WWGD? What Would Georgia Do?
by Thea Fiore-Bloom, PhD
Ever see those WWJD (What Would Jesus Do) bumper stickers?
On bad days I ask myself WWGD? What would Georgia do?
Georgia O’Keeffe (1887 – 1986) is by no means divine, but she is a big hero of mine and her salty-sea-dog wisdom lives on in her letters and paintings.
I was having a tough day during the holidays and asked myself what I could do at that moment to be happier. I wondered, what would Georgia do in my specific situation?
If O’Keeffe were in the room, her answer might include roughly shaking me by the shoulders.
O’Keeffe thought pursuing happiness was absurd.
“I think it’s so foolish for people to want to be happy,” O’Keeffe once said. “Happy is so momentary–you’re happy for an instant and then you start thinking again.”
If happiness wasn’t the most important thing in life for O’Keeffe, what did she pursue instead?
What was the secret sauce that fueled one of the greatest and most prolific artists of the 20th century?
What To Pursue Instead Of Happiness
“Interest is the most important thing in life:” said O’Keeffe. “Happiness is temporary, but interest is continuous.”
By interest, I believe O’Keeffe was referring to the passionate curiosity a certain subject ignites in you personally.
Romantic relationships and the pursuit of more money were not what made O’Keeffe throw back her sheets every morning as dawn spilled out over Ghost Ranch.
Here are four things I believe O’Keeffe did jump out of bed to investigate and experiment with, throughout many of her 99 years:
Form, especially certain ovoid forms enthralled O’Keeffe. Like the form smooth, round, black river rocks can take. She collected many. To see a great photo of O’Keeffe with her favorite one, go here. She went wild for the oval-shaped holes in the bleached pelvic bones of cattle she found on her long desert walks. O’Keeffe held them up to view the blue sky through. To see a lush bone hole painting of O’Keeffe’s, go here.
2. Japanese Minimalism and Ma (study of negative space between objects.)
Many scholars say O’Keeffe’s favorite book was Okakura Kakuzo’s The Book of Tea. She often chose simple, black and white Kimono-like robes for photo shoots. Check out her home museum to eyeball her wonder-inducing minimalist adobe in New Mexico.
Like Kandinsky, O’Keeffe saw, felt and painted music (synesthesia). The private O’Keeffe invited musicians to perform in her home sanctuary. She would often listen to them with closed eyes. O’Keeffe’s passionate love of classical music ranged from Beethoven sonatas to Monteverdi madrigals. Good article on O’Keeffe’s favorite music here.
O’Keeffe expressed the excitement she derived from music, bones and stones in paint. When the artist lost much of her peripheral vision to macular degeneration in her eighties, she experimented with video and revisited her earlier passion for sculpting. See a powerful spiral shaped O’Keeffe sculpture here.
As artists and writers we have the fabulous fortune of having this cranium crammed with images and ideas that can soulfully steer us through our entire life.
And as artists, (unlike many poor normal people), we are crazy and brave enough to follow our soul’s whispered voice.
One Last Important Warning from O’Keeffe
A key to our personal creative evolutions, as women or minorities or artists, is to honor our own brainstorms. We need to believe that the wild things that wake us up at 3 A.M. in excitement, are important ideas, worthy of following through on– regardless if anyone applauds them or not.
Around 1914 O’Keeffe threw off the restrictions of the conservative teachers of her past and wrote:
“I decided to start anew – to strip away what I had been taught – to accept as true my own thinking…. I was alone and singularly free, working into my own unknown – no one to satisfy but myself…”
Whether we sink or soar as creatives depends on our willingness to “accept as true our own thinking” and tenaciously pursue our “own unknown.”
These are 2 things I am still working hard on myself.
Next time you feel behind the eight ball with this life thing, list your own current top three interests or fascinations.
Look at what you’ve written on the page as if you are seeing it for the first time.
Believe in the weird, glorious ideas and images bubbling up.
Keep talking to yourself, or O’Keeffe, or whoever your creative heroes are.
Keep listening to yourself on the canvas, on the page, with your camera or on stage. You’re not crazy, I swear.
In that one of a kind mental engine of yours, lies acres of passion, peace and great art.
“We all have moments of happiness and delight in our life, said Gale Nienhuis, LCSW (heartsourcetherapy.com.) “But happiness can come and go so quickly. It’s important to find things you can carry with you in good times and bad. One forever resource for sustenance we can dip into any time we need to, is our creativity.”
Want more O’Keeffe inspiration and links? Read another post I wrote about her over on my writer’s website.
This post is dedicated to Stephanie Westphal; an inspired and inspiring, scholarly copy editor, writer and teacher who helped me finish my dissertation on O’Keeffe, Kahlo and Freud.