Can you separate the artist from the art?

The authors of a book about Frida Kahlo replied to a recent article in the Jewish Press. This is what they wrote:

    “Dear Mr. Wecker,

    Please allow me to contest you the mail you sent to Gaby Franger. We understand very well that you are surprised that the legend of Frida/Guillermo Kahlos Jewish descent is so persistent, because so are we.

    Let me first answer your question for the facts and then try an explanation.

    There can be absolutely no doubt that the Kahlo family – paternal and maternal sides – were of German origin and members of the Lutheran Church. We found the respective baptism and other documents that leave no room for doubts. Its all documented, even in facsimile, in our book. We also write in our book that so far there is no serious source to prove that Frida Kaho herself ever affirmed she was Jewish. It’s all hearsay and copying from one spurious source to another.

    We are not media people but just researchers, with the probably naive idea that information that is published in a serious way is either accepted or refuted by arguments. So far nobody has questioned or findings, so if they are ignored, it must be for some interest, we don’t know.

    Why do we not insist in our findings and enter in more public debate? For once because we think people should first read what is published and then put forward their opinions. But foremostly because we do not think that this is a sane and importan debate. We cannot find any additional value – or any belittlement – in either Frida or Guillermo Kahlo’s work that would depend on their Jewishness or any other religious believe. We strongly advocate for focussing the interest in their work and not in their religion, ethnicity or any other such feature. A Jewish art critic wrote, after having heard of our findings, that now the Lutherans seem to take away the Jewish community an appreciated artist. We just cannot understand this kind of thinking in “ours” and “theirs”, and we certainly do not reclaim Frida or Guillermo Kahlo for nobobdy.

    So far, many people have asked us for our opinion about these matters, but nobody has invited us to write about it. So if you think that it would be necessary or appropiate to give our opinion about this trouble with the Kahlo Jewish idientity, we would certainly be ready to write about it, be it in a Jewish review or in some other place.

    I hope this is of some help for your inquiry,

    Best wishes,

    Rainer Huhle and Gaby Franger”

The letter above I’ve reposted as posted on Iconia (broken English and all). What caught my attention in the letter is the author’s desire that people look at the artwork and not, in essence, the artist.

In the Arts and Faith forums a while back there was a debate on how much a viewer can separate an artist’s work from said artist’s life. It’s easy enough to observe Christians shunning works that offend them or that were created by people purporting offensive view points. How many nudes will you find in most Christian homes?

(And as an interesting side-note, Bob Jones University — berated even by Christians for it’s ultra legalistic campus lifestyle — has quite a collection of paintings. A number of these, if I recall correctly, feature Mary’s bare breasts. It seems as though none of these paintings are featured in their gallery at this time, unless I’m remembering incorrectly. It was about six years ago that I came across this irony on their website.)

I used to find Kahlo’s paintings a tad morbid; they certainly aren’t my favorite works. Recently, however, my wife and I finally saw the film Frida. Checking the film’s story-line against Wikipedia seemed to verify the events portrayed in the movie. This also gave light to why her paintings seem so morbid. She wasn’t painting surreal and sometimes grotesque images just for fun: She was putting her own life on the canvas, not hiding her own very real, physical pain.

How can we separate this knowledge from her paintings? Why would we want to? Her works should still be judged on their craft and composition, but content is as much a part of an artwork as marks and color. A person’s faith, or lack thereof, will play into their painting or sculpture, even if it isn’t evident to onlookers. Approaching art from a purely academic point of view is short-sighted and, frankly, dull. Looking at a work from a purely emotional or personal point of view is also an incomplete perspective.


About pcNielsen
Paul Nielsen founded The Aesthetic Elevator late in 2005. He owns a piece of paper, located somewhere in his house (not on the wall), stating that he earned a B.F.A. from the University of Nebraska around about 2001. While there, he studied studied architecture, graphic design and ceramics, graduating with a degree in studio art. Paul presently serves as communications manager for a small non-profit doing their print design and marketing. He spends as much time sculpting in his studio as possible — which is not nearly enough. Visit his website at

2 Responses to Can you separate the artist from the art?

  1. Thanks for the post. I think you make some really insightful points. I’d just point out that the authors responded to my questions after the article was submitted. It wasn’t that they responded to my article.


  2. TAE says:

    Thanks for the clarification!

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