For years I have had a love/horrified by relationship with Frida Kahlo. I would be in a bookstore or a library and see a book full of her paintings and run to it, only to find myself cringing at every page.
My favorite painting to look away from–my favorite painting period–is called The Suicide of Dorothy Hale. It is exactly what it sounds like–a woman committing suicide.
And it’s gory–the woman jumped from a skyscraper and she lay in the foreground, blood around her corpse, her eyes open and sightless. The painting was commissioned by someone who, if I have the story right, wanted to give a portrait of Ms. Hale to her poor grieving mother and who was silly enough to think that Frida Kahlo was going to do a dull, straight-forward portrait.
On reflection I realize that the reason I rush to those paintings I can’t stand to look at is kind of embedded in that story. Poor Mrs. Hale lived every parent’s worst nightmare. Not only did she outlive a child, but the child died by her own hand. In her grief, she sought an image that would in some way negate that tragedy. She wanted to see her daughter beautiful and alive and, most importantly, immortal.
Instead, Frida painted her broken and bloody.
Frida’s paintings make you uncomfortable, make you want to look away.
My point is not that in doing this we come to realize that things aren’t as bad as we thought; that we can stare down our problems like we stare down bullies and watch them run and hide.
This is the bully that kicks your ass when you challenge him. This is the bully that keeps coming back, every day after school and gives you the most humiliating beat down of your young life.
I’m saying what if we stared down that guy? What if we just looked him in the eye and, when the ass-kicking was over, went on and lived another day, knowing it would end the same way?
I think there’s a wisdom in living life that way. It’s an insistence that you choose what your life will be, rather than letting circumstances choose for you. It’s an insistence on integrity, that you will be whole and true to yourself even when someone or something tempts you to sink into a hole.
It’s a recognition that you are not the terrible thing that happened, you’re Frida Fucking Kahlo and yes you have a unibrow and a mustache and a cracked spine and a fat whore of a husband but goddamn can you paint.