Our artist this term has been Frida Kahlo. I wanted a female, non-European, modern artist for something totally different from our other artist studies. Frida Kahlo fit the bill perfectly!
Kahlo and her husband, the famous artist Diego Rivera, were both from Mexico. Her life was filled with pain, both emotional and physical, and her art reflects that clearly. Actually much of her art is not appropriate for children to study. I bought Frida Kahlo 1907-1954: Pain and Passion for our study, and found several paintings that were far too dark for us to use for picture study.
This is how I handled the situation. First I looked through the entire book to see what sections were particularly disturbing and used paper clips to keep those pages from being viewed. Then I warned Sprite about the gory nature of some of the paintings in our book. I told her she was not forbidden to look, but that I think the images would not be pleasant for her to see. They may even give her nightmares or make her afraid about things that we shouldn’t be afraid of. I let her see a few of the more tame paintings that have the same macabre tone (ones that are not clipped shut but that we won’t choose for picture study) to give her a feel for what I was talking about.
Since we’d already read the Frida Kahlo: The Artist who Painted Herself (in the Smart about Art series), Sprite knew about Kahlo’s sad private life — primarily the fact that she miscarried many times and could never have children due the injuries she received in a bus accident. I told her the basic content of some of the more shocking paintings so she’d know why I didn’t think they were appropriate for her and so that her imagination wouldn’t make it worse than it actually was. (IE “In some of the paintings, Kahlo paints herself miscarrying her baby.”) She agreed that they would be scary and that she did not want to look at the pages.
Of course, we discussed how Kahlo must have been in intense pain to create such shocking and personal paintings. It was probably the one outlet for her turmoil. That topic led to another tangent of positive and negative ways to handle the hardships of life.