Lisle attempts to give her readers an objective portrait of O’Keeffe, a difficult task considering how guarded the artist was concerning her personal privacy throughout her life. Even though O’Keeffe would not aid Lisle in her work, Portrait of an Artist attempts to fill in some of the blanks surrounding this famous American artist. The book is noteworthy because, prior to its publication, no biography of O’Keeffe had been attempted. That there were few if any important female artists when O’Keeffe was coming of age as a painter and studying art in New York, Virginia, and Chicago is obvious, if very understated, in Lisle’s book. The reader is left to infer her isolation as a woman painter from the perspective that Lisle adopts while describing O’Keeffe’s years as a student and then as Stieglitz’s lover, model, and second wife.
Because Portrait of an Artist is about a woman artist and about the importance that independence and autonomy played in her private and artistic lives, this book is especially important to young readers, offering them insight into what it meant, and still means, to be a woman who undertakes a career, particularly a life that sets her apart from the norm. Lisle spends considerable time describing O’Keeffe’s schooling and the experiences that she had as she trained as an artist, not to mention the obstacles that were placed in her way. For example, the University of Virginia only allowed female...
(The entire section is 586 words.)