Frida Kahlo is known internationally as one of the most inspiring yet heartbroken people ever to pick up a brush. Her life, one of romanticized love, heartache and turmoil sprung from chronic pain she had suffered throughout her 47 years on earth.
Kahlo was born July 6, 1907 to a Hungarian-Jewish father and a mother who was a mestiza, mixed of Spanish and indigenous Mexican blood in Coyoacán, Mexico.
A polio survivor,Kahlo hoped to become a doctor, setting her sights on medical school. However, at the age of 18, her initial path was shattered on a bus ride, which ended in a horrendous traffic accident. A iron handrail ripped through her abdomen affecting her skeleton, spine and possibly even her uterus, which doctors now claim is the reason why she could never bare children.
Her medical goals had dissipated, only to be replaced by painting, a therapeutic outlet for dealing with the over 30 operations she endured during her lifetime.
At 22 years old, Kahlo married famed muralist Diego Rivera, 20 years her senior. This rocky and tumultuous, yet passionate relationship resulted in Kahlo’s emotional pain and anguish.
“I suffered two grave accidents in my life,” Kahlo said. “One is which a streetcar knocked me down and the other was Diego.”
The mix of both her physical and emotional pain came together in one place: the canvas. Her art has been defined as something real, cruel and brutally honest, yet beautiful.
In her lifetime, Kahlo produced over 200 paintings, sketches and drawings related to her life of physical and emotional turmoil. Of the 143 paintings she created, 55 were self-portraits of which many have said cannot be disconnected from her life. Her paintings were her biography.
The Grandmother of Art Therapy
The use of art and creativity allows for people to communicate, overcome stress and become more in tune with who they are and how they feel. In psychology, art is used to enhance mental health and to treat psychological disorders resulting in art therapy.
The American Art Therapy Association describes art therapy “is based on the belief that the creative process involved in artistic self-expression helps people to resolve conflicts and problems, develop interpersonal skills, manage behavior, reduce stress, increase self-esteem and self-awareness, and achieve insight.”
Although art therapy did not formalize until the mid-1900s, Kahlo definitely used it in her own life to cope with the stresses of her physical limitations and emotional instability. Whether she knew it or not, Kahlo could be considered the grandmother of Art Therapy. Not only did she use it to keep herself going, but it was and has been shared with all the world through her existing art pieces, life story and iconic figure of strength.