Her “Symbols of the Desert”:

An Emerging Alchemical Impression in the Bone Paintings of Georgia O’Keeffe


  • Lisa A. Pounders




C. G. Jung, Georgia O'Keeffe, alchemy, art, art-making, individuation, bones


Employing C. G. Jung’s theories of the transformative nature of the unconscious in collaboration with his understanding of alchemy, this paper analyzes a number of Georgia O’Keeffe’s paintings featuring bones that were created during a 15-year period following her introduction to northern New Mexico. The analysis circulates among events from O’Keeffe’s life, the works of art themselves, and potential associations to alchemical concepts. The intention is to illuminate and deepen not only an appreciation of the artist’s visionary work but also an understanding of what alchemy has in common with Jung’s theories regarding psychological transformation. More broadly, the paper suggests that an ongoing engagement with art-making is a practice that can also function as an alchemical transmitter “of unconscious contents that are seeking expression” (Jung, 1938/1967, p. 82). Put another way, an attentiveness to creating works of art has the potential to enable the emergence of symbolic manifestations from the unconscious that evoke and facilitate psychological development.