Georgia O’Keefe on the Art of Seeing



Georgia O’Keeffe, Red Canna, 1924 (Georgia O’Keeffe Museum)

In a passage originally published in the exhibition catalog An American Place, she writes, “A flower is relatively small. Everyone has many associations with a flower — the idea of flowers. You put out your hand to touch the flower — lean forward to smell it — maybe touch it with your lips almost without thinking — or give it to someone to please them. Still — in a way — nobody sees a flower — really — it is so small — we haven’t time — and to see takes time, like to have a friend takes time. If I could paint the flower exactly as I see it no one would see what I see because I would paint it small like the flower is small.

“So I said to myself — I’ll paint what I see — what the flower is to me but I’ll paint it big and they will be surprised into taking time to look at it — I will make even busy New-Yorkers take time to see what I see of flowers.

“Well — I made you take time to look at what I saw and when you took time to really notice my flower, you hung all your own associations with flowers on my flower and you write about my flower as if I think and see what you think and see of the flower — and I don’t.”

About SSH

Philadelphia native and graduate of the University of Pennsylvania and Cornell, Shaw Homer has lived in Costa Rica for over 30 years, where she has taught languages and worked for environmental NGOs. In addition to writing for the local press, her fiction, creative nonfiction and poetry have appeared in both print and on-line literary and travel journals, as well as on her blog, Her travel memoir, Letters from the Pacific, received excellent Kirkus and Publishers Weekly reviews. Her most recent book is Evelio’s Garden: Memoir of a Naturalist in Costa Rica. She and all her books can be found at

3 thoughts on “Georgia O’Keefe on the Art of Seeing

  1. Katherine Masis says:

    It strikes me as a meditative piece. Being fully present (in this case, to the flower), without preconceptions or adding unnecessary commentarial layers to this presence. Simple, but not easy to achieve. _/\_

  2. Sandy says:

    I’m working on drawing hands and feet (!) and finding a similar experience of seeing beyond seeing. Thanks for this. Hope your visit has gone really well. Hugs,

  3. Brian Mills says:

    Yes we often write and talk to people assuming
    sometimes we know what is in their head.
    Which of course is impossible as we can
    never be in the other persons head nor
    would I want to be. So I guess we
    need to ask better questions, listen, and
    try to understand the other person with
    empathy and humility.

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