How to woo like an artist, or what the overuse of the dash has to do with finding the most generous muse.
There is something relentlessly alluring about unearthing the private letters of luminaries — young Hemingway’s missives, the illustrated correspondence of beloved artist Edward Gorey, cultural icons’ letters to their 16-year-old selves, letters to children by 1970s luminaries on the love of books. But make them love letters, and we’re on a whole different level of mesmerism. Such is the case of My Faraway One: Selected Letters of Georgia O’Keeffe and Alfred Stieglitz (public library | IndieBound), the product of an ambitious digitization project by Yale’s Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, a fine addition to these 7 favorite digitization projects in the humanities.
This exceptional volume gathers 650 meticulously selected and annotated letters exchanged between one of the most prominent couples in art history, photographer Alfred Stieglitz (1864–1946) and legendary artist Georgia O’Keeffe (1887–1986), who over the course of their 30-year romance exchanged more than 5,000 letters — roughly 25,000 pages — on everything from the rich detail of their daily lives to the breathless angels and demons of their passion.
Culled by editor Sarah Greenough, these missives — sometimes sweet (“Dearest Duck”), sometimes steamy (“the sensuousness of you touching the sensuousness of me”), always profoundly heartfelt (“I love you, Dearest One, if I am capable of love”) — reveal a rare glimpse of the tender humanity behind the cultural icons and, along the way, offer a richer understanding of their creative process as artists.
From one of O’Keefe’s spicy letters, which seem to somehow mirror the fluid, light urgency of her floral paintings:
Dearest — my body is simply crazy with wanting you — If you don’t come tomorrow — I don’t see how I can wait for you — I wonder if your body wants mine the way mine wants yours — the kisses — the hotness — the wetness — all melting together — the being held so tight that it hurts — the strangle and the struggle.
And from Stieglitz, as O’Keeffe became his photographic muse:
— How I wanted to photograph you — the hands — the mouth — & eyes — & the enveloped in black body — the touch of white — & the throat —
(As a compulsive dasher myself — sometimes to a painful degree — I found their excessive use of dashes both comforting and charming.)
How much we have in common. — Traits. — Both turn everything we touch into something really living — & amusing — for ourselves. — Both can laugh — really laugh — even at our heartaches… 300 years you want to live!! — I wish I could give you that as a gift —
Perhaps most poetic of all is that the couple’s romance, captured in the 600 stirring pages of My Faraway One, embodies those highest ideals of being not merely lovers but also each other’s finest muses, greatest fans and most constructive critics — which makes it as much an invaluable piece of art history as it is a personal yet universal fragment of human aspiration.
Images courtesy of Alfred Stieglitz / Georgia O’Keeffe Archive, Yale Collection of American Literature, Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library // HT ArtInfo