The everyday

The Scream by Edvard Munch. What does it really depict?

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I’m sure you are familiar with this artwork right? To call it famous is an understatement. But, just in case, it’s The Scream by Norwegian artist Edvard Munch. Perhaps you like it, perhaps you don’t. Maybe it means nothing to you. For me personally, I love it. I remember first seeing this image when I was a child, I think it was during a school lesson that I was first exposed to it, I cant remember exactly. What I can remember is recreating it. I painted it as a child and even though I have never been an art fan I loved both the original and my recreation (even though mine was distinctly amateur to say the least). There was just something about The Scream that brought me enjoyment.

This was all years ago now and I haven’t thought about any of it for a long time. Until this past week. I was browsing news articles online and I stumbled across something on The Telegraph. An article titled: Edvard Munch’s Scream isn’t screaming, says British Museum. If you would like to read the article then follow this link and check it out. It’s an interesting read.

In a nutshell, the basis of the article is that despite popular opinion that the image depicts a man screaming, it is in fact a man hearing a scream. I always believed and interpreted the image as a man screaming and this is why the headline drew me in. The British Museum believes that it is a man hearing a scream because a rare black and white print includes an inscription at the base which reads “I felt the great scream throughout nature”. This inscription was written by Munch himself and the British Museum at least, believes this to be proof that it is not the man himself that is screaming after all.

When I read this I felt compelled to write about it. There is part of me that is intrigued to learn of differing interpretations because it is interesting to view something through the eyes of another. However, there is an equal part of me that can’t help but feel a little sad at this story. The reason for this is, because, as I said at the opening of this post, the painting holds significance for me and I don’t really want to think of it in any different way than what my child self did…that it is a man struck by fear screaming. It just kind of tainted my memory if I’m completely honest. That might seem silly but it is just how I feel when I think about this.

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It has long been known that the inspiration behind the creation was that whilst on a walk Munch observed the sky turn blood red which had an overwhelming effect upon him. Knowing this is part of what formed my interpretation of the artwork. I saw a man, whom I believed to be Munch himself holding his hands to his face and screaming. I believed this was him reacting to the blood red sky above him and expressing his fear as to what it meant.

I have now read that Munch himself explained through this inscription that can only be found on the black and white print that it is instead nature that is screaming and not the person in the image. In addition I have read that popular opinion is that the person depicted is holding their hands over their ears rather than their face as I thought originally. This has led me to look at the painting with fresh eyes. I see everything that I have always seen, however I see other things now too. I see this new interpretation juxtaposed against my original thoughts. This is interesting for me.

As I have already said I am not an art fan, I am however a huge literary fan and that is a subject that relies heavily on interpretation also. Therefore, interpretation and differing opinions are subjects I am well versed in, in terms of creativity. As a result of that I can console myself that this new evidence doesn’t need to change my opinion or feelings towards The Scream. That’s the beauty of interpretation, it is ours to utilise however we feel.

So, to answer the question in the title of this post: I don’t know. I don’t know what it really depicts, I’m not sure anybody does. I’m also not sure it matters. I think art can depict whatever the viewer wants/needs it to. Therefore, The Scream will, for me at least, continue to be a man screaming because that is what it has always been for me and what I would quite like it to remain to be.

What are your opinions on this?

Do you like/dislike The Scream?

Please share in the comments if you have something you would like to add.

Thanks for reading!

Until the next time…Jess x

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