No. 10 | What I Learned from Frida Kahlo– Beauty is the Courage to be Different
I’ve sketched, painted, and marveled at images of the devoutly Mexican and colorfully wild Frida Kahlo. There’s just something about her that I’ve latched onto since I first caught glimpse of her in an art history book in high school. Her image intrigues me. Her looks are both masculine and feminine, bizarre and beautiful, strong and vulnerable. She’s the image of earth and ethereal– a goddess and a human all wrapped into a bundle of corsets, skirts, and flowers. She was so very odd yet somehow it was that very oddity that gave her beauty. She lived the most human life and still left an artistic legacy that earned her immortality.
Recently, I went to her exhibit at the Brooklyn Museum and it gave me insight into how truly paradoxical her life, art, and legacy were. While I consider myself a fan of her art and all its rich color and dark subject matter, it was seeing all of the black and white images of her standing amongst her friends, relaxing with Diego, and quietly painting inside her house that sparked something inside me. Her whole life circled around a tug and pull between tradition and rebellion. Her values– while mostly counter to my own– were reflected in her home, her company, and even her dress. Her image raised question and created mystery. She looked so odd but so comfortable with her oddity that it turned into an interesting kind of beauty– an interesting kind of art. Walking through her exhibition, I realized her paintings weren’t really the art she left behind, she herself– the message she spoke through her image– was art she left behind.
If there’s one thing I’ve learned from following her life and work, it’s this:
Beauty is the courage to be different.
As creative people, we’re hardwired to chase after beauty. We’re dissatisfied tastemakers. We pursue the ideal aesthetic, an excellently crafted phrase, the perfect composition, or even a desirable self-image. We’re discontent with achieving anything less than perfection. However, many times to achieve our version of beauty it means submerging ourselves in a cycle of comparison and competition. We want other people to see our artistic expression as beautiful so we look to other things people deem as beautiful and we mimic them. We slowly begin to grab a bit of one beautiful thing and parts of another until we create work that resembles Frankenstein’s monster– a disjointed, mutant version of the real thing.
Not to say influence is a bad thing. I’m sure there were men and women in Frida’s life who she mimic’d to create her image. I’m sure she experienced that same tug and pull between the need for validation and the desire to express herself fully without fear of judgement. But at the end of the day, she chose to live unapologetically as she was.
The beauty we chase after won’t be found by looking to other work and comparing it to our own. If we want our art to be adored, questioned, and accepted, it has to be an authentic extension of ourselves. The beauty we’re looking for is already inside us. So in the spirit of Frida, take courage! Make work that’s different. Look inside yourself for inspiration. Take time to think and wonder. Find something new to say. Your art isn’t beautiful because other people think it is, it’s beautiful because it’s an extension of you– messed up, slightly awkward, imperfect, beautiful you.
Until next time,