|(via the Art Institute)|
I recall an August afternoon in Chicago in 1973 when I took my daughter, then seven, to see what Georgie O'Keefe had done with where she had been. One of the vast O'Keefe "Sky Above Clouds" canvases floated over the back stairs in the Chicago Art Institute that day, dominating what seemed to be several stories of empty light, and my daughter looked at it once, ran to the landing, and kept on looking. "Who drew it," she whispered after a while. I told her. "I need to talk to her," she said finally.Joan Didion wrote this in 1976 in an essay titled "Georgie O'Keefe". It was released in her collection called The White Album, chronicling the death of the sixties and the uncertainties of the seventies, covering everything from the Doors to dams to horticulture to Hawaii, Bogota to bureaucrats, to the women's movement and how an artist creates.
I've gotten into the habit of marking whenever Chicago is mentioned in fiction. This year however, I've been a bit out of character. I've read less fiction, and more non-fiction and, especially recently, poetry. I've read Didion in the past, and as I began reading this collection, I'd wondered if she would mention Chicago.
This essay was a pleasant surprise. It got me to rethink my previous notions of O'Keefe. Personally, I've never been a huge fan of her work (nothing against her personally, the works of European artists and authors have always appealed to me more). I've probably walked by these clouds dozens of times.
But last Thursday was different. I wanted to see what Didion saw and what her daughter saw in these clouds.