A day at the de Young Museum.
A day at the de Young Museum.

I’m not talking about the 4th state in America but the artist Georgia O’Keeffe.  Modern Nature: Georgia O’Keeffe and Lake George is only up till May 11th at the de Young Museum in San Francisco.  As a result, I met my graduate Academy of Art students at the exhibit for the once in a lifetime viewing opportunity.  O’Keeffe is known for her Southwest inspired abstractions that have captivated audiences for many years.  However, this exhibit explores another region not immediately associated with the artist.

According to the de Young’s website: “From 1918 until 1934, O’Keeffe lived for part of each year at the family estate of Alfred Stieglitz (1864‒1946) on Lake George in New York’s Adirondack Park.  The 36-acre property, situated near Lake George Village along the western shoreline, served as a rural retreat for the artist, providing the subject matter for much of her art, and inspiring the spirit of place that she continually evoked in her works from this era, an essential aspect to her evolving modern approach to depicting the natural world.  During this highly productive period she created more than 200 paintings on canvas and paper in addition to sketches and pastels, making her Lake George years among the most prolific and transformative of her seven-decade career.  This period coincided with O’Keeffe’s first critical and popular acclaim as a professional artist, helped define her personal style, and affirmed her passion for natural subject matter prior to her well-known move to the Southwest.”

Over 9 museums and private collectors worked together by loaning artworks to create this unique experience.  Having curated smaller shows, I understand the labor and time needed to organize.  It’s changed my perspective to consistently search for quality.  Without it, meaning becomes empty, void, and useless.

Putting together the parts to make a piece.
Aristotle: “The whole is more than the sum of its parts.”

The pieces in the exhibit are small scale and not large.  If a viewer is wanting to be awed by mountainous paintings that take up entire museum walls or new technical gimmicks, the experience will disappoint.  No bright Las Vegas lights or new Silicon Valley gadgets to be found here.  Each artwork becomes a small treasure that demands personal and intimate attention.  Unfortunately, I was unable to take images.  However, the outside label offers a glimpse and is deceivingly many times bigger than anything presented inside.  Perhaps it showcases the heart and feel of O’Keeffe’s art.

The O'Keeffe label towers over visitors.
The O’Keeffe advertisement towers over visitors.

To be honest, I was curious by my student’s (a new generation) reaction to O’Keeffe.  Some lingered while others appeared bored.  My goal was to expose them to art history and to imagine themselves as Georgia in 1918-1934.  She produced these paintings almost 100 years ago with no texting, Facebook, Twitter, or social media.  She was a woman ahead of her time.  O’Keeffe: “Where I was born and where and how I have lived is unimportant.  It is what I have done with where I have been that should be of interest.”

Time to make a case.
Time to make a case.

At the end of the museum visit, I handed my students the article Art Makes You Smart by The New York Times’ Brian Kisida, Jay P. Greene, and Daniel H. Bowen.  Through a random study of school tours to the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, exposure and education to the arts improves critical thinking skills and social tolerance.  According to their research: “…visiting an art museum exposes students to a diversity of ideas that challenge them with different perspectives on the human condition.  Expanding access to art, whether through programs in schools or through visits to area museums and galleries, should be a central part of any school’s curriculum.”  This was proof that exploring the museum was “good” for them.  Thanks to Georgia O’Keeffe for the lesson and inspiration.

The links: