Perspectives on Frida Kahlo

Tina Martin

For Women’s Studies
Humanities 25: Women in the Arts
and possibly the following:
  - Health 25: Women’s Health Issues
  - LAMS 10 Latinas in the US
  - Psych 25 Psych of Sex Differences
  - Soc 25 Sex/Gender in American Society

Objectives:

  • Students will identify Frida Kahlo’s “socio-cultural background, obstacles and challenges, her work and its influence” pp. 1-2 of Humanities 25 course outline
  • Students will look closely at the mural of Pan American Unity and compare and contrast what they see with other pieces of art
  • Students will connect what they see with what they read in biography, art criticism, and literature.
  • Students will use critical thinking skills to connect facts in stating an opinion and making an evaluation.
  • Students will integrate writing skills with other skills to express their opinion on open-ended questions.

Notes to Teachers

The following dialogue and discussion questions are to stimulate interest and provide some information. Of course, the students will need to do further research. They can also challenge the concepts presented by the two women in the conversation.

You who teach the courses listed above are in the best position to adapt the conversation according to your own knowledge of the issues and of your students’ needs.

Please add to the list of suggested resources and/or comment on the resources listed below. We want the creation and evaluaton of lessons to be an ongoing process.


Suggested Resources


Books

Frida: A Biography of Frida Kahlo by Hayden Herrera, 1983
Frida Kahlo by Hayden Herrera I the Rizzoli Art Series, 1992
Women, Art, and Society by Whitney Chadwick (who teaches at SFSU), 1990 & 1996

Videos

Frida Kahlo (the documentary)
I Paint What I See



A Blank Easel: What Does It Represent?


Two women are looking at the Diego Rivera Mural of Pan America Unity and talking about the way that Frida Kahlo is depicted.

Susan: Look at the way he painted Frida Kahlo.

Julia: Yes! She looks beautiful. More beautiful than she sometimes painted herself. She showed herself holding scissors more often than a palette of paints. In fact, she only showed herself as a painter once! Think of that-only once in seventy paintings!

Susan: But do you notice something about the easel?

Julia: Well, nothing’s on it.

Susan: That’s right. Why is the canvas blank? Is he giving her the artist’s equivalent of writer’s block? Did he want to be sure she wasn’t too productive while he was busy with another woman behind her back?

Julia: Oh, but he was supportive of her as an artist. He praised her art. He said, “Frida is the only example in the history of art of an artist who tore open her chest and heart to reveal the biological truth of her feelings.”

Susan: And I supposed that’s supposed to make up for his infidelity.

Julia: Well, you know the Dorothy Parker poem.

Susan: Dorothy Parker? Who’s Dorothy Parker?

Julia: You’re a woman, and you’ve never read Dorothy Parker’s verse? How have you survived? There’s a poem in which she tells her lover that she’ll take almost any other criticism or insult, “But say my verses do not scan, and I get me another man.”

Susan: Well, I know she was hurt by his infidelities, and that woman he says is Paulette Goddard looks an awfully lot like Frida Kahlo’s sister Cristina--one of the women he had affairs with! I read that when Frida found out, she was unable to paint for several months. So maybe the blank easel is an acknowledgement of that.

Julia: You mean Diego Rivera is apologizing, saying that he knows his behavior was responsible for her not being able to paint?

Susan: Maybe. Or maybe he’sjust showing her at the beginning. After all, we have the expression, “a blank slate,” and that’s supposed to mean a fresh beginning. No baggage. They’d just remarried, so maybe both the easel and the marriage represented a fresh start, endless possibilities.

Julia: Yeah. I read that she was beginning the second marriage with the knowledge that he’d never be faithful. Whatever the case, he’s given her a prominent position. She’s in front of him.

Susan: That’s where Andre Breton put her. He said she was a surrealist and he was more impressed by her art than by Diego Rivera’s.

Julia: Maybe that’s because Breton considered her a surrealist, like himself, and Diego Rivera wasn’t a surrealist. That brings up another possibility. Maybe Rivera left her easel blank because only she could paint like Frida Kahlo.

Susan: Whatever the case, she needed to paint. In the portrait she painted in 1951, the one of her doctor and also the one showing her as a painter in a wheelchair, she said there were three things she wanted to do when she left the hospital.

Julia: What were they?

Susan: Paint, paint, and paint.


Discussion Questions

  • No one really knows why Diego Rivera painted Frida Kahlo with a blank easel, but it’s interesting to speculate. What do you think? Use what you’ve seen and read to support your opinion.
  • How does Diego Rivera’s depiction of Frida in the mural of Pan-American Unity compare and contrast with her self-portraits?
  • In his art, how did Diego Rivera show respect for Frida Kahlo? (For example, what roles does he show her in?)
  • On the one hand, Frida Kahlo showed herself at work in only one of seventy paintings. On the other hand, she stated many times how important painting was to her. If this isn’t a contradiction, how can you explain it?

Extensions


Frida Kahlo has been cited as an artist who can change the stereotype of people with disabilities. What do you think is the stereotype of people with disabilities? How is Frida Kahlo different from the stereotype?


Look up the Dorothy Parker poem, “Fighting Words,” and read the complete poem. Summarize the main idea. Why does she feel that way? Do you think other women feel that way about their work even if they’re not artists? Explain your opinion.