Definite Form for Intangible Things: Georgia O’Keeffe’s Abstraction Blue
An excerpt from MoMA’s One on One series offers a close look at a painting that bridges the abstract and the figurative.
Nov 22, 2022
In this way, Abstraction Blue poses a question: Does the painting, as its botanical likeness and proximity to contemporaneous canvases suggests, depict a flower? Or, as its title implies, is it a purely abstract arrangement? For O’Keeffe, the difference between the two was not as clear-cut as it proved to be for many of her critics and audiences. “It is surprising to me how many people separate the objective from the abstract,” she later reflected, declaring,
Objective painting is not good painting unless it is good in the abstract sense. A hill or tree cannot make a good painting just because it is a hill or a tree. It is lines and colors put together so that they say something. For me that is the very basis of painting. The abstraction is often the most definite form for the intangible thing in myself that I can only clarify in paint.3
The artist’s work, however, was not always interpreted with such nuance—partly because of O’Keeffe’s position as a woman artist in the first decades of the 20th century, and especially at this juncture in her career. Her choice to offer “lines and colors” or something closer to “a hill or tree” had outsize consequences for the reception of her work, and she became aware enough of them to negotiate her approach accordingly, even as she managed to prioritize her ultimate goal of finding “definite form” for “intangible things.”
Read more about Georgia O’Keeffe, Abstraction Blue, and more works by the artist in the full book, Georgia O’Keeffe: Abstraction Blue, part of MoMA’s One on One series.
This inscription is indicated in the Abiquiu Notebooks, a personal inventory of O’Keeffe’s work the artist compiled with the help of Doris Bry. Per Lynes, Georgia O’Keeffe: Catalogue Raisonné (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press; Washington, DC: National Gallery of Art; Abiquiu, NM: The Georgia O’Keeffe Foundation, 1999), 1:329.
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