Georgia O’Keeffe is one of the most significant artists of the twentieth century. Her paintings of flowers, dramatic cityscapes, landscapes are iconic and original contributions to American art. Her concepts of self and work remind us of what's most important in life.
I once believed that there was someone out there with the answers — somebody somewhere who knew what I didn’t. All I needed to do to find them and extract their knowledge was to be persistent.
I was sure I would discover the secret in a mentor’s words, in the lines of an old book, at a conference, or a business networking event.
Whatever the magic ingredient, I didn’t have it. Instead, it was out there, and I was certain I'd find it.
I didn’t find it.
Not for a moment did I consider my pursuit would come to nought, that I would lose all material gain made. I was swallowed by my pursuit for external validity.
In some respects, you could say that I wasted fifteen years chasing ghosts. Perhaps. But I learned something invaluable, something that the “right” course would never have taught me.
In many respects, the wrong course was the right course.
Whether you succeed or not is irrelevant, there is no such thing. Making your unknown known is the important thing, and keeping the unknown always beyond you.Georgia O’Keeffe
I learned that the first, and maybe the only reason to work, is for the inherent enjoyment we get from it. What other reason is there ever to do anything?
Have we not learned that trading time for money, working this 9-to-5 thing, or whatever variation of it you want, is a waste of a life?
I think we all need to come to this realisation on our own. Eventually, we get it that there is nobody to please, no extrinsic reward that can ever make us happy. There are no short-cuts, no hacks, no quick fixes.
It’s simply about the intrinsic value of the work.
In the meantime, this is one of our most significant challenges. Because for many of us, work has become a means to an end. We need to make a living, pay bills, fulfil commitments, and subsequently work becomes a chore.
Happiness eludes us.
Success, or the lack thereof, becomes our dominant focus, and daily work suffers. Writer’s block, creative block, or simply a downright funk kicks in and momentum keeps it going.
Until we can snap out of it, we can’t, and now, as we find ourselves forcibly removed from work, we may have an opportunity to address it.
I think it’s so foolish for people to want to be happy. Happy is so momentary — you’re happy for an instant and then you start thinking again. Interest is the most important thing in life; happiness is temporary, but interest is continuous.Georgia O’Keeffe
When I write or draw, I get lost — I care for little else. Chances are you've felt this too occasionally.
It’s only afterwards, when I finish what I’ve been doing, that thought about it comes in. I wonder how the thing I just made will be received. I worry and practice self-criticism.
But that’s the stuff of the ego, and in reality, it has nothing to do with what we make. How others react to our work should be of no concern, unless that is, we invite feedback from people we trust.
I realise that my work may not be great, that I perhaps need a lot more practice to reach an objective standard of quality, however, for now, it’s the best I can do.
I have already settled it for myself so flattery and criticism go down the same drain and I am quite free.Georgia O’Keeffe
To improve what we do, our only job is to immerse ourselves in work for as long as possible today. Then tomorrow, we need to immerse ourselves in it again. So on and so forth until something pops. If and when it does is none of our concern.
However, if it does, we get to enjoy the fruits of the time spent working. That’s where the surprise is.
But just like you, I doubt my motivation.
I think for this thing I’m doing to be worthwhile, I must make money or at least get a positive response. Then words from artists and writers like Georgia O’Keefe come from somewhere to remind me.
She said once, “I decided to accept as true my own thinking.” I can relate to this.
Someone else’s vision will never be as good as your own vision of yourself. Live and die with it ’cause in the end, it’s all you have. Lose it and you lose yourself and everything else. I should have listened to myself.Georgia O’Keeffe
She and others remind me that what I do and think has integrity and validity. External measures don’t matter. Words like her’s give me faith that I’m on the right track, the only track that’s even possible, and despite the company of other people, we're on our own.
The performance artist Marina Abramovic in an interview once said, “Because in the end, you are really alone, whatever you do”.
If you can get to the heart of this, it is a profound statement.
These creative people save me from the inevitable discomfort that comes from being sucked into other people’s opinions of value.
Those fuckers know nothing about me or you. How could they! They know only what they want to see, but what they see and desire is polluted. What they want is none of our business.
Our business is the work, whatever we decide it to be.
And when our days are almost gone, we’ll have something.
The days you work are the best daysGeorgia O’Keeffe