Ladder to the Moon (1958) by Georgia O'Keeffe
I first saw this painting at the Whitney Museum of American Art. The museum has collected this piece as part of its permanent collection. I have yet to meet a person who doesn't like the artwork of Georgia O'Keeffe but most enthusiasts don't realize her repertoire includes all sorts of landscapes, cityscapes, minimalist abstracted bone paintings, and even these sort of surreal or ethereal paintings. In my opinion some of the work she created towards the end of her life is the best.
When I first saw this picture, the description on that placard that accompanied it mentioned that this may have been the artists depiction of spirituality. It said something like this: In the painting the desert is dwarfed to a silhouetted landscape and the moon, is reduced to a sliver of silver light barely visible among the strong turquoise blue of the sky. The central ladder is the largest, most prominent feature in the work and acts as a bridge between the metaphorical 'life' of the desert and 'afterlife' of the moon. The ladder is the symbolic journey between the two.
Apparently O'Keeffe was inspired to create this painting after spending many nights on the roof of her Ghost Ranch. (Check out Architectural Digest's photo slideshow of Ghost Ranch HeRe)
No one knows exactly why artists create the images they do but the first thing I thought after reading the placard and seeing this beautiful work was "where would my ladder go if I had a ladder to that could take me anywhere?" My second thought was "wow, that would be a really great art lesson!" And so...I had my students create an artwork that answered the question "where does your ladder go?"
To begin the project I had students create a hilly Elmer's glue-landscape about half way up the page.