As I teach this course one last time, I’ll focus on that center of gravity that Arthur represents. And who knows, maybe one day in the future, I’ll work him back in to the curriculum.
That’s not true—just not what I had in mind to do. I had great plans for a sabbatical project and some travel and a last hurrah of a summer before my institution converts from a quarter system to a semester system next year, and we go back to school in mid-August, rather than late September.
So that guy. I always thought he was so dark and creepy, I didn’t really like him. I am quite a sunshiny optimist, really. But an exhibition is a funny thing—it presents a scope of a person’s life like a biography or a long night of storytelling—and by the time I left, I was a hardcore Munch fan.
Once you’ve seen the artist through his own eyes, you’re ready to see the rest. What the portraits taught me was how he became the creator of The Scream. There were paintings of sick beds (he lost his sister and mother to tuberculosis when he was young) and paintings of houses with lurid skies. You could feel them almost as much as you could see them. The blurbs telling us of his traumatic loss and battles with mental and physical illnesses were almost superfluous.
That seems a worthwhile goal, though—figuring ourselves out. Whether we paint or write or psychoanalyze ourselves, knowing is better than not knowing ourselves. It’s worth it to take stock of where we are and where we’ve been, so we can determine where we want to go next. And after this closer look at Munch’s work, part of me will wonder at every stage, how would I paint this in to my self-portrait?
(In addition to my panoply of Screams, I collect here Self-Portrait with Cigarette 1895, Self-Portrait After the Spanish Flu 1909, Self-Portrait with Bottles 1938, and Self-Portrait Between the Clock and the Bed 1938.)