In the first few pages of her autobiography, O’Keeffe clarifies her reasons for writing the book. Rather than leave her life and work for critics or biographers to analyze, argue over, and decipher, once before she died she wanted to control how her life and work was presented to the public. It was she—at the age of almost ninety when the book was published—who selected the 108 paintings represented in the volume, and it was she who wrote the commentary on how the artistic vision of each of these paintings was inspired and executed. As she states, “No one else can know how my paintings happen.”
Yet there is always doubt that an artist can explain his or her own work objectively. By reading O’Keeffe’s book, however, the reader can sometimes learn more from the artist herself than from critics and historians. It is often as much what artists exclude as what they include that is revealing, and this also holds true for O’Keeffe.
O’Keeffe probably did not set out to write a new kind of autobiography, but she did. Georgia O’Keeffe will remain a classic in the field of artistic autobiography for some time to come because of its appeal to a wide variety of people—young and old, artistic and nonartistic. Its straightforward approach to the subject of artistic creation and the simple, even understated language is unusually refreshing. This style makes O’Keeffe’s life and work accessible in a way that would not be possible in a heavily footnoted, jargon-laden treatment of the subject. O’Keeffe wrote like she lived and like she painted—with simplicity, elegance, and honesty.