A haunted life. (the
life of Edvard Munch)
I was out walking, the sun began to set. Suddenly the sky fumed
bloodred. Tongues of fire bumed above the blue-black water. I
stood trembling with fear. At that moment, I felt an endless scream
passing through nature."
ever felt like this? Do you recognize any of these emotions when
you look at the cover of this magazine? These words were written
by Edvard Munch (Moonk), the artist who painted this work over
100 years ago. If you feel youve seen this image before,
you probably have, since it has appeared on posters, buttons,
album covers, cartoons, and T shirts.
The Scream is possibly the most powerful visual symbol ever created
for the anxieties of modem life. During the final years of the
last century, when the artist did this work, society was being
completely transformedpolitically, socially and technologically.
New machines like the airplane, the automobile the telephone,
and the radio were changing peoples lives. Modern cities
were growing rapidly, and with them a sense of isolation and alienation.
And advances in science and psychology were establishing the importance
of emotions and the unconscious. Artists of the time like Munch,
needed to express their feelings about these disturbing changes.
The Scream is one of the best known examples of a new kind of
painting called Expressionism. In this work, Munch doesnt
just paint what a person in pain might look like. He sees the
world through the eyes of this agonized person. In The Scream,
the entire landscape is distorted by pain and despair. A ghostly
figure clutches its skull-like head in agony. Blood-red lines
vibrate around it like shrieks of terror.
Born in Norway
in 1863, Edvard Munch knew how a person in emotional pain feels.
His mother died when he was 5 and a sister when he was 14. His
father was a doctor who saw patients at home. Edvard himself was
always in poor health. As he grew up, the artist decided that
his family was doomed and that he would die at an early age. Ten
years after graduating from the Oslo School of Design, Munch did
a strange self-portrait (left). His face emerges from the black
background like a skull and he added a skeleton arm at the bottom,
dating the work as if it would be one of his last. (The artist
lived for 50 years after doing this portrait!)
At the same
time, Munch did a kind of family portrait, Death in the Sick Chamber
(above). The subject is the death of his sister, Sophie. But everyone
is shown at the age they were when Munch painted the work, not
the age they were when Sophie died, suggesting that death lives
on in the survivors. Sophie is hidden in a chair while the artist
turns away from the scene. The characters are frozen against a
sickly green wall; the bright orange floor slopes forward as a
stage set might. Black outlines and clashing colors add to the
sense of tension and anxiety.
Art, Sep-Oct 1996 v27 n1 p2(2).
text black on white