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The Scream

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The scream is a title given to a painting done by one Edvard Munch, a creative artist and sociologist who was born in 1863. His was a fear, sorrow and death-filled life, as is still recorded in his journal, years after his death. His youth was haunted by death, hell and eternal damnation, in his description. When Edvard was at the age of five, his mother died of tuberculosis and so did his sister, nine years later. 11 years down the line when Edvard was 25, his father too succumbed to death and soon after, his sister lost her mind and was taken to an asylum. His life hence revolved around insanity and uncertainty (Arthur 2006, p.1).

This brief introduction to Edvard’s life could probably give a lee way into understanding why Edvard ended up with such a painting, one that many would describe as a horror picture. In a brief synopsis of what led to the painting of such a picture, Edvard says that he was on a pathway with a group of friends. Suddenly he felt exhausted and stopped. Soon after the sky turned red and he saw tongues of fire above him. He leaned over a fence while his friends walked ahead. As he stood there trembling, he sensed a wave of a scream pass through the atmosphere. A sunset suddenly turned into blood redness and a dreaded wave of fear, was what would later give birth to a painting with the name ‘scream’ on it. This remains to be Edvard’s most treasured piece of art, to the extent that it is now being used in adverts and has been modified to appear in cartoon like form (Edvard 2009, p.16).

Many reviews have been made towards the painting, with many reviews agreeing on the fact that Edvard’s haunted lifestyle could have been the most probable reason behind the painting, looking at it from a psychological point of view. He went through hallucinations, excessive drinking, illness and insanity. His life was hanging on a fatal edge that bordered madness, as he describes it in his journal. It was in this condition that munch sought the services of a doctor who advised him to only socialize with good friends and to keep drinking to the minimum. The paintings that followed after that were colored with optimism and a sense of harmony with nature.  Sociologists tell us that childhood experiences play a major role in the later developmental years in a person’s life. This is explained in great detail in Sigmund Freud’s psychoanalytic theory of development. How people behave in their adult life is mostly influenced by the experiences they went through as young children, and in most cases, these are aspects they rarely have control over. In a more critical and deeper analysis, the Scream is seen as Munch’s way of coping with all the depression that had taken a toll on him in his early childhood development years (Justine 2002, p.34).

The painting holds many minds captive today because it is seen to be the most expressionist picture ever created. It has the capacity to capture the most innate feelings and express them in a painting as the old adage goes; a picture is worth a thousand words. Most of the people today relate to the drawing because in it, they are able to express their innermost feelings. This is especially true of those who are going through hell within them, no wonder it is so popular. So popular was the painting that museums bought it and later on, thieves broke into one of the museums, stole the painting and left a note behind saying ‘thank-you for the poor security’ (High Museum of Art 2001, p. 54).

The painting combines harmonious colors so effectively that they bring out the aspect of a wave of fear that seems to flow through nature, well supported by the shaken human figure that is giving out a loud scream. He uses two main colors in his painting as reviewers of his pain seem to agree. The colors are black and white. Black is a dark color that depicts nothing but gloom and hopelessness, and probably this is what the panting was capturing as far as Munch’s history was concerned.  The off shore imagery that depicts the open seas and gloomy storms have a strong connotation of emptiness, darkness and silence. However, the white color could be a depiction that Munch was hopeful that he would one day be able to live a life free of fear, worries and hallucinations and that he would be able to provide for his family and live a happy life like anybody else. True to his wishes and aspirations, Munch recovered from all this metal torture and his latter years were lived in an all-sufficient estate of his own. The paintings he did around this time revolved around a celebration of farm life. He also did self portraits that reflected his long search to self realization (Elizabeth 2001, p. 73).

In relation to culture, Munch’s scream painting depicts a life of isolation and loneliness, a culture that Munch had become so much used to since his childhood years. The painting draws us to an analysis of our own age. Sufferers of depression experience alienation from social circles and yet they suffer all this in silence and humility.  In contrast, the picture shows the strong will of humanity to rebel against those limits. The painting of a sexless, twisted, anxiety-filled creature brings us closer home, by reminding us that life is unpredictable. As he was walking home in serenity one evening, without warning and for no apparent reason the atmosphere turned red and haunted him, a good description of what happens to humanity most of the times; life will be running smoothly at one moment, only to be interrupted by events that cannot be explained. In his writings, Munch wrote, ‘one should not paint a chair, but the emotions that come with the sight of the chair’ and this is exactly what he aimed to do when he painted Scream (Raymond 1995, p. 55).

In popular culture though, the painting has acquired an iconic status. As earlier mentioned it is commonly used in cartoon compilation and advertisement, in TV and films and in horror movies like the Halloween and ‘tormented soul.’ This is not all because the painting has also been greatly used in political humor. For example, in the year 2004, bumper stickers were sold with the image on them, trying to discourage the re-election of George W. Bush. The image had a caption beside it; ‘four more years?’  The painting has continued to be modified by various artists, all with an aim of letting the memories of the painting live on. The Scream has received a lot of evaluations and interpretations, but one thing we can agree on is that its final meaning, influences and historical importance are aspects that are yet to be agreed on conclusively (Sue 2007, p.24).

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