Bad Girls Throughout History: 100 Remarkable Women Who Changed the World - Ann Shen (2016)
Georgia O’Keeffe (1887-1986) was one of the most influential artists in the United States, ushering in a new movement of American modernism with her abstract paintings. Educated as an artist, O’Keeffe gave it up for a while after college because she was exhausted by the strict formalism of academic painting. Five years later, she took a summer class with Arthur Wesley Dow, who taught painting as expression instead of merely copying what you see, and her work was revolutionized. She started with charcoal abstractions while working as an art teacher and her work took off when she was introduced to influential New York photographer and gallery owner Alfred Stieglitz. In 1916, Stieglitz began exhibiting her work, and she officially arrived on the art scene. Stieglitz and O’Keeffe became lovers, though he was twenty-three years her senior and still married (once his divorce was final, they got married). She evolved her abstract work to representational close-ups of nature, an approach interpreted by feminists as celebrations of female iconography. Even though O’Keeffe denied that she was painting female genitalia, her work still stands alone as the first fine art to depict imagery that invites that interpretation. By the mid 1920s, O’Keeffe was selling her artwork for the highest price ever paid to a living artist.
She had a nervous breakdown in the early ’30s, propelling her to leave New York for the Southwest and a different pace of life (although she stayed married to Stieglitz, who remained in New York until his death in 1946). After buying a ranch in New Mexico, she began to thrive again, painting a large body of work representing the landscape of the desert. In the 1940s she had two retrospectives of her work, including the first retrospective for a female artist at the Whitney Museum of American Art. In 1977 she was awarded the highest honor for American civilians, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, by President Ford.