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.