Sunday, May 13, 2012

A Gendered Landscape

Georgina O’Keeffe’s piece, Red Hills with the Pedernal, was painted with pastels in 1936 (“Collections”). Many of her landscape paintings, including this one, were inspired by Ghost Ranch in North Mexico. This painting depicts softly curved red, barren hills in the foreground, with cottonwoods peeking out from behind them. The Pedernal looms over the red hills, dominating the background with its dark blue hues. The artwork presents several subtle themes, which resembles the mindset of the modern ecofeminist, who perceives a connection between the environment and “how women, people of color, and the poor are treated (Cowley 125)”.
I believe that the color choices of Georgina express a gendered landscape that reflects the society she lived in. I came to this conclusion because “O’Keeffe’s writings indicate that … she sometimes assigned gender to landscape features (Cowley 127)”. The color red or pink is often stereotyped to be a feminine color, making the hills of the foreground a representation of the female. This is accentuated by the shape of the hills, which are soft, curved, and fluid, almost representing the shape of breasts. The hills are contrasted to the Pedernal, representing the male, which takes on the stereotypical male color of blue. The sharper, jagged edges of the mountain provide a more masculine and dominating presence in the piece. I believe that their height in comparison to the height of the hills represents the overbearing nature of our patriarchal society that had the ability to control women and the status quo.
The color red can also signify anger, rebellion, or contempt. I believe that the hills can also represent the feminist movement of the time period, since they are brought to the forefront of scene and fail to be covered by the Pedernal. This represents how feminist were able to escape the repression of a patriarchal society and specifically portray Georgina’s own life as a woman who was able to overcome the limitations of the male-dominated industry of art. This ability to overcome boundaries of art reminds me of the women we examined in class, such as Lady Pink, Judith Baca, and the female hip hop artists. All of these women were forerunners in their field for representing women, yet their work took on more obvious feminist messages than O’Keefe’s subtly implied themes.
The hills are also left barren, with signs of life just barely visible behind them, which I believe demonstrates the stereotypes about feminist and the role of women existent within our society. Women were often portrayed as being responsible for maintaining the home and raising the children. By failing to produce plants, which I see as a metaphor for children, the hills are desolate and useless by the standards of society. They are blatantly resisting the expected societal norm, which I see as being represented by the cottonwood. This portrays a stereotype that feminist have no interest in having feminine roles, such as being a mother. This portrayal of feminist reminds me of the class reading The F-Word by Megan Seeley, because this painting portrays how society creates a negative label to diminish the value of feminism. The hills also suggest that the only societal role for women is that of reproducing and accepting the dominance of patriarchy by always remaining in its shadow.
Red, white, and blue are also the colors of the United States, which I believe helps to focus the attention of the artwork on this country, while also making a commentary on America’s influence over this area. New Mexico became a state in 1912, only 24 years before the creation of the picture, yet obtaining the recognition of statehood took over half a century. This was due mostly to a prejudice and mistrust of the people, consisting of mostly Hispanics, Native American, or Catholics, who resided in the area (Torrez). I believe the history of this region would have had a large influence over O’Keefe. I think she was making a commentary on how the landscape was defined by its identity as a part of the United States, yet it also unique suggesting that it was either a wilderness that could not be tamed or a place that was unwanted and undesirable by American society. Although the area is unwanted, O’Keefe still presents a beautiful and breathtaking landscape, which I believe shows that people who are different from  the status quo, by race, religion, or class, are still valuable in her eyes. I believe Adrienne Rich’s statement that “art would still be a voice of hunger, desire, discontent, passion, reminding us that the democratic project is never-ending, (Rich 105)” reflects O’Keefe’s purpose of analyzing our society with a critical eye.
Although the piece has undertones of a critique on society, I do not believe that O’Keefe intended it to be a negative work. The tone of the piece seems calm and hopeful for a brighter tomorrow, which is evident in the color scheme and the peaceful clouds that dot the skyline. I also think there are slight undertones of resistance in the piece considering that she was a woman attempting a new style of art in a male dominated field. It shows some forms of resistance through the elements of feminism in her gendered landscape. I think this piece helps to make O’Keefe a feminist artist, but I also think the way she lived her life is what truly makes her a feminist artist (Cowley 128).
At first I had difficulty grasping the feminist qualities within the work, but by delving deeper and putting the painting in a larger societal context, I was able to grasp some of the hidden meanings. The simplicity of her work allows for the viewer to take away a different message or intention, leaving a multitude of possibilities for the true purpose of the piece. The ability to appeal to a wide range of people by imbedding human emotions and traits into a landscape is what makes the work truly beautiful to me.

By: Claire N.
Works Cited
"Collections: American Art: Red Hills with the Pedernal." Brooklyn Museum: American Art: Red Hills with the Pedernal. 2011. Web. 11 May 2012. < edernal/image/91975/image>.
Cowley, Jillian Patricia, and Vera Norwood. The Mesa And The Moon: O'keeffe, Landscape, And Gender (Georgia O'keeffe). 2006. Women's Studies International. Web. 11 May 2012.
Rich, Adrienne. “Why I Refused the National Medal for the Arts” in Arts of the Possible: Essays in Conversation, p. 98-103.
Torrez, Robert J. "New Mexico Genealogical Society." A Cuarto Centennial History of New Mexico. New Mexico Genealogical Society. Web. 11 May 2012. <>.

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