Last week, I wrote about the iconic painter Vincent van Gogh and how he used art to confront personal challenges. With the start of the spring season, the vivid detail of van Gogh’s paintings made me think about his glorious works of nature, most notably his painting Irises. Van Gogh’s interpretation of simple, yet beautiful, aspects of nature is remarkable. Artists, like all of us, see so many of the same things in unique and special ways.
My favorite artistic works are those that don’t tell us what we are seeing or what the artist intended for us to feel. The best part about a great piece of art is when the artist leaves just enough breadcrumbs for aficionados, as well as novices, to imagine their own story about the work examined.
The way we derive meaning and intention from art was the focal point of a recent article about Edward Munch’s famous painting The Scream, pictured below. A new exhibit at the British Museum, Edvard Munch: Love and Angst, shed new light on this generational work.
Until now, most people have interpreted the figure in The Scream to be of a screaming person. Yet there is another new viewpoint about what the person is experiencing. Munch may have intended for the person to be hearing a scream, not yelling one. In an inscription on the lithograph of the work, Munch wrote, “I felt the great scream throughout nature.” While walking with friends, Munch recorded that this moment in time captured his anxiety and self-doubt as he heard those screams of nature.
Regardless if you think this person is hearing or yelling a scream, the debate surrounding the interpretation of this painting reveals an important detail: art and other forms of creative expression are experienced in more ways than one.
There is a unique story behind this painting that brings new meaning to this work. Behind every work of art and form of creative expression is a story that may provide confounding, surprising or extraordinary insights into the human experience. Moreover, when we enjoy a piece of art, we should think deeply about the function of storytelling. What is the artist trying to say? What was his/her personal experience? What may have been happening in this work that goes beyond the medium?
We can always seek to gain more understanding and perspective. Even when we think we know everything about a work of art, there is almost always more than just the eye can see.
© Tyra Manning 2019