Where Is the Line Between Life and Death?

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Date Submitted: 09/18/2011 12:02 PM

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Kayla Velez

Professor Menendez


19 November 2008

Where is the Line between Life and Death?

In Georgia O’Keefe’s painting Ram’s Head, White Hollyhock-Hills, Marilynne Robinson’s Housekeeping, and the film Smoke Signals based on writer Sherman Alexie’s screenplay, motifs associated with life and death are present. The boundary between life and death and the representation of these states become blurred in such a way that the amorphous boundary allows for a reexamination of the relationship that links natural objects in each of the motifs to the construction of identity. The flower and animal skull, the lake and the ashes all create a connection in which memories of the past construct a way to deal with the blurred boundaries of life and death.

Georgia O’Keefe’s painting Ram’s Head, White Hollyhock-Hills reconnects the artist to her love of painting after a long recession in her artistic career. The boundaries of life and death can be seen as blurred when looking at the painting because of the flower which is full of life that is positioned next to the ram’s skull which symbolizes death.

The flower in the foreground that floats free above the sky line and the trees that are in the landscape represent life and the birth of a new identity for O’Keefe. As shown in the painting, the dead animal skull “springs to life – a metaphor for the artist’s own resurrection and for the creative capacity of artists in general (Udall 186)”. Through this painting O’Keefe reinvented herself as an artist through the objects within her painting. Her husband Alfred Stieglitz who was passionate about astrology helped O’Keefe make a connection between Aries and the ram. Even though the ram’s skull symbolizes death, Aries, under the sign of the ram, symbolizes spring, which defeats winter which is full of the power of darkness (186). Her new identity as an artist was developed after a downfall in her career due to mental and physical illness. This...