The Finch Formerly Known As Gold

21 September 2005

The sighs of Kahlo youth

Back when I was still trying to pass myself off as a college student, I noticed that entirely too many girls seemed to be obsessed with Sylvia Plath. (And, truth be told, I was fond of "Soliloquy of a Solipsist", but that was my limit.)

Lately, Plath seems to have been displaced by Frida Kahlo. Anthony Perkins notes:

It is, I suspect, for her extra-artistic associations that Frida Kahlo is most appreciated. That she had an artistic talent is undeniable, and many of her pictures are memorable (do you really not remember them once you have seen them?), but it is surely going a little far, from the point of view of artistic considerations alone, to say, as the catalogue [of her exhibition at the Tate Modern, 2005] does, that she is one of the most significant artists of the twentieth century. The fact that she can be seriously regarded as such, however, surely tells us quite a lot about our modern sensibility.

No advertising man could have given her a better biographical profile for eliciting a favorable response at the present time. She had polio at the age of six and subsequently walked with a limp; she was severely injured in a crash, aged eighteen, and suffered from the results for the rest of her life (she died aged forty-seven), undergoing twenty-two operations in the meantime. She married a man, Diego Rivera, who was flagrantly unfaithful to her and who even had an affair with her sister; she was probably bisexual and had a couple of lesbian affairs; she had two miscarriages, either of which might have killed her, and was in any case ambivalent about having a child; her father was a German who settled in Mexico and her mother was half-Indian, thus conferring on her the original virtue of hybridity (though in fact she didn't so much live in non-European cultures as visit them or collect their artifacts, and turn them to her artistic use). Her politics were radical; she was anti-American, though in her case America always returned good for evil. She was Stalinist, at a time when all right-thinking people agreed that the killing of millions was the road to utopia, but she also had a fling with Trotsky and towards the end of her life displayed a less than dialectical-materialist attraction to the wisdom of the East, thus later appealing to the New Age, healing-power-of-crystals end of the dissent market. All in all, a pretty good C.V. for the modern age.

Which explains much about her current popularity:

I think that what has happened is that people with no objective right to do so have equated her suffering with their own, and have appropriated her work as a symbolic representation of their own minor dissatisfactions and frustrations, victimhood being the present equivalent of beatitude.

They say, "I too have known a faithless or a worthless man; I too have suffered from persistent headaches, dysmenorrhoea, or sciatica; therefore, Frida Kahlo has understood me, and I have understood Frida Kahlo. After all, I have suffered just like her. Moreover, like me, she was a moral person, which is to say that she had all the right attitudes; she was on the side of the oppressed, at least those who were not in the Gulag; she loved indigenes as a matter of principle; and she took part in the holy work of dissolving boundaries, the boundaries between sexes (or rather, genders) and between cultures."

You can practically hear Tom Lehrer singing: "We all hate poverty, war and injustice / Unlike the rest of you squares." For people who Really Care, and for whom it is vitally important that you know that they Really Care, this is manna from some spiritual but distinctly non-religious place which may or may not lie horizontally above, or parallel to, this plane of existence.

(Aside: Do not write me and tell me about how much I obviously must love poverty, war and injustice. I am not particularly fond of any of them. However, I am persuaded that they are inextricably bound to the human condition, and they will be erased permanently only when the human race is itself erased, a "solution" I consider just a tad too drastic.)

And in this Age of Narcissism, it seems only logical that one of the most revered artistic figures is one whose best work, arguably, was self-portraiture. Had she lived half a century later, she might well have spurned brush for Blogspot.

(Via Tinkerty Tonk.)

Posted at 3:54 PM to Almost Yogurt

I never could stand Frida Kahlo. I knew a lot of girls who were into her, but it was obviously the poor-suffering angle. The Cult of Plath was kind of sickie too, but at least she was a robust sort of crazy person.

Posted by: Andrea Harris at 7:17 PM on 21 September 2005