This novel is an account of the life of the American artist, Georgia O’Keeffe, as imagined being told by the artist herself. It is set mostly in the 1920’s and 1930’s and concerns O’Keeffe’s storied relationship with another American artist-photographer, Alfred Stieglitz. And it is very much the story of a relationship, loving and not, and of O’Keeffe’s struggle to not drown in it.
Before reading this book, I was only vaguely aware of who Georgia O’Keeffe was. And I only read the book because I won it in a writing contest. I found it good enough, however, to hold my interest trough 315 pages.
I think Dawn Tripp is a very good writer and my 4 stars rating of this novel is mostly for the quality of her writing. Told completely in first-person and always from O’Keeffe’s point-of-view, it always felt true to the work’s subject—as if it were O’Keeffe telling her story. We come to know her through that telling, and that is due to Ms Tripp’s good work. The character revealed as O’Keeffe, however, struck me as flawed, however good her art was.
Of course, all people are flawed and Ms Tripp did well to not make this book a PC version of O’Keeffe’s life. I was able to relate to a lot of O’Keeffe’s life as an artist, to her finding a wider world in New York of her time, but being driven to stay true to her original vision. I even related to her struggle to stay true to herself, to find and hang onto herself as a person. I can’t agree with the extent of her vilification of Stieglitz, however. It seems to me she carried that too far, and her struggle to find herself was tipped too far in the direction of self-absorption. But again, telling O’Keeffe’s story such that the reader can see these nuances in a life and have feelings about them, is a testament to Ms Tripp’s skills as a writer.
I think that O’Keeffe’s life is being revisited today as kind of a feminists’ anthem, though O’Keeffe herself would not have thought so. What I found most endearing about the book was O’Keeffe’s attitudes towards art, and her passion to live for it (indeed, that passion is shared by artists in the community described—Stieglitz, Toomer, Dove). And I can take to heart the advice O’Keeffe has for artist wannabes:
There is only one piece of advice to give: “You want to be an artist? Go home and work.”
Yes, whether painting, composing, or writing, to be an artist you have to do the work.
Georgia: A Novel of Georgia O'Keeffe, is well-written, and if you’re a fan of Georgia O’Keeffe, of relationship stories, or even of artist stories, you’ll likely find this book to be great. If that’s the case, then I can easily recommend it.