“Red Canna” by Georgia O’Keeffe

Written by Bennett Burke

Art, in basic terms, is for whoever is engaging with it, regardless of the creator’s intent. When art is released into the world it is the beholder’s perception that defines its purpose, use, and impact.

 Consider Georgia O'Keeffe's Red Canna or any of her famous flower paintings. Despite her explicit indications to the contrary, her flowers are widely viewed as erotic. While this misconception is arguably indicative of straight male dominance in society, its ubiquitousness is evidence that a viewer’s perception of art holds far more weight than the creator’s intent, for better or for worse. Art is unjust, in this sense, or perhaps simply unpredictable. Art is traded in a marketplace where the currency is opinion and impact.

Makeup is complex in its classification as art. Regardless of how artful any given application of makeup is, there is a similar principle as to the power of its perception as opposed to its intent. When someone wears makeup, regardless of the intent behind the shades of eyeshadow and coverage of foundation or intensity of contour or any other number of choices, people will always come to their own conclusions about a person based upon their outward appearance - makeup included therein.

As an artist, there is a freedom in surrendering dictatorship over the perception of one’s own works. There is a risk that every artist takes in publishing work. And so too is there a risk in donning makeup- but there lies a liberation in that people do it anyways.

Every creator has a different reason for what they create and for a great many creators it is to elicit a positive response from beholders. Weighing any work’s value against its acclaim or disdain, however, is problematic in that objectively good art is sometimes subjectively panned by critics and vice versa.

From the outset, art and its purpose ought to be determined by the creator. O’Keeffe’s works and the perception thereof have resulted in her being lauded as a prolific artist. More important on a fundamental level, however, should be the importance of that work to O’Keeffe herself, yet unknown to the layman.

Should an artist make the conscious decision to create solely for the purpose of critical acclaim or to incite feeling in others, then so be it. That is their choice as an artist- art should be a freeing medium. O’Keefe, in creating Red Canna and any number of other of her iconic flower paintings, unleashed incredible art. The perspective of Red Canna is enveloping in its intimacy and the warmth of the color composition welcomes and entrances. O’Keefe truly exemplified the freeing nature of art in both her work and life in general, boldly pioneering abstraction and modernism and becoming the highest paid woman artist of her time. However, all of these things need not be essential elements in valuing work. The value of art is that which the creator gives it.

And from there comes the value of makeup as an art. The choices made by a makeup artist and a model and a photographer are what give the makeup value as art and artistic expression. There comes a surrender in this endeavor.


Art is wild, art is fluid. Art is a winding river from which anyone can drink. The flowers that grow on the riverbed are the world’s for the taking.


Tags: Analysis