The Art of transforming pain into art: Frida Kahloʼs world
From Firenze University Press Journal: Journal of History of Education (RSE)
Angela Articoni, Università degli Studi di Foggia
According to philosophers of German Idealism pain is necessary. Highlighting the opportunity to eradicate natural inertness linked to good fate Johann Gottlieb Fichte purports pain connected to the sense of need as the safe impulse to all activities, and in the feeling of want — and ensuing motion towards its satisfaction — «la vera Absicht del dolore, la sua vera finalità; Hegel definisce il dolore il privilegio (das Vor-recht) delle nature più elevate, che sentono e che vivono» (Tagliavia 2011, 46).
And as Schopenhauer wrote at a later stage «Se la nostra vita fosse senza fine e senza dolore, a nessuno forse verrebbe in mente di domandarsi perché il mondo esista e perché sia fatto proprio così, ma tutto ciò sarebbe ovvio» (1992, 938–939). Pain, hence, whatever its origin and in whatever way it is experienced, «rompe il ritmo abituale dell’esistenza, produce quella discontinuità sufficiente per gettare nuova luce sulle cose ed essere insieme patimento e rivelazione. Il mondo si vede in un modo in cui mai prima si era visto» (Natoli 1987, 8).Art has always associated with pain. Throughout the centuries human suffering has led the hand of the greatest men of genius in the fields of painting, sculpture, music, theatre. Creating images and stories, or moulding hard stone, ensue from a process in which the feeling of life, the wound inflicted therein by pain are connected to the need to overcome the annihilating power of desperation. One needs only consider paintress Artemisia Gentileschi: as the victim of a rape and at the centre of a shameful trial, she seized her torment and turned it into Art. The reiterated view expressed by Eugenio Barba, founder of the Odin Teatret, is also extremely interesting: he explains how his existential adventure began as a very lucky child given that he experienced a dreadful pain due to his father’s death at the age of eleven. Witnessing and being present at his beloved father’s slow death was a basic event — his agony lasted all night long (Christofferesen and Raimondo 1992).
«È un’esperienza che ogni bambino dovrebbe fare: sperimentare come muore una persona cara. […] La sua morte fu una grande fortuna per me, scoprii che significa la mancanza, la perdita di qualcosa di essenziale» (Perrelli 2005).
Such brief reference to Artemisia and Barba ideally represent the relationship between trauma and resilience in a multiple personal journey where art turns into the tool and the means whereby the traumatic experience is worked out. Art as an expression of human wounds, as a tool to overcome and heal them, to bear or even dispel — at least for a while — anguish, to try and reach happiness. Within the frame of Frida’s autobiographical artistic development, Henry Ford Hospital (The Flying Bed) (1932) has definitely a great emotional impact: in this work the artist portrays herself after a miscarriage, laying on a hospital bed, naked and bleeding, with her swollen abdomen. From her hand trickles of blood related to the lost foetus, to the frail bone-frame of her pelvis, to a snail symbol of the horrific lengthiness of miscarriage, and a purple orchid, the flower Diego Rivera brought to her while she was in hospital and which would be a reference to sexuality and to love. On Frida’s face a tear: the great sadness and suffering of that terrible event.
Otherwise The Broken Column (1944) in which she portrayed herself caged in a steel corset that holds her together but where the slash reveals the fractures of her spine: here again tears pour out of her eyes. Physical pain, illness, desolation, solitude, are recurrent themes in her works wherein she expresses, elevates and eases all feelings of sorrow. In the last part of her short life (she died in 1954, at the age of 47), the abyss created by her endless torment always offset by alcohol and opiates: Frida allowed herself to be overcome by pessimism, thus creating Without Hope (1945) in which she seemed to be waiting to be force-fed or to have just regurgitated some food mixture hanging over her bed as a jelly-like blob: a disturbing picture from which she observes us in tears once again. (Souter 2007, 148). Referring to Henry Ford Hospital M. Lowe also notes «In entrambi i lavori la pittrice ricorre alla massa organica per suggerire ciò che non riesce ad esprimere, e dipinge l’indefinibile per esorcizzarlo» (1999, 133). Never before had a woman depicted on canvas the tormenting poetry of her life as Frida Kahlo did.