Tuesday, September 12, 2006

"Scream"ing for Fame

Nearly everyone is familiar with the painting entitled The Scream, which is the most famous piece of artwork done by Norwegian expressionist painter Edvard Munch. Two years ago it was stolen along with Madonna, another Munch painting, in a daring daylight robbery from the Munch Museum in Oslo, Norway. After an extensive investigation, six men were charged in connection with the crime, but it was feared that the paintings had perished.

A couple of weeks ago the paintings were recovered, although, few details have emerged about how this happened. Unfortunately, the paintings suffered some damage during their two years’ absence, but the Munch Museum has announced that it will, nevertheless, briefly exhibit the paintings (no dates announced) before the paintings undergo restoration (see here). Since the robbery, the museum has undergone an extensive security upgrade, so it is hoped that The Scream (which was also pilfered in 1994) will be safe.

I have been to the Munch Museum in Oslo and have viewed Munch’s works. Norwegians are intensely proud of Munch. I can’t say that I share much appreciation for Munch’s works. I don’t care for the unreal nature of his painting, which looks more like something an aspiring 10-year-old might create, but it’s the weird and dreadful emotions his works purposefully elicit that really turn me off.

The poor man had a certain talent, but he was obviously tormented by serious mental issues. He experienced a fair amount of tragedy in his life, but he seems to have allowed that to become the central focus of everything he did. He dwelled on it to the point of glorying in it. A walk through the Munch Museum is somewhat akin to walking through a spook alley at Halloween. It’s strange and bizarre.

But the man did have talent—a talent to speak to the dark side of our psyches. The fact that The Scream is so well known throughout the world demonstrates Munch’s ability to elicit deep emotional/psychological reactions across a very broad cultural spectrum. Think about it. How do you feel when you look at the painting? This work is not just something known in elitist circles; it is known to people at all levels because something deep inside identifies with it. But it’s not something good.

When you come from a country with as small a population and with as rustic a culture as Norway, you tend to grasp at anything that might be considered to lend fame to your culture, even if it’s completely awful. Perhaps this phenomenon exists in all cultures to one degree or another.

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