Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Art and Nature: The Scream of Nature by Edvard Munch (2 of 3)

Negative space is used differently, as well, in the two paintings.  In the 1910 version, positive space overwhelms the painting allowing no rest for the eye.  What negative space that exists highlights the screaming face.  What relief the eye seeks is thwarted by directing it to the unsettling face.  In contrast, the negative space of the 1893 version settles the eye and gives it time to take in the scene.  However, the negative space created by the clothing and sea gives a sense of balance to the screaming face.  These negative spaces allow the painting a sense of gravitas, and cement the incident in our time and space.

In both versions, the emphasis is on the screaming figure.  The straight lines of the path and railing take the eye directly to the figure.  Moving along these lines, the eye becomes focused on the witnesses who seem detached from the scene.  The curved lines then force the eye back to the screaming head.  There is no escaping the agony of the scream from that soul.

Balance is achieved by the three point triangle of the two witnesses, the bulge of the sea, and the screaming figure.  (In buildings, triangles provide the greatest stability to structures.)  However, this triangle of the painting is inverted with the apex as the screamer.  Since the triangle is inverted, a sense of unease and precariousness permeates the painting.  However the triangle does create a sense of unity to the picture.  It settles the observer enough to see the scene and feel its impact.  The triangle also solidifies the proportions of the art work which are slightly askew.  Because of its inverted qualities, the triangle fools the eye into believing that everything is natural relative to each other.  Also, it allows a certain sense of calmness to pervade the artwork.

Also, the two versions differ greatly in their rhythms.  Although their patterns are similar with alternating light and dark stripes, each one pulsates at a different tempo.  In the 1893 version, the colors move quietly much like a mellow jazz tempo with the riffs being the circles around the screamer’s head and the point of land in the sea.  In addition, the straight lines provide the solid bass tempo, whilst the crashing waves give the staccato beat.  The witnesses act as a counterpoint to the screaming figure.  The rhythm of the 1893 version is calm but relentless.

The rhythm of the 1910 version reminds me of the music of Bella Bartok (Hungarian, 1881-1945).  The pulse is not the usual 4/4 time but a freakish 5/4 time.  It is contains dissonant rising and falling along with the cacophony of music.  There is a melody but it is one of the twelve-tone scale rather than the customary eight-tone one.  The eye and the ear find it hard to follow, but they are impelled to do so.  The waves of blues and purples crash against the oranges and yellow greens of the path.  The witnesses become loud cymbals to emphasize the screaming face.  The straight lines provide the bass rhythm that throbs under the wild syncopation of the curving lines.  The rhythm increases in volume until the observer is drawn into pounding essence of the screaming.  Then the scream erupts inside of the observer, and overwhelms them. 

Both versions focus on the anguish of the soul with the two on-lookers as witnesses to its breaking.  Because the 1893 version placed the incident in the here and now, the artwork attains a certain sense of gravitas.  The 1893 version reflects Munch’s own anguish of his own soul cracking open.  We feel as Munch did at that place and moment of time.  Moreover, the dark tones of the colors give a factual grounding for his time of panic.

In contrast, the 1910 version has no details for us to grab onto.  The swirling clouds and abstract sea combine to convey a sense of free floating anxiety.  The two witnesses become black crows ready to feast on the shattering soul.  The lack of facial features and the dramatically waving lines gives this emotion of total despair an otherworldliness.   The straight lines running through the screaming figure pierce the soul and pin it down.  The swirling, wavy figure then becomes us. 

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