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The Effect of Personal Experience on Art: Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera

This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at Rutgers chapter.

When people think of art, they often only think of the end result: the vibrant painting, intricate mural, or beautiful sculpture; people tend to skip over the events in the lives of artists that inspire them. Many artists, such as Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera, used these events to drive their creativity and make their art unique to them. Let’s take a look at the artwork and life experiences of two of the most famous Mexican artists in history in order to gain a better understanding of the effect that personal experience has on art.

While Frida Kahlo is most famous for her self-portraits, her painting, “Frida and Diego Rivera”, is quite a notable work. The piece, which is simplistic yet carries a profound message, shows Frida and Diego daintily holding hands while solemnly looking at the audience. The colors used are simple: black, blue, and green, with a pop of red from Frida’s scarf. Also, Frida is painted much smaller compared to Diego. Moreover, the solemnity of the painting demonstrates Frida and Diego’s poor relationship, as well as the unhappiness that existed when they were together; the fact that Frida is depicted so small compared to Diego shows how unappreciated she felt in their relationship, and the dainty nature of their handholding shows a disconnect. This is related to Frida’s personal experiences, as she and Rivera were known to have a messy relationship, yet still stood together for years; despite constant troubles, the two loved each other deeply. “There have been two great accidents in my life. One was the trolley, and the other was Diego. Diego was by far the worst,” Frida said. 

In addition, Kahlo endured a terrible bus accident, polio, and bullying throughout her youth; this trauma could definitely be seen through her art as well. For instance, her painting, “The Broken Column”, demonstrates the grief of her on-going issues as a result of the bus accident. The piece shows a solemn Frida with tears on her face, a metal rod in place of her spine, supports holding her body up, nails piercing her body, and the remnants of a hospital gown. “I paint myself because I am so often alone and because I am the subject I know best,” Frida said. After analyzing her artwork, it is clear that Kahlo’s unfortunate youth and toxic relationship with Diego Rivera motivated her work and helped to nurture her artistic expression.

As for Diego Rivera, one of his many famous paintings, “Flower Festival (Festival de las Flores)”, celebrates the Mexican people and culture. The portrait shows two women kneeling before a man who is carrying many white flowers on his back. There are people who are watching in the background, and the scene resembles some type of cultural event. The colors of red, white, and green are very prominent in the painting because these are the traditional colors of Mexico. In general, I believe that the painting has a message that shows the importance and appreciation of Mexican culture and traditions. This is related to the experiences of Rivera, as he was popular for representing and being proud of his Mexican culture through his artistic work. Rivera once said, “When art is true, it is one with nature…the secret of my best work is that it is Mexican.” 

In addition, Rivera was known to tie his political experiences into his work as well. Rivera was a member of the Mexican Communist party and demonstrated his leftist views, including disapproval of capitalism and the upper class, in his paintings. One of his pieces, “Night of the Rich”, depicts the unjust contrast between the rich and the poor. Inside a house, the viewer can see the rich drinking, smoking, and having a good time at a party; whereas from the outside looking in, the poor watch the rich with looks of sadness and anger. The poor are armed with guns, and this could potentially motion towards the idea of a revolution against the rich. Overall, Rivera’s personal experiences with politics and his culture were large inspirations for his artwork and were clearly demonstrated in the majority of his paintings.

Ultimately, the events in the lives of artists are very important and inspire their creative expression. Specifically, personal experiences, like tragedy or culture, play an important part in the works of Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera. After examining Kahlo and Rivera, it is very clear that the events in their lives have had a great impact on their artwork.

Tori is a current freshman at Rutgers University from Middletown, New Jersey. She is pursuing a major in Marketing and loves to watch Netflix, write, travel, and be outside.
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Sam F

Rutgers '21