflower as the motif on our wedding invitation cards 🙂
Thanks so much for this interesting and complete reply, Martin.
I am nervous enough when flying conventional planes; I can’t get my head around how it would be actually to be flying one! But I certainly admire your doing it!
Your observation about photographing in unknown venues made me stop and think. There’s you, and there’s Patti, and you’re both right out there, journalist-style, encountering strangers in sometimes questionable areas. Both of you bringing back splendid results. My hat’s off.
Apropos of your suggestion to “look confident” — advice given in bear country (which, remarkably, we find ourselves in) is often to make yourself look “big” while slowly backing away. Never turning and running.
I’ll be interested to see if others comment on your point about the decision to settle down and have children. Our two are adopted, so it really was a conscious decision (but as you suggest, there surely was an unconscious subtext and/or fear there).
Delighted to hear about your choice of a GOK Sunflower! I’m sure it brought additional blessings to the marriage — 😉
They give the ‘Look big and don’t run’ advice in Lion country too! Personally I’d prefer to have a Kalishnikov in my kit just in case that doesn’t work!!!
Adopting is a very big decision and well done to you for taking that bold step. There was a time when I could have accepted that we didn’t have children (us men are so poor at making these key choices 😉 ) But we went through the IVF route and now have Alasdair. Not sure we need all the hassle of a soon-to-be teenager when retirement is not too far away – but I sure as hell wouldn’t make a different choice now!
No such thing as IVF back in the day. It was adoption or nothing. Things are as they are, however, and that includes timing.
BTW, if you remember, in the Middle Ages teenage squires were sent off by their families to live with another family in another castle, there to help out and learn their duties. Not at home! Elsewhere!
I’ve always thought they had the right idea!
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I appreciate the timing.. we almost went the adopt route, only, when we approached the Coram Foundation they insisted that we cover all ‘natural parent’ routes first. So we went through the IVF path and were lucky that it worked first time.
I’ll have to send Squire Alasdair down to his aunt in Warminster where the only thing is to join the army 😉 Actually he has to deal with being a Scout under a Polish Lady Scout Leader – she keeps them all in order 🙂 I’m due back on duty next week!
Good luck to the young Squire!
And good luck to you!
The two most quoted words in the Bible are “Fear Not”. My faith quells my fear. I befriend and embrace my fear and then it dissipates. It was Eleanor Roosevelt who said, “Do one thing that scares you every day.” Well perhaps not every day…..I like stretching and testing myself and overcoming the fear.
I loved seeing the George O’Keefe at the newly refurbished Smith Museum of Art yesterday.
I remember Madeleine L’Engle pointing out that whenever an angel appeared in the Bible the first words out of his/her mouth were: Fear Not! (Which, as she said, gave you some idea of what angels actually look like.)
Thank you for commenting, Pru!
In her book of letters she comes across very much by using words blowing off the idea that she cared or was cowed, however I think she very much DID care and tried to get reassurances by stating that she didn’t care. She also called herself crazy or asked questions about how she should feel about things and then asked for an outside view of what to call her own behavior. I haven’t quite finished with it yet.
Sounds interesting, Elisa. I didn’t know about her book of letters, and am interested in your view. Thanks for coming by and commenting!
I’ll look for it!
I totally *loved* this post, J.! Not only because she’s my favourite artist [if I have one], but also for what you wrote about male vs. female. You put it so well … ‘aren’t we over that by now’?! Why can’t we just be human beings in the first place.
On fear: I’m almost constantly scared. I’m afraid of so many minor things in life, if I’d cave, I’d never get out of bed. I’ve had to force myself to get over it, but that in turn, I think is draining me of energy at times. Flying isn’t my *major* fright, but if it was, I’d do it anyway. Otherwise I wouldn’t have seen anything at all of this world. If I’d had a real phobia of flying, I would have taken tranquilizer with booze or something, just to get away.
I’ve read your blogs for a number of years now, and I have a hard time getting it together; the person I “see” when I read your blogs, and the person you tell me about; «inclined to timidity and people-pleasing, bedeviled by phobias…». When you just read, like we do here in the blogosphere, we, or at least I, tend to make myself an inner vision of the person in question …
R, that’s how I flew in the days when I flew — tranquilizers! It works. Mostly. Same reason as you, if you don’t fly you can’t get where you want to go.
Aren’t we all much more than one person? I thought Walt Whitman’s line “I contain multitudes” was dreadfully egotistic when I first read it, but it occurs to me now that it’s simple truth, about all of us. Don’t we all contain multitudes? The confident, the serene, the nervous, the petty, on and on and on —
It’s pretty natural and common to compose our own inner vision of people. We’d just better be ready to revise as needed!
Oh, for sure … we all do. Not many people have seen my scared self.
True, but you know her. And you work to comfort her!
Guardians. Hmmm. We in NM are very partial to and consider her incomparable work sacrosanct. I suspect this action will garner considerable attention and other, more significant actions in the near-term. Tides ebb. We’ll have to see if this hallmarks more change.
It sounds like there are at least two eyes in New Mexico that will be focused on the guardians, and the prize. Glad to know you’re there, Eric!
I consider her work sacrosanct too.
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Suffice it to say I enjoyed this post, I agree with your rant, and I have lots to say – in my head. If we ever do sit with a cup of joe in a neat little cafe up north your way, we can have a long talk. 🙂
To put it in one word, Alevai!
Which means, translated to the common tongue —
From your mouth to God’s ear!
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Judy i imagine you to be fearless, i suppose as you imagined okeefe to be. now i know…
Your post is so insightful on so many layers – so glad you caught this little bit on the okeefe auction by her guardians – i think there are no “guardians” – not wanting to be cynical but the fox are all out there prowling around looking for chicken coops to guard! so i hope this is not another chicken coop at their disposal. you are a One Woman Neighbohood Watch Patrol!!
And then that littler matter of the patronizing attitude towards women artists – another one up for the OWNWP;)
And your great catch on the okeefe comment about fear! i feel sorry for my own timidity and all the things i failed to do because of it! i dont think children had so much to do with it – in fact i became a little more daring stepping out of my comfort zone because of them – whether it was the simple matter of driving (not an airplane like one of your readers, but just a late 20th century automobile complete with auto-transmission!) so that i could take my kid to pre-school…or telling myself that if i didnt raise my voice it would in some measure affect the world my kids were left with (e.g. the last decade’s great war debate). The puzzle though is that i was not always so fearful: my emigration to the US is itself a case in point – maybe in such things mine was a case of “fools rush in where angels fear to tread” (what is it with angels and fear? they’re both purveyors as your Madeleine L’engel’s quote teminds us and victims are they?) and my journey since then has been a story of transformation and change – i suppose i became an angel – ha! and then …well there’s a whole book in there in each of us isn’t it?
I love when you comment, it’s always deep and insightful, and always somehow surprising. So are you gonna do it, Mercy? Write a book? It would be fascinating. Across cultures, across careers.
I really resonate when you talk about a time of great bravery (or perhaps foolhardiness; but are the two so different?) in your life. My precipitating event was different, but like you — I found that a step of bravery can lead to a life of transformation and change. And what more do we really ultimately want? This is how I usually put it: I’m a sucker for transformation!
Now, turning 80, I feel like for the first time, I am who I am. The fullness of that. Without knowing what that is, but no longer caring very much. I’m content to say, It is what it is. Like Popeye, I yam what I yam. It’s peaceful. But I wouldn’t have given up any of the turbulence that got me to this place, either. Greetings across the miles!
It’s wonderful to hear from you, but someday I’d love to be with you in person again! Maybe 2015?
Hmmm…a book and more if i were as discliplined as you 🙂 – when i was younger the thoughts and ideas kept rushing in and i’d tell myself someday when i have the space and time and now as the years pass i find both space and time but the thoughts they thin away…sounds like the paraphrasing of an old jules pfeiffer cartoon strip – but that’s my story too 🙂
Hmmm, that’s an interesting phrase you use — “the thoughts they thin away.”
I’m considering a third book, which I’ve thought of off and on for years, but now, exactly as you describe, the thoughts thin away. I doubt it will happen, unless some day a whole new approach appears. Unlikely.
Who knows though, it could happen, and perhaps will to you.
oh judy please please write another one and i will enter into a pact with you – i will do my best to be disciplined and put thoughts on paper – may not make a book of it but half way there – that a fair deal?
My sister, also turned 60 (only a year younger than me) – has actually done it – put together a book of wonderful short stories (under penname “Elizabeth Kottarem”) – so the excuses of time. space, ideas feels a bit specious 🙂
Waiting to see you on bookshelves everywhere 🙂
We both try for halfway, and then see what happens?
I think we might have a deal!
(Congrats to your sister!)
So what is it really that creates the fears and the phobia you speak of? Could it be that we have got conditioned to live up to other peoples’ expectations rather than our own? As we do this, we remain uncertain about whether others would accept the mask we have put on or see through that and call our bluff………
When I browse your blog, Shakti, I see how much your question resonates for you. An important question, familiar to many people, especially young people (I am assuming you are young — which by me, is under 50).
In my case, though, the fears and phobias now are mostly physical (e.g. vertiginous response to heights which has plagued me all my life) and/or experiential (being caught in a jam-packed elevator in college which then was stuck below basement level).
Which is not to say I don’t recognize fears created by inauthenticity and insecurity. And the need to grapple with them with courage, fortitude, and whatever wisdom you can muster. I certainly do!
But I no longer suffer from those.
And what occasioned this happy result? Probably just living to be 80, struggling along the way, and then, suddenly— freedom. Perhaps it’s letting go. Really letting go. Radically letting go because I no longer have the energy to hold on to such things.
These words may not have any meaning whatever to you at this time in your life. But perhaps when you grow old, and you are suddenly overwhelmed (to your surprise!) with joy and gratitude, you will remember and say, Oh, so that is what she meant!
(I mean this as a sign of hope; I hope you receive it as such.)
From FDR: “…let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is…fear itself — nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.” Well, yes. Sometimes our fears are named, reasonable, and justified; often they are not. I think if we name and accept them, we can turn our fears into positive energy. Fear goads us (flogs us sometimes), challenges us, forces decisions. It can paralyze because of its very unreasonableness. Take it by the throat, make it march forward with you and fear morphs into courage. Easy to say, hard to do but worth the effort.
I’m old enough now to take myself by the hand and face what comes, have lived through enough fearful events to know “I can do this!” And like you, I’ve learned to let go. It’s very freeing, yes?
Such a thoughtful post, J. I love the conversations that ensue 🙂
Very freeing, yes, YES!
Me too, love the conversations. So glad you joined this one —
I miss our conversations in person, though. I’m going to Think Spring!