The Life and Times of Frida Kahlo
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In This Section:
Teacher's Guide
Parent's Guide

Teacher's Guide

Culture in Art

Suggested Viewing Segments

[0:00:00-0:05:30 (introduction)]
[0:09:50-0:14:30; 0:24:30-0:28:00 (Mexican Revolution and early influences)]
[0:57:00-1:01:30; 1:09:50-1:14:00 (later influences and teachings)]


Students will:
  • explore how cultural aspects of their lives are depicted in society

  • identify the cultural elements Frida Kahlo referenced in her work


Ask students to define culture and then consider several definitions:
"Culture taken, in its wide ethnographic sense is that complex whole which includes knowledge, belief, art, morals, law, custom, and any other capabilities and habits acquired by man as a member of society. The conditions of culture among the various societies of mankind in so far as it is capable of being investigated on general principles, is a subject apt for the study of laws of human thought and action" (Edward Burnett Tylor)

Culture is "an historically transmitted pattern of meanings embodied in symbols, a system of inherited conceptions expressed in symbolic form by means of which men communicate, perpetuate, and develop their knowledge about and attitudes towards life" (Clifford Geertz)

"A society's culture consists of whatever it is one has to know or believe in order to operate in a manner acceptable to its members" (Ward Goodenough)
Then, have students note how elements of their culture such as youth or ethnic background figure into society and their lives. How do they, as individuals, reflect cultural elements? How are these elements reflected in society at large? How are they reflected in art, of all forms?


Read or have students read the following thoughts of Victor Zamudio Taylor, a Latin American art historian and curator interviewed for the film, about Frida's relationship and artistic representation of myriad cultural elements.
"… [Frida] crosses cultural boundaries …

… I think that one can say that she's crossing boundaries between what's considered 'high culture' or the fine arts from a European prospective, from a classical 19th century … start again… Frida Kahlo is also crossing boundaries within culture and within Mexican culture. Traditionally and up until the Mexican Revolution, there was the elite culture, which was mainly the culture of the Europeans and the Spaniards, and then the culture of the professionals, and then the vast culture of the Mexicans who were from rural areas, who were illiterate and who had vernacular and popular traditions. When Frida Kahlo is interested in the Preparatoria and later as she's engaged in her artwork, she bridges these different levels of Mexican culture, or these different layers of Mexican culture, so that she's in a sense bringing together the culture of the fine arts, the culture of a European background with her love of popular Mexican culture, or rural culture, of mythic culture, the culture of healing, the culture of the marketplace, the culture of décor, the culture of attire. So one could also say that Frida Kahlo is crossing those cultural boundaries and linking them, and I think in a very sincere way. There is very little irony in the way Frida Kahlo does this. I think it's very sincere. I think it's from the heart, … but she knows that she has this gift and as well as privilege to make that choice. Other women did not.

… So it's not so much that the boundaries between let's say high culture or European culture and popular Mexican culture are more flexible, they're just more contradictory. They're coexisting. They're contaminating each other. They're influencing each other."
Ask students what these statements reflect about Frida and the way she approaches the cultural influences in her life.

Divide students into small groups and distribute a portfolio of Frida paintings to each group to review. (You can use the same or different pieces for each group.) Students will review them to come to conclusions about how Frida represents her heritage and culture (which, as Taylor notes, is a combination of variants). Students can use the following questions to guide their review and study.
  • What seem to be the most important elements of Frida's heritage?

  • How does Frida depict these aspects of her culture in her work?

  • How does she cross cultural boundaries and reflect combined cultural elements?

  • What indigenous artistic influence is found in her work? How does she represent this mode?
Each group should be prepared to share its thoughts using specific references to the works they have reviewed.
Online Resources

The Art of Frida Kahlo
"The Art of Frida Kahlo" is explored by Julie Taymor for "NOW with Bill Moyers," in a special section including Kahlo's biography and an interview with Taymor.

Frida by Kahlo
The concise and informative circumstances of various selected Kahlo paintings are told on this easy to read page.

Frida Kahlo paintings
This Web page has links to numerous different online exhibits and image galleries of Kahlo's work throughout the years.

Frida Kahlo online
This Artcyclopedia page consists of links to Kahlo's paintings in museums and public galleries, art auctions, photos, biographical information, Web sites and articles.

This Web page offers date, medium, and gallery information for 15 different paintings, including "The Suicide of Dorothy Hale," "What I Saw in the Water (What the Water Gave Me)," "Portrait of Eva Frederick," and "Self-Portrait in a Velvet Dress."

Frida Kahlo paintings
This page displays selected Kahlo paintings, and contains basic information and thorough descriptions of the paintings.

The Hammond Gallery
This page offers views of numerous Kahlo works, including an interactive discussion boards for each painting where users can post comments about her artwork.


Mid-continent Research for Education and Learning (McREL)

Visual Arts
4: Understands the visual arts in relation to history and cultures
5: Understands the characteristics and merits of one's own artwork and the artwork of others

World History
42: Understands major global trends from 1900 to the end of World War II

4: Understands the physical and human characteristics of place
6: Understands that culture and experience influence people's perceptions of places and regions

Historical Understanding
2: Understands the historical perspective

Extended Activities

Students can:
  • Explore surrealism and the movement's artists.
  • Publish an encyclopedia of well-known 20th Century Latin American artists.

About the Author

From classroom instructor to an executive director, Michele Israel has been an educator for nearly 20 years. She has developed and managed innovative educational initiatives, taught in nontraditional settings in the United States and overseas, developed curricula and educational materials, and designed and facilitated professional development for classroom and community educators. Her clients have included Newsweek, PBS, the Arthur Ashe Institute for Urban Health and Education World. She is currently communications manager for planned giving and endowments at the United Jewish Communities.

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