49. the scream

You’ve seen the art piece called, The Scream somewhere, I’m sure. Perhaps you saw Homer Simpson doing his imitation, or perhaps you read about or even saw the scream movies. The director, Wes Craven, said the original scream artwork inspired the mask for the movies. He claimed that Edvard Munch’s The Scream is a favorite of his.

So, therapist that I am, I wonder what it is about that picture that resonates so much with so many people. Craven says, “It’s a classic reference to just the pure horror of parts of the 20th Century, or perhaps just human existence” (from the Wall St. Journal, 4-27-12). Sometimes understanding art can be therapeutic.

The Wall Street Journal article quotes a top art collector as saying, “I could sell all my pictures, put this on my wall, put my chair here with a cup of coffee and stare at it for the rest of my life and be happy.”

Huh?

How could a painting depicting a scream make someone happy? But this guy must be legitimate because on May 2, the painting sold for $119.9 million. Quite a number of bidders drove the price up from the measly $80,000,000 that was the expected sale price.

You can argue that art, like any commodity such as a car or a piece of jewelry, will bring whatever the market will bear. But the bottom line is that enough people have to like it for that to happen. This painting must speak to people. My question is: What does it say?

The setting for the painting, a bridge in Oslo, was located near what was then called an insane asylum, a place where psychotic people were kept off the streets but without therapy or medication. They were not treated and they were also mistreated by their caretakers. As a result, it was common to hear the inmates screaming.

As it happens, Munch’s sister was confined in that place and he was afraid—perhaps terrified—of becoming mentally ill himself. As it happens, that particular bridge was a favorite spot for people who wanted to commit suicide. Furthermore, Munch had just broken up from a love affair. He was all of 30 years old.

Art, like music or poetry, is a way of expressing for us what we find too difficult to express. Perhaps we’ve all felt like the character in The Scream at one time or another. Perhaps it validates the fact that a person can have such a raw emotion.

What do you think?

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