A thumbnail textbook illustration did not prepare me for the awe of experiencing Picasso’s Guernica in its full-size: more than twice as tall as me and spanning over 25 feet, but I would not have had interest in this work about the bombing of a town in the Basque Country if one of my high school Spanish teachers had not taught us as much about Spanish-speaking cultures as she did about Spanish grammar. Similarly, one morning this month I spent a half hour exploring an interactive website about what Frida Kahlo wore because this same teacher introduced me to the injury and the art of this Mexican woman. The image of Kahlo’s face and the flowers in her hair became an icon I recognized in eclectic shops throughout college and grad school. Whenever I saw Diego Rivera’s work in a lobby or an exhibit, I recalled that she had married him. I remember my teacher’s face when talking about Kahlo and now contemplate that her being on the verge of tears may not have been only because of the tragedy but also because of the persistent creation of work that refracted the tragedy.
Because of this teacher, my recent virtual tour of the Museo Frida Kahlo exhibit on the artist’s fashion gave me the chance to reflect on what bits I have gleaned since high school about the marginalization of people with disabilities, the Oaxacan struggles for land rights, and the wanted and unwanted definitions of womanhood. I see that I saw Frida Kahlo as only her art and her image, not as a human being. I forgot she had to choose clothes to wear. I ignored the inner strength needed to apply limited physical strength to create with color on canvas and skin. But I remember my Spanish teacher’s face, and I know that she knew. And I am glad she dropped Frida Kahlo into my bucket of knowledge because otherwise, I would not be asking myself these questions now: how shall I go beyond theoretical analysis to remind my students of the humanity of composers and of themselves as artists? How do I inspire them to value more of who they are and how their humanity contributes to their work?