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CRITICAL ANALYSIS OF THE SCREAM

Painter

Edvard Munch

Dimensions

91 cm x 74 cm

Personal Quote

I was out walking with two friendsthe sun began


to setsuddenly the sky turned blood redI paused,
feeling exhausted, and leaned on the fencethere
was blood and tongues of fire above the blue-black
fjord and the citymy friends walked on, and I stood
there trembling with anxietyand I sensed an
endless scream passing through nature.

Looking like a scene out of a nightmare, Edvard Munchs painting The


Scream is one of the worlds most recognizable Expressionist paintings. The
recognition of this imageparticularly the lonely, isolated figureis often
associated with being a pop-culture icon which has influenced the popular
representation of Andy Warhols famous reproduction and the mask used in
the horror movie, Scream. Nonetheless, The Scream is a painting that
immediately captures the audiences attention and provokes questions
concerning the emotional state of the artist, Munch, who, in the late
nineteenth century, had been struck with the loss and abandonment of loved
ones and had been a victim of reoccurring illness, depression, and anxiety.
The focal point, the figure with the expression of agony, immediately draws
the viewer into the mysterious image; however, Munch uses several other
techniques to enhance the intensity of the figures expression and to create
a relationship between the figure and the setting. Munch manipulates such
elements as line, color, light and shadow, form, and balance to create the
effects of horror, anxiety, distress, and endless other unpleasant emotions
that the audience may experience while interpreting this painting.
One may infer that Munch painted what he felt rather than exactly
what he observed. The Scream conveys the feeling of despair along with a
range of other powerful and unnerving emotions that an onlooker is forced to
observe. With the intentional use of strong linesboth straight and curved
Munchs brush strokes move the audiences eyes directly toward the
distressed figure. The bold curved lines of the sky flow directly into the figure
and continue to form the body of the individual. This element may represent
feelings of chaos and madness. Not only do the chaotic lines form the body
of the individual, but these curvy lines also shape the landscape that literally
weighs down on the shoulders of the individual as if the force of the figures
surroundings create immense pressure on the subject. Likewise, the straight
lines of the road pass underneath the figure while the straight lines of the
railing practically pierce and continue through the individual. Unlike the
twisting lines, the orderly, straight lines seem to stand apart from the figure
and the landscape. While these lines command order, they move away from
the focal point fading into the distance where the lines eventually disappear.
In addition, the lines forming the sky and landscape create strong movement
which appears to carry the piercing scream from the hellish surroundings
directly into the figure. Furthermore, the strong curved lines give the
impression that the painting itself transmits soundalmost as if Munch had

intend his audience to not only witness natures scream but also to hear or
experience the shriek.
While the use of straight and curved distorted lines seems to be the
strongest element that lends to the mood of the painting, Munchs color
choices and placement of light and shadow appear to have significance and
add to the emotional appeal of the scene. The scene appears dark and
gloomy with the sky appearing as if it is in burning up in flames. The grey,
black, and blue hues of the land and water are colors that are often closely
associated with sadness and depression, perhaps Munchs suggestion that
nature had left him alone, depressed, and sick. The deep-orange and fire-red
clouds in the sky intensify the agony that nature is releasing into the figure.
In addition, the contrast between the light, pale face and the dark body
contribute to drawing the audiences eyes to the focal point of the painting.
Similarly, the figure seems to be surrounded by darkness with the landscape
below blanketed in shadow. Light only seems to appear off in the distance
where the two figures in the background are moving towards. The figure,
however, seems to be frozen in the darkness unable to move forward with
the others.
Another element that factors into the mood of The Scream is the
simplified, distorted form. Neither the human figures nor the landscape
appear overly detailed. By using simple forms, Munch is able to force his
audience to focus on the emotions that the scene and subject emit rather
than simply viewing an exact depiction of one particular scene. Likewise, the
skull-like faced individual appears to be sexless, perhaps to appeal to both
genders, illustrating the idea that depression and anxiety are feelings that
relate to human nature. That is, sorrow, panic, fear, and other similar
emotions are feelings that everyone has experienced at one time or another
making the subject matter of The Scream relevant to all. The distortion of the
images in this painting adds to the muddled, unstable state of mind that
seems to be alluded to in this painting. The vast, somewhat-empty
background space that represents the landscape intensifies the isolation and
fear that the figure seems to be experiencing.
The careful use of balance also helps the audience understand the
implied significance of The Scream. Munch placed the frightful figure in the
foreground and achieves a sense of balance by placing two smaller figures
who are walking into the fiery sunset in the distance on the left side and by
creating a powerful curve in the upper right hand corner. In addition, Munch
seems to use contrasting elements to achieve a balanced composition. The

straight lines seem to balance the curved lines, and, at the same time, the
cold colors appear to balance the warm reds and yellows. The emotions that
The Scream generates are clear and all similar in their nature, yet the
images appear distorted and abstract. The movement of the two background
figures walking into the lit sky and the movement of Munchs brushstrokes
contrast the frozen subject who is incapacitated by the scream. By
implementing all of these contrasting elements, Munch may have been
trying to illustrate his internal feelingstorn between sanity and madness.
The Scream may have been influenced by events in Munchs own life.
In Munchs childhood, he lost his mother and several siblings. In his adult life,
Munch never married and was left by his only love. Munch also suffered from
illness, and due to his life full of tragedy and depression, he became a
recluse in his later years. The location of The Scream also holds significance
to the meaning being the location of many suicides and is in close proximity
to an old mental asylum for women and slaughterhouse. In all, Munch
artistically used the elements of movement, color, lighting, form, and
balance to create a clear, eerie mood.

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