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The Two Fridas Essay Contest

Frida Kahlo, who painted mostly small, intensely personal works for herself, family and friends, would likely have been amazed and amused to see what a vast audience her paintings now reach. Today, nearly 50 years after her death, the Mexican artist’s iconic images adorn calendars, greeting cards, posters, pins, even paper dolls. Several years ago the French couturier Jean Paul Gaultier created a collection inspired by Kahlo, and last year a self-portrait she painted in 1933 appeared on a 34-cent U.S. postage stamp. This month, the movie Frida, starring Salma Hayek as the artist and Alfred Molina as her husband, renowned muralist Diego Rivera, opens nationwide. Directed by Julie Taymor, the creative wizard behind Broadway’s long-running hit The Lion King, the film is based on Hayden Herrera’s 1983 biography, Frida. Artfully composed, Taymor’s graphic portrayal remains, for the most part, faithful to the facts of the painter’s life. Although some changes were made because of budget constraints, the movie “is true in spirit,” says Herrera, who was first drawn to Kahlo because of “that thing in her work that commands you—that urgency, that need to communicate.”

Focusing on Kahlo’s creativity and tumultuous love affair with Rivera, the film looks beyond the icon to the human being. “I was completely compelled by her story,” says Taymor. “I knew it superficially; and I admired her paintings but didn’t know them well. When she painted, it was for herself. She transcended her pain. Her paintings are her diary. When you’re doing a movie, you want a story like that.” In the film, the Mexican born and raised Hayek, 36, who was one of the film’s producers, strikes poses from the paintings, which then metamorphose into action-filled scenes. “Once I had the concept of having the paintings come alive,” says Taymor, “I wanted to do it.”

Kahlo, who died July 13, 1954, at the age of 47, reportedly of a pulmonary embolism (though some suspected suicide), has long been recognized as an important artist. In 2001-2002, a major traveling exhibition showcased her work alongside that of Georgia O’Keeffe and Canada’s Emily Carr. Earlier this year several of her paintings were included in a landmark Surrealism show in London and New York. Currently, works by both Kahlo and Rivera are on view through January 5, 2003, at the SeattleArt Museum. As Janet Landay, curator of exhibitions at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston and one of the organizers of a 1993 exhibition of Kahlo’s work, points out, “Kahlo made personal women’s experiences serious subjects for art, but because of their intense emotional content, her paintings transcend gender boundaries. Intimate and powerful, they demand that viewers—men and women—be moved by them.”

Kahlo produced only about 200 paintings—primarily still lifes and portraits of herself, family and friends. She also kept an illustrated journal and did dozens of drawings. With techniques learned from both her husband and her father, a professional architectural photographer, she created haunting, sensual and stunningly original paintings that fused elements of surrealism, fantasy and folklore into powerful narratives. In contrast to the 20th-century trend toward abstract art, her work was uncompromisingly figurative. Although she received occasional commissions for portraits, she sold relatively few paintings during her lifetime. Today her works fetch astronomical prices at auction. In 2000, a 1929 self-portrait sold for more than $5 million.

Biographies of the artist, which have been translated into many languages, read like the fantastical novels of Gabriel García Márquez as they trace the story of two painters who could not live with or without each other. (Taymor says she views her film version of Kahlo’s life as a “great, great love story.”) Married twice, divorced once and separated countless times, Kahlo and Rivera had numerous affairs, hobnobbed with Communists, capitalists and literati and managed to create some of the most compelling visual images of the 20th century. Filled with such luminaries as writer André Breton, sculptor Isamu Noguchi, playwright Clare Boothe Luce and exiled Russian revolutionary Leon Trotsky, Kahlo’s life played out on a phantasmagorical canvas.

She was born Magdalena Carmen Frida Kahlo y Calderón July 6, 1907, and lived in a house (the Casa Azul, or Blue House, now the Museo Frida Kahlo) built by her father in Coyoacán, then a quiet suburb of Mexico City. The third of her parents’ four daughters, Frida was her father’s favorite—the most intelligent, he thought, and the most like himself. She was a dutiful child but had a fiery temperament. (Shortly before Kahlo and Rivera were wed in 1929, Kahlo’s father warned his future son-in-law, who at age 42 had already had two wives and many mistresses, that Frida, then 21, was “a devil.” Rivera replied: “I know it.”)

A German Jew with deep-set eyes and a bushy mustache, Guillermo Kahlo had immigrated to Mexico in 1891 at the age of 19. After his first wife died in childbirth, he married Matilde Calderón, a Catholic whose ancestry included Indians as well as a Spanish general. Frida portrayed her hybrid ethnicity in a 1936 painting, My Grandparents, My Parents, and I (opposite).

Kahlo adored her father. On a portrait she painted of him in 1951, she inscribed the words, “character generous, intelligent and fine.” Her feelings about her mother were more conflicted. On the one hand, the artist considered her “very nice, active, intelligent.” But she also saw her as fanatically religious, calculating and sometimes even cruel. “She did not know how to read or write,” recalled the artist. “She only knew how to count money.”

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Frida Kahlo Or Frida Rivera? "Memory" And "The Two Fridas" - With A Free Essay Review

The death of a close friend or the stress of work can lead to frustration for even the strongest individuals. Frustration often causes people to turn to one another in order to vent out their emotions. Words are the predominant method chosen to vent, but that is not the case for all people, as it certainly was not for Frida Kahlo. Suffering from an unpredictable marriage with Diego Rivera, Frida Kahlo turned to art as a way to express her emotions. Her paintings revealed the mixed emotions she had for Diego Rivera.

Frida Kahlo’s emotions began to build up at very early age as the result of a traumatic event that ultimately shaped her life. A sunny afternoon turned disastrous for Frida Kahlo after the bus she was riding on collided with another bus when she was 18 years old. The collision projected Frida from her seat and caused a steel hand rail to be impaled through her hips. After more than 30 operations, Frida Kahlo was put into a full body cast and placed in a bed for over a year (Bailey). Struggling with mixed emotions and boredom, Frida Kahlo turned to painting as a means to occupy her time.

Her early paintings had no artistic style, and were mainly self-portraits of herself based on Mexican traditions and on the work of the famous Mexican artist Diego Rivera. Frida Kahlo connected with Diego Rivera and asked of his approval to help her start her art career. Diego Rivera cheerfully accepted the challenge and began to help Frida Kahlo develop her art, as well as an intimate relationship with her.

With the encouragement of Diego Rivera, Frida Kahlo began to expand her career as an artist. Her early painting, “Two Women”, was an example of how Frida Kahlo followed Diego Rivera’s advice. Diego Rivera suggested to Frida Kahlo that she should depict women with strong, distinguished faces. Frida Kahlo used Diego Rivera’s advice as she painted a portrait of two Mexican Indian women in front of a green background, defining their faces with clear, finely drawn lines. The painting closely resembled the works of Diego Rivera’s murals and would be a characteristic that Frida Kahlo used in many of her paintings later down the road. It started to appear as though Frida Kahlo relationship with Diego Rivera was for the best, unlike her mother’s opinion that their marriage was rubbish in the movie Frida.

Although it appeared to be love at first sight, their relationship was anything but dreamful as Frida Kahlo’s mother has suggested. Their marriage was troubled by arguments and Frida Kahlo’s inability to produce children, which led Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera to have affairs on each other. Lasting only 10 short years, their marriage was ended in 1939, after Diego Rivera had an affair with Frida Kahlo’s sister (Bailey). Using her artwork, Frida Kahlo frequently painted her angered feelings towards Diego Rivera on canvas.

In response to Diego Rivera having an affair with Frida Kahlo’s sister, Frida Kahlo painted “Memory” to express how she felt about the situation. The painting features a portrait of Frida Kahlo with two empty outfits hanging from a string on each side of her, as well as an enormous broken heart at the bottom left of the painting. The enormous size of the heart is related to the enormous pain Frida Kahlo was in. The portrait of Frida Kahlo in the painting portrays her with no hands to resemble the helplessness she had when Diego Rivera had an affair with her sister. Frida Kahlo’s painting shows her with tears coming down her face from the metal rod that is pierced from her heart. The greater the pain Frida Kahlo was in the, the bloodier her self-portraits became (Memory).

Another painting, “The Two Fridas”, is an example of Frida Kahlo expressing her emotions towards Diego Rivera on canvas. The painting was painted shortly after her divorce with Diego Rivera. The painting displays two Frida Kahlos sitting next to each other holding hands staring back at the viewer. Frida Kahlo admitted it express her emotions surrounding her separation and marital crisis (Two Fridas). Both women portray Frida Kahlo at different stages of her life. The woman on the right was to portray Frida Kahlo as a loved woman by Diego Rivera, and the woman on the left of the painting was another self-portrait of Frida Kahlo in the white wedding dress she wore when she married Diego Rivera. Both women have their hearts exposed, like the painting “Memory”, but the woman portraying Frida Kahlo in the white wedding dress has her heart broken in half to express her pain for Diego Rivera.

During her lifetime, Frida Kahlo painted over 200 drawings related to her life experiences. Many resulted from her turbulent relationship with Diego Rivera. Frida Kahlo said, “I suffered two grave accidents in my life…One in which a streetcar knocked me down and the other was Diego” (Herrera 415). Diego Rivera shaped Frida Kahlo’s artwork for the best and for the west, and because of this Frida Kahlo’s paintings are no longer viewed as simple self-portraits, but as paintings that display hidden emotions beneath the paint.


Bailey, Darci. "Frida Kahlo Biography - Facts, Birthday, Life Story - Biography.com." Famous Biographies & TV Shows - Biography.com. 2011. Web. 22 Nov. 2011.

Brooks, Mike. "Memory, Recuerdo, Frida Kahlo, C0180." Frida Kahlo, Frieda, Paintings, Works, Photos, Drawings, Sketches, Biography, Books, Films, Chronology, Bio, Art, Self Portrait, Painter, Mexican Artist. 8 Jan. 2008. Web. 21 Nov. 2011.

Brooks, Mike. "The Two Fridas, Las Dos Fridas, Frida Kahlo, C0290." Frida Kahlo, Frieda, Paintings, Works, Photos, Drawings, Sketches, Biography, Books, Films, Chronology, Bio, Art, Self Portrait, Painter, Mexican Artist. 8 Jan. 2008. Web. 21 Nov. 2011.

Frida. Dir. Julie Taymor. Perf. Salma Hayek and Alfred Molina. Lions Gate Film, 2002. DVD.

Herrera, Hayden. "Chapter 21. Potraits of a Marriage." Frida: a Biography of Frida Kahlo. [New York]: Perennial, 2002. 415. Print.



You argue that Kahlo "turned to art as a way to express her emotions," especially "the mixed emotions she had for Diego Rivera." You do a reasonably good job of presenting some of the biographical information relevant to an understanding of Kahlo's emotional life, and I'm sure such an understanding is central to appreciating Kahlo's art. The largest problem with the essay as far as I can tell is it's relatively one-dimensional approach to art criticism. You cite a little bit of biographical information, assert that its the inspiration for certain paintings, and provide two examples of such paintings. That’s not an approach liable to create a complex portrait of a doubtless complex artist. While you refer to a biography of the artist, you don't refer to the critical reception of her work, which might have given you some additional ideas or greater justification for your own ideas about the paintings, or to the cultural or intellectual context in which the paintings were produced (for instance, to put the point crudely, did Kahlo create crazy paintings because she was sad or because lots of artists were creating crazy pictures back then?).

The comments on the paintings themselves tend also to be a little superficial. You say the "enormous size of the heart [in the painting "Memory] is related to the enormous pain Frida Kahlo was in" which is, I suppose, possible, but it's hard to see how you would justify that claim. When you suggest the missing hands relates to helplessness, the same problem exists, and is probably exacerbated by the fact that you don’t explain the significance of the hands remaining in the painting, but being attached to the hanging clothes. In the next paragraph, you turn your attention to "The Two Fridas," and here, by contrast, you do provide some support for your claims when you note that Kahlo herself said the painting "expresses her emotions surrounding her separation." You should, of course, give a source for that supporting evidence.

Finally, in your last sentence, you say that "Kahlo's paintings are no longer viewed as simple self-portraits, but as paintings that display hidden emotions beneath the paint." I thought that was a confusing way to end. You offer two examples of paintings in which hearts are literally exposed; even according to your own interpretation, one would have to say that if the artist's emotions are buried "beneath the paint," they are not buried very deeply. Also, given the bizarre and striking character of the self-portraits, it's hard to believe they were ever viewed as _simple_ self-portraits. (You should also revise, by the way, your first sentence, since there's no reason to begin your essay by talking about such eventualities as the death of a close friend or the stress of work, which are things completely unrelated to what you go on to talk about.)

Best, EJ

P.S. Neat typo: "for the best and for the west"

Submitted by: mtruninger

Tagged...art appreciation essay, Frida Kahlo essay, essay writing help

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