Georgia O'Keeffe was born was born in rural Wisconsin in 1887 (Lisle 1). She attended the Art Institute of Chicago for one year in 1903, but did not finish her education there (Lisle 29). Instead she went to New York City and took classes at the Art Students League (Lisle 33). She was inspired by her surroundings everywhere she went, from New York City to the Adirondacks to New Mexico.
From 1918 to 1934, Georgia O'Keeffe lived for part of the year on Lake George in the Adirondacks. Starting in 1929, she spent the rest of her time at her permanent home in New Mexico. Georgia O'Keefe presents a problem when we try to define what makes an outsider artist. O'Keefe lived in the Adirondacks for extended periods of time, and while she was there she experienced the Adirondacks as an insider. However, her art was not specifically influcenced by the Adirondacks. Her art is definitely not folk art; O'Keeffe was classically trained in Chicago and New York City. She was definitely inspired by the Adirondacks, but she brought her own style to the landscapes. Her art did not grow out of the Adirondacks themselves. Her time painting the Adirondacks was a chapter in her life as an artist. Even with this critical distinction, it is important to note that the difference between insider and outsider art is not perfectly defined.
That being said, O'Keeffe's paintings of the Adirondacks show a very personal interpretation of her surroundings. O'Keeffe departs from the more realistic landscape painters before her in that she pushed the boundaries between the descriptive and the abstract. Abstract shapes are important to her work. Her style generally emphasizes the feeling of the scene she paints, and not necessarily how it actually looked. O'Keeffe instead seems to only focus on what is most important to her: shape and color. Her paintings exude a lot of emotion and movement, and reflect the wild nature of the Adirondacks. As an outsider, and because she painted so many other places, O'Keeffe manages to depict the things that make the Adirondacks particularly special.