Last month E and I went to SFMOMA to see the Georgia O’Keeffe and Ansel Adams exhibit. Typically, I LOATHE trips to art museums – particularly modern art museums where artists try to pass off IKEA shelving as art. But I learned about Adams (in photography class) and O’Keeffe (through the Women’s Place Project and Judy Chicago’s “The Dinner Party”) in high school and actually LIKED both of them, so I made an exception.
I wasn’t disappointed. They had the exhibit set up very nicely – they grouped like paintings together. For example, in one room they had all photos and paintings of architecture (in some cases the exact same building). In another they had all photos and paintings of flowers or water or trees. I didn’t realize this in high school, but Georgia O’Keeffe and Ansel Adams actually knew one another and found inspiration in the same places (mainly in New Mexico). The way things were set up made obvious the similarities in their visions of the natural world around them. While they used different media and differed in their use of color, I thought it was interesting that the essence of the object that they had captured was the same.
When in high school, I favored Adams, probably due to the fact that I was into photography and didn’t think much of painting or my abilities as a painter. I think I also liked the moodiness of the black and white photos. I don’t mean that they are depressing or dark, just that there is a moodiness about them – a seriousness and austerity that I’m not sure I would describe well. As I walked in with this expectation – that of discovering and experiencing more from Adams – I was surprised to find myself now drawn toward O’Keeffe. It was something about the colors. The splashes of brightness without being overly SE-Asian-temple-like. The juiciness of the medium, the intimacy of the paintings. Adams’s work I was able to look at and appreciate, O’Keeffe’s I experienced.
I’m fairly certain this shift has to do with my work. I now sit down with paints and pastels and pencils and crayons and do the exercises that I then tell parents to do. I tell them that whatever ends up on the page isn’t important, that the feelings and images that come up for them are. That it’s about how they approach the activity. That the art doesn’t need to be pretty or colorful – it just needs to be raw and honest. And I am touched every time by the tenderness and openness with which they approach the art, the introspection that comes after, the ART that they produce. I imagine that this process of seeing, feeling and expressing that I guide them through is what comes naturally for people like Adams and O’Keeffe .