The Scream

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The Scream by Edward Munch

The Scream by Edward Munch


The Scream (or The Cry as it is also known) by Edward Munch has been the subject of much analysis since it was first displayed. As an artifact of high' culture, it is seen as a great work of art, while as a cultural product it has been widely referenced and reproduced. For humans, sight is our most important sense, far more developed than any other. We tend to privilege sight above other senses, which gives rise to the study of visual culture. Berger (1972) says, “Seeing comes before words…the child looks and recognizes before it can speak.” However, Welsch (2000) makes an interesting point about The Scream which diminishes the impact of this idea.

Baldwin et. al. (1999: 395, 366) explain that “Seeing is always cultured seeing…What we see is always conditioned by what we know.” In this case, Welsch's argument can be explained as such: to understand The Scream we must first have heard the sound of an anguished scream.


Artist and production

The Scream can be analyzed it terms of the context of its initial production, and the life of the artist. Munch was born in 1863, and grew up in Norway's capital Christiania now called Oslo. He was the son of a military doctor, and nephew of a Norwegian historian. Munch's early life was a disastrous affair. His mother and older sister both died of tuberculosis while the only one of his siblings to marry died soon after the event.

Munch himself was frequently ill. He was encouraged to be culturally active, and he used his art to express his feelings about his experiences. He studied under Christian Krohg, Norway's greatest artist at the time, and his early influences were French Realist painters. Around 1889, he became involved with the Kristiania (as Christiania was spelled at this point) bohemians, a group of militant anarchists. Their leader, Hans Jæger, taught Munch about modernism, and encouraged him to paint about the longings and anxieties of the individual. In autumn 1889, his father died. The sadness within Munch's life can be seen to have affected his work.

The Scream was painted using tempera and pastel on board. It depicts, at face value, one central figure who has his/her hands over their ears while two figures walk into the distance. The scenery is a sunset and a sea or river. The brush strokes cause the scene to appear to swirl, giving it a sense of motion.


The Scream is thought of as the first expressionist painting. The Web Museum (2002) defines expressionism as a “movement in fine arts that emphasized the expression of inner experience rather than solely realistic portrayal, seeking to depict not objective reality but the subjective emotions and responses that objects and events arouse in the artist.” Munch's painting does not show a realistic visual interpretation of reality; it is an abstract image, based on his innermost feelings, and attempts to convey his most intimate and terrifying feelings and ...
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