Right now, you have a unique opportunity. Phoenix is the only North American stop! The Heard Museum is currently exhibiting the works of Mexico’s Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera. It’s here till August 20, 2017, so go . . .
Who doesn’t recognize Frida’s self-portraits?
She was a wild woman, a tempestuous painter: married twice to the same man, beset by polio as a child, injured in a bus accident, a world traveler, politically outspoken, often appearing in traditional garb, unorthodox. She had a miscarriage, and remained childless. There were surgeries, photographs, exotic animals. Her self-portraits told her autobiography. They hinted at infidelities, fame, unrest. Like Andy Warhol or Monet, her work is instantly recognizable to people.
When I bought my first house, I was single. I figured that I’d paint the interior doors in bold colors, and I’d model my backyard on Kahlo’s own Mexican courtyard in her home, La Casa Azul. I painted the block walls blue, the pillars were a mud-red, and my patio roof was sunshine-yellow. I planned on winding gravel paths, installing ornate fountains, acquiring wandering peacocks or maybe a spider monkey.
Alas. I got married one year after painting my walls ostentatiously. We lived there for some eleven years, and I never touched the backyard “courtyard” again. In fact, it became his territory. There were weird tools, rods, broken down equipment, a little-used grill, random muddy toys, and waste-high weeds. So much for Frida.
But I still felt some secret comradery with the woman. Was it her eccentricity? Her brazenness? Her very existence? The way her life was art?
Look closely at these photos.
Here’s the thing: I do know a little something (not much) about what it means to be an artist in this world. Often—not always—it involves a kind of lavish idolatry, in which one elevates one’s own ability or insight or artistic milieu as being superior to the ordinary or mundane or “normal” lives of others. Art and Being an Artist are supreme! The artistic existence—whatever it is—is authentic and free. Nothing else is.
For a Christian, this is problematic. It reeks of self-life problems. It speaks, ultimately, of a need for meaning in life and an attempt to fill that need with a god called Art. That god fails and it’s not so surprising to see devastation and disappointment in the lives of fabulously talented artists.
So how to take Frida? Frida, who was so obviously absorbed in her own artistic endeavors? Is it best to ignore her? Criticize her? Pooh-pooh her weird love life?
How does a Christian see art and its rampant failures side-by-side with its glories and wisdom?
I’m not going to attempt to answer! I do think, though, we are neglecting this sector of human existence when we close our eyes to such splendor. When we fail to wonder at this kind of person and this kind of devotion, we fail on many, many fronts.