It was tremendous for me to see so many of Frida Kahlo's paintings. I have several files of Khalos already saved but I went a step further and did a search for articles and art criticism of her work. That is where I went wrong. My enthusiasm turned to irritation and I was reminded of just exactly why, as an art lover, I detest art criticism. Almost invariably, I'm confronted with the over-intellectualization, pretentiousness and, more insidous, the sexism of the art world.
It is true that I love art. It is also true that I am not an expert on art. In fact, I never took an art history or art appreciation course in my life. Perhaps that is a good thing. I thought this article was a particularly good analysis of how the art world views and markets women artists.
The Trouble With Frida Kahlo: Uncomfortable truths about this season's hottest female artist. by Stephanie Mencimer
Feminists might celebrate Kahlo's ascent to greatness--if only her fame were related to her art. Instead, her fans are largely drawn by the story of her life, for which her paintings are often presented as simple illustration.
I must be an exception, since what I was originally drawn to was the art and not necessarily the woman. Clearly she depicted her own physical and emotional pain through her paintings. And who was that fat man she painted herself next to? I had no idea what the source of that pain was until many years later, which added to my understanding of her work but did not replace my interest in it.
Some feminist art historians have struggled against such reworkings of women artists, but Kahlo's pop-culture mania revives it with a vengeance. Kahlo certainly facilitated this process by painting herself as the quietly suffering female. In every possible sense, the mass-culture Kahlo embodies that now-poisonous term: victimhood. She was the victim of patriarchal culture, victim of an unfaithful husband, and simply the victim of a horrific accident. But that's probably one reason why she's so popular. "People like to see women as victims," says Mary Garrard, a professor of art history at American University.
Why is it that when women write or paint their personal experiences in a society that so often exploits, belittles and patronizes them, they must endure also the label of "victim" from critics? Isn't that like adding insult to injury?
Walk through the NMWA's exhibit, and you'll see that even Kahlo's still- life paintings are treated as a reflection of her personal life. The "open fruit," we're told, depict her aggressive sexuality and obsession with fertility, as do the monkeys in her self-portraits, even though she had them as pets. (Apparently her pet dog, which she also painted, carries no such connotations.)
Ugh. This really annoys me. I just want to be left alone to admire the open fruit, as open fruit. I want to bask in the color, the line, the arrangement. If "aggressive sexuality" enters my mind, then let it be my idea and not some museum curator's, quite likely a man. Similar things have been said about Georgia O'Keefe's large flower paintings, which she denounced as having little to do with her work.
If [Kahlo's] paintings were looked at closely, she would become a dangerous woman," says Lindauer, explaining that Kahlo's paintings actually challenge lots of feminine ideals. If they really took a good look at her art, she adds, "People would be less comfortable buying her fridge magnets.
Amen and thank god for dangerous women.