“The Scream” by the Norwegian painter Edvard Munch (1893) is one of the most well known paintings in the world. The artist painted four versions of it, but it has been reproduced and recreated for many other purposes throughout its long life. What did it mean to the artist, and perhaps more importantly, what does it mean to the millions of people who respond to it so strongly?
On its face, so to speak, it is the symbol of the anxiety we all feel in the modern world. Yes? Can you relate to the look of horror, fear, and “screaming mimis” that you see here? Is the subject an escapee from an asylum, or some kind of hospital? The swirling waters – echoed in the curving body and skeletal face – are offset by the brilliant sunset which also has its warning of threatening weather coming. Contrast those roiling features with the straight-laced couple approaching from the rear: thin, unbent, dark, they are unaffected by the chaotic sky and sea as well as the keening creature just ahead. What a contrast!
Which do we identify with? The calm pair having their evening constitutional, or the kook having a breakdown on the pier? To read all the interesting theories about why Munch chose the site, the colors, the subject, etc., there are plenty of articles on the Internet including some credible basic information on Wikipedia.
I’m interested in your thoughts about the reason this painting became an icon. I can see the Mona Lisa, but the Scream? To put this in a little perspective, one of the versions, a pastel done in 1895, sold at Sotheby’s for $120 million in 2012. Is it really one of the most important pieces of modern art ever painted?