Georgia O'Keeffe

American artist, Georgia O’Keeffe.

Georgia O’Keefe once said:

“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 ….” Contribution to the exhibition catalogue An American place (1944).

Perhaps I think too much, but I have always been fascinated by the ephemeral, the exquisite turn of a rose petal in the early morning light, the delicate swirl of apple blossoms that burst forth in spring, the moments and connections that exist only in an instance, created by a precise intersection of time and circumstances.

There is the chance encounter by two people passing on a busy street — the brief eye contact, the spark of an idea, the recognition that leads to introductions and conversations and collaboration. Often, it is the smallest detail, one that changes ever so slightly that makes the most difference.

Think of the subtle change in the color of the sky at evening sunset that lingers only so long, or the change in the wind from one moment to another, or the curve of a beach at low tide that will soon disappear. It is these small details that are easily missed in our busy culture. And yet they hold the significant, the cumulative experiences that inform our existence. Often, they spark new ideas that can lead to the remarkable.

We often prioritize what we see – really see – based on cultural norms and ideologies. All around us the media, advertising and flashing signs incessantly tell us what is important. And yet, what about those moments or details we don’t notice because we do not see their significance? Could they lead to life’s unexpected pleasures or opportunities?

All around us life is fleeting, temporary, ephemeral. Leaves fall, a person passes by, a squirrel climbs up a tree and in our busy days, we often fail to see these instances. After all, we only have so much time in a day. Yet, I can’t help but wonder what I miss each day when I don’t take in all that is happening around me with all of my senses.

People are important. You and I exist as the only copy of ourselves. There is no duplicate of you or of me. And we live in this time and place, not another. And for me that means there is some purpose, some significance in each encounter, in people I meet, and in what I see.

I wonder, what might happen if we slowed down to live in the moment, to experience life with all of our senses: sight, hearing, touch, taste, smell – and the sublime. What possibilities might exist, then?

In a letter to William Milliken, O’Keeffe said, “I know I cannot paint a flower. I can not paint the sun on the desert on a bright summer morning but maybe in terms of paint color I can convey to you my experience of the flower or the experience that makes the flower of significance to me at that particular time.” Letter to William Milliken (1930), quoted in Laurie Lisle, Portrait of an Artist: A Biography of Georgia O’Keeffe, (1981), p. 128.

She continues: “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.

So in that spirit, I like to share the ephemeral, the moments seen, really seen, and to capture them in some form, to preserve them so that they can be shared and enjoyed. Like an exquisite chocolate I hold in my mouth to savor, life is rich and beautiful. And yet, so often I rush through my days never really savoring the experiences.

I would love to hear your thoughts. Reply in the comments to tell me moments you like to savor, or how this can add to your creative journey.


1 Comment

David Mabee · March 2, 2017 at 9:02 pm

It was sweet reading, very relaxing to me.

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