Poetry and personal blog – Spilling my guts to strangers

Polite Conversation

We are probably at our most human when we are naked, sick, or otherwise emotionally or physically vulnerable. Yet we spend so much energy hiding these real or perceived vulnerabilities, to the point where there are just some things people don’t want to hear or talk about.

I can’t help but think of Mexican artist Frida Kahlo. A fascinating figure in her own right whose paintings are stunningly beautiful, she may not have received the acclaim she deserved in her lifetime because she was married to famed muralist Diego Rivera. Much of what I know about Frida I learned from my time spent at an amazing Web site, Frida Kahlo Fans. It’s well worth a visit. There was a 2002 movie called Frida, that I have not seen yet, for which Salma Hayek was nominated for an Oscar.

Frida was a victim of a horrific traffic accident in her late teens that left her physically and emotionally scarred. It was from that experience that she began painting.

It was said of Frida that her paintings were her biography. She painted 143 painting in her lifetime and an astonishing 55 of them were self portraits. Not only did she embrace what some may see as unattractive physical features (she had a unibrow and a bit of a mustache), she symbolized how she was feeling in her pictures. Sometimes she represented her personal sexuality and sometimes her societal role as a wife.

By the same token, suffice it to say she had some issues, including a rocky relationship with her husband, miscarriages, and residual physical pain. Many of her works display copious amounts of blood.

Although this is not one of Frida’s self portraits, consider the painting shown here.

Frida was once commissioned to paint a portrait of Dorothy Hale, an actress who committed suicide. It was intended that the portrait would be presented to Dorothy’s mother as a gift.

Naturally, it was expected that the picture would be of a beautiful, vibrant, and happy Dorothy; but instead, Frida portrayed the various stages of the woman’s suicide as she hurls herself out of the window of a high-rise building and lands, bloody, on the ground. It did not go over well.

Of course, this would not have been an appropriate gift for a grieving mother. Web site creator Mike Brooks says that Frida may have been influenced by her own feelings of dispair due to the breakup of her marriage during the time she was creating this painting. The feeling Frida invested in this painting is probably why it is effective even without knowing the background story.

I don’t know of any other painter who depicted as much personal emotional content as shown in this painting and others. Some may think such things are better left unsaid. For my part, I think that much of the truth lies in what we are reluctant to say.

© Sweepy Jean and Sweepy Jean Explores the (Webby) World, 2010.

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Comments on: "Polite Conversation" (9)

  1. A good piece. I don’t know Frida’s work myself, but will investigate it now you have explained her background. I like especially the thought that much of the truth lies in what we are reluctant to say, though that is a good thing also. Other’s truths said about us are a product of their own undisclosed emotions,fears and prejudice, and can be scarring in themselves.Frida seems to have found the best outlet for her scars. Someone once said to me that art is a better tool for healing than therapy, and I can really believe that.

    • Thanks for your comments, Adam. You make an excellent point about “other’s truths.” Maybe that’s why we build walls around us…

  2. I missed Frida myself, and will be checking out not only the movie, but her artistic work as well. I already went to Wiki link, and what I read has really perked my interest too. Wonderful blog, as usual Sweepy….but dang it now I have homework 😉 I am pouring over the fan site right now. Thank you for broadening my mind today. It needed it.

    • Anonymous said:

      I also realized as I started to turn my attention to the Frida site, that in real life, and written word I am always on the border of what is considered polite to speak of…Thought provoking to me.

      • Ok, Lady, there will be a quiz next week! Seriously, when I first learned of Frida a few years ago, I was blown away.

        You know I love your blog as well. It is unflinching and absolutely heartfelt about a difficult subject, so you’re no stranger to what I’m talking about here.

  3. The people who claim that such things are better left unsaid are not artists. What use is art if it isn’t powerful? (when I say art I include writing and any individual creative expression)”Safe Art” is fine for hotel walls, but doesn’t contribute anything to the human experience. Someone once said that no great work of art was created by a truly happy man, and I believe this entirely. The questions of art spring from the extreme emotion and experience. Those are the times that shape who we are, so what better subject to examine?

  4. […] Over time, of course, confessional poetry–especially that of Plath and Sexton, the poster children for this genre–has met with criticism for being one dimensional or mawkish. (I find it interesting that I haven’t heard such criticism lodged against men confessional poets–such as Robert Lowell, for instance.) To be fair, though, when reading Sexton’s poetry as a body of work, I have felt it to be narrow in scope with a perspective so specific as to be insular. On the other hand, my thought is that Plath was more generous in her imagery and wordplay, and that she illuminates a broader range of experience. In Sexton’s defense and to the credit of both women, however, they opened the door for women to talk about the totality of their lives and not just that which constitutes polite conversation. […]

  5. […] been reading this blog for a while that I’m a huge fan of Mexican artist Frida Kahlo (see Polite Conversation, Blog Lovin’ and the Big Reveal, and Poetry as Religion. I was so incredibly thrilled to have […]

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