Lessons from O'Keeffe and Moses

Sante Fe is home to the Georgia O’Keeffe museum. That was one of my destinations on our free day. Most of the paintings at the Georgia O’Keeffe museum were of flowers. These selections were no doubt representative of O’Keeffe’s body of work but also shaped by the theme of the current show, “Georgia O’Keeffe and Andy Warhol: Flowers of Distinction”.

I’ll admit that I don’t know what I should about Georgia O’Keeffe. Nor have I had the appreciation for her work that I should, although that is changing after two trips to the Southwest where I have seen that the earth and the sky and the things thereof look differently there than where I have lived. I can now appreciate that much of her work reflects this. What I’ve always appreciated, however, is the image of O’Keeffe working as young woman all the way through until she was an old woman. A number of photographs were taken of the aged O’Keeffe at her work, hair gray and face wrinkled. I love that. I hope someone takes a picture of me still working (but at the fun kind of work) when I am very old although maybe I could be working at it at a beachhouse somewhere and not in my basement office.

Interspersed among the paintings were quotes from O’Keeffe. One of the quotes said “One paints what is around.” Of all the quotes that’s the only one that I wrote down. It strengthened me a bit, encouraged me.

I had just finished my sixth day in the writing program I wrote about earlier. That was enough time to realize that the body of knowledge in my head was deficient in terms of English literature and philosophers in comparison to my fellow classmates. Apparently I had chosen chemistry lab and cat dissection lo those many years ago and they had chosen Chaucer and Dante. The six days were enough time also to realize that the stories of my life can’t meet the drama quotient found in the stories of the lives of my classmates. What did I have to offer? was the question nagging me.

“One paints what is around.” These words from a major artist who painted single flowers much of the time helped remind me that what I am and what I’ve lived and learned, regardless of the drama quotient and degree of English/philosophy saturation is what I have to offer in whatever I do.

In the quote I could see reflected the ancient story in which the LORD says to Moses, “What is that in your hand?”

“A staff,” Moses replied.

A staff that became an instrument of divine action again and again, turning into a snake, changing water to blood, summoning plagues of frogs and gnats, hail and locusts, dividing the Red Sea into dry land and walls of water, releasing water from desert rocks.

Look around and let the provisions of life bring assurance. Our hands are full, surroundings flush.