When does iconic become too iconic?
“The Scream” is much more than the masterpiece of Norwegian painter Edvard Munch (1863-1944). It is so familiar to us in Western culture that it has gained a status beyond artwork. Like the Mona Lisa or “Starry Night”, it has taken on a life of its own and gained its own fame seemingly apart from the person whose hands crafted it in the first place. The sign that this is true is the thousands of parodies and allusions to “The Scream” in our popular culture. We may not be able to name the painter, but we all know that painting. It has become part of the visual lingua franca of our times.
Its too bad, really, because Edvard Munch was a wonderful painter in his own right. He painted hundreds of works in his lifetime and most of them were donated to the Norwegian government after his death. “The Scream” is so important as one of the most powerful examples of Symbolism in art. Symbolists painted the inner workings of their subject matter and were unconcerned with an exact representation of the outward appearance. As Munch himself put it, “Nature is not only all that is visible to the eye… it also includes the inner pictures of the soul.” To that end, Munch created some of the most visceral images in art history. As his own story includes the death of his mother when he was just a boy and his father’s own battle with mental illness, much of Munch’s work is disturbing. But his portrayals are eerily accurate of the state of mind, the anxiety of the heart, fear and loathing, and general angst of the human condition.
“The Scream”, however, is his painting that has become iconic. So iconic, in fact, that much of his other genius is forgotten. Even at school in my art history classes, it was “The Scream” we talked about and maybe one or two of his other works. It makes sense as that was his great contribution to the history of art and culture. It is profound and therefore should be studied and remembered. However, sometimes a work of art takes on such significance that the very significance of its creator seems secondary.
On a recent visit to the National Gallery here in Ottawa, Canada, I saw a work of Munch in the Contemporary gallery that is part of their collection. It was a simple scene of a farm house that looked a lot like something Vincent Van Gogh or Henri Matisse would have done: bold shapes and colors, inviting and accessible, warm and alive with motion. It made me desire to find out what else Munch had painted besides “The Scream”. What else defined the man and his art besides the “inner pictures of the soul”?
Thanks to the Interwebs I could easily discover the answer to my question. I am happy to present a small gallery of works by Edvard Munch that are beautiful, poetic, inviting, peaceful and full of real emotion. He was a lover of the works of Claude Monet and Vincent Van Gogh, this you will clearly see. And he was a true artist who drew inspiration from all of life and all that was around him. Enjoy…