As a child, I remember lying in my aunt’s bed in the back bedroom of a small farmhouse on the golden Iowa plains. She worked hard at home and lived frugally with her mother off disability and social security. I loved my aunt deeply and spent many young summer days with her and my grandma. Every morning brought chores: tending to the garden, harvesting mulberries, cooking, laundry, cleaning, taking care of the stray cats and dogs my aunt’s kind heart took in, and clipping coupons for the weekly trip into town. Between tasks, there was the sticky, woolen boredom of summer. Mostly, there was the boredom. With no other children or neighbors around, I was responsible for entertaining myself. I would draw and hold the scribbles proudly for my aunt to see. I loved drawing rainbows, clouds, birds, and women. I made dolls out of wooden spoons and rags and rubber bands that once curled the newspaper fit for the paper boy to throw at the front stoop. I peeled stamps off the letters my aunt and grandma received and taped them into a Sears catalog, imagining that this constituted a stamp collection. I went for long walks along the curving dusty road, picking up my pace each time I had to pass the abandoned brick grain silo. And back inside, I escaped the heat in my aunt’s cool back bedroom, where a museum show poster hung on the wall to the left of her bed. I would spend hours staring at that painting’s flowing colors that appeared as though in motion - how?! - and read the words printed below the image over and over:
Georgia O’Keefe 1887 - 1986
National Gallery of Art, Washington | November 1, 1987 - February 21, 1988
That poster was a fixture in my young life. A constant I could count on. A place I could always go. I felt safe and open lying underneath it. I understood it was meaningful because my aunt didn’t have much, but she had this. I never announced that I wanted to make art like Georgia O’Keefe, but the image of Blue and Pink Music no. II and how it made me feel stayed dormant within me.
On a slow trip just last winter, after ten years working in design, startups, and user research, I thought of that poster in my aunt’s bedroom and how it made me feel safe and open, how I could feel the music flowing through me, and I decided it was time. I was going to learn how to paint. I signed up for a class and made my first abstract painting in January of this year. From the first day, I fell in love with how I felt as a maker. I love the way the brush felt in my hand, the infinite color possibilities before me, and how each gesture responded to one another. After the class ended, I continued to paint daily, experimenting, learning, and using art as a tool to go deeper into my truth.
Georgia O’Keefe wanted to express her truth and for her paintings to make you feel something, the way music can make you feel something. I believe in this power. I believe life is better with art. I believe it can heal, I believe it can inspire, I believe it can inform, I believe it can show you you’re not alone.
🗣️ Do you remember your first experience with a painting, poster, postcard or piece of art? Was there art in your home growing up? How do you think that affects your view of art today?