Suffering and Creativity


The March 2006 issue of Smithsonian features an article on Edvard Munch, the emotionally troubled Norwegian artist who became famous for his piece entitled The Scream. The painting, article, and the artist caused me to ponder three questions. (1) The "panicky power and psychological urgency" of the painting has become the picture of our age "– wracked with anxiety and uncertainty." Why has our age become so characterized by anxiety in spite of our more refined standard of living? I think my son put his finger on part of it in his post about Flamenco dance as a sample of what's happening in all art forms. The intimate nature of a personal performance (an encompassing relationship) gives way to a splashy, more sensationalistic production. Mass production on a large scale requires mechanization and that, by definition, is depersonalizing. When people are stripped of their unique personal identity and find themselves "fitting in" only as "production output units" or cogs, they lose their secure base of groundedness and become anxious about the very meaning of their existence. (2) Would he have been more creative if he had been free from his ailments? The article brought out that Munch's fragile physical health was as problematic as his emotional misery. He "had tuberculosis ans spit blood as a boy" and lived with a profound sense of death's imminence. He "sought peace, but drinking heavily and brawling publicly, he failed to find it." In a quarrel with a woman, he shot himself and lost a finger. He never married, but called his paintings his children and would not be separated from them. Over against this tragic life, the article skillfully highlights the genious of his work. (3) Was this sensitive artist entrapped in a web of faulty thinking? I think so. He is quoted in the article as having written:

"Without anxiety and illness, I am a ship without a rudder. . . . My sufferings are part of my self and my art. They are indistinguishable from me, and their destruction would destroy my art."

I think that was as faulty belief on his part. I think his ailments and suffering served to distract him and detract from his full potential. Furthermore, his full creative talents were further thwarted because he carried a heavy load of guilt and did not believe in God. He "could not set himself free from his fear of life and thoughts of eternal life." Had he been right with God, his art would have been even more sensitive and his creative genius set free all the more. My belief is that our sufferings are productive only as we relate them to the sufferings of our Savior in such a way that we can know Him more personally. This whole thing leaves me, though, with a lot of questions about the relationship of suffering and creativity.


3 Responses to Suffering and Creativity

  1. Lisa says:

    Do you think that this painting can be in Church office? I was trying to find an explanation of this
    painting thank you very much for your information

  2. Lisa says:

    Yeah the preacher of our Church have this painting in
    his office, he also have a snake in his house, a frog, white rats, a big thin dog like a greyhound (scary), and he said that he dont have friends. How do you describe his personality? He is making our lives very hard, the elders hire my husband to be his
    assistant but he dont want that, he is jalous of my husband. This person yell at me I feel like nothing one day I was giving thank yous and told me to give thank you to his wife yelling. Never ever anyone did that to me. Thats why I would like to know if he is a dangerous person.

  3. Lee Jagers says:

    Wow, there’s no way to tell if anyone is a “dangerous person” because of what they hang on their wall, but I think it’s safe to say that the picture you paint is very peculiar and depicts a man who doesn’t not like (or trust) people very much. It seems very inconsistent with my view of the role of pastor, which is to shepherd the flock, care for them and sacrifice for the good of the people. You are certainly being true to yourself by not working for someone with whom you are uncomfortable or you don’t feel respected.
    Dr. J.

    PS: Munch’s painting is best viewed in a museum.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: