Painted in 1893, I used to think the figure in Edvard Munch’s The Scream, was screaming. In fact, the painting is based on Munch’s personal experience of an anxiety attack while out for a walk with two friends:
“I was walking along the road with two friends – the sun went down – I felt a gust of melancholy – suddenly the sky turned a bloody red. I stopped, leaned against the railway, tired to death … my friends went on – I stood there trembling with anxiety and I felt a vast infinite scream…”
Edvard Munch’s Diary, 22nd January 1892
‘A vast infinite scream’. An infinite piercing internal scream that vibrates through every fibre of your being when you get that phone call that someone you love has died. This month has been met with loss and grief. I lost my beloved uncle. As I look up at my notice board every day since then, I feel the androgynous figure in Munch’s The Scream is me.
Upon reflection, so many of us are the figure in this painting, the protagonists in our own story; rooted yet disconnected from the real world as shown by the sturdy unchanged bridge in the foreground. The background characters remain unaffected whilst the central figure distorts in the midst of their personal reality.
In contrast, the linear composition of nature, disturbed and painted in expressionist swirls and flowing brushstrokes, conveys an inescapable hard truth that death – naturally and inevitably – will seep into our lives at unexpected times and create disconcerting movement and change.
The painting is an abuse of the senses. As is grief.
The Nordic avant-garde artists believed the intricacies of psyche should be captured through a depiction of universal human experience to resonate with audiences, not explained but felt, and, much like the emotion itself, acknowledged and carried rather than brushed away with muted platitudes. They encouraged Munch to embrace the heaviness of his childhood traumas, the endurance of his illnesses, his depression, and to share it:
“For as long as I can remember I have suffered from a deep feeling of anxiety which I have tried to express in my art.”
To echo this belief, I share with you…I’m heartbroken.