Writing about art has a tremendous impact on deriving meaning from artworks. Consider what artists think about this. Georgia O’Keefe is known for her up-close and enlarged images of flowers, as in Black Iris (Fig. 4.12). In her private letters she wrote that her art came from deep love of the colors and patterns, inspired by landscape and plant forms of nature. She wrote:

There has been no rain since I came out but today a little came—enough to wet the sage and moisten the top of the dry soil—and make the world smell very fresh and fine—I drove up the canyon four or five miles when the sun was low and I wish I could send you a mariposa lily—and the smell of the damp sage—the odd dark and bright look that comes over my world in the low light after a little rain. (Cowart 1987:29)

Other writers have perceived a feminist content to O’Keefe’s work. In particular, they thought her flower imagery represented female sexuality in a positive way, a notion that O’Keefe rejected. Nevertheless, feminist writer and artist Judy Chicago wrote:

[O’Keefe] seemed to have made a considerable amount of work that was constructed around a center…There also seemed to be an implied relationship between [her]own body and that centered image…In her paintings, the flower suggests her own femininity, through which the mysteries of life could be revealed. [Chicago 1975:142]

  1. Does the written word add to the public’s experience of art?
  2. Do writings bias or limit our experience of art?
  3. How important is the artist’s intention versus the critical reception of the work?
  4. Which should be most important in interpreting a work?