The Scream by Edvard Munch - Art-Piece Analysis Essay

Published: 2023-01-16
The Scream by Edvard Munch - Art-Piece Analysis Essay
Type of paper:  Essay
Categories: Arts
Pages: 7
Wordcount: 1771 words
15 min read


At first glance of The Scream by Edvard Munch, an individual is likely to notice a hairless, light individual who appears to be distressed with a head like an inverted pear. The hands are clasped in horror to the ears, eyes, and mouth are wide open. The skull-shaped head, wide eyes, and mouth and hands that are covering the ears seem to communicate to the audience that this figure has experienced a fearful sound that he or she does not want to hear again (Aspden). Although the individual is scared, it seems as if the figure on the foreground is the only who is scared as the other figures in the background seem to be oblivious to what he or she is experiencing at the moment. Unlike the two figures disappearing in the background which are drawn in straight lines, the figure in the front ground appears to be curvy as if it is in motion. The sky is orange as if it during the sunset, or something is burning in the landscape as only there are parts of what seems to be a land that is orange (perhaps it is a beach). The waters in the sea appear to be chaotic as if there is a large tide that is forming. Also, there is no vegetation cover in this image. The three figures are standing on a bridge, and lastly, there is an orange vertical line at the right side of the art piece.

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Historical Information

The Scream was created by Edvard Munch in 1893. The original scenery or location that is depicted in this art piece is the Oslo-fjord that overlooks Oslo. It is also close to both a slaughterhouse and a lunatic asylum where his sister Laura Catherine was a patient. Munch created four versions of this painting, pastels and a lithograph stone. There have been different theories that have been used to justify his inspiration for drawing this masterpiece such as that this drawing was an actual event that he recorded in his diary on 22nd January 1892 (Aspden). It is also assumed that this painting was influenced by events that occurred in Munch's life such as losing his mother and eldest sister to Tuberculosis when he was a child. He also suffered from illnesses in his adult life, never married and described his art pieces as his children.

Analysis of the Visual Elements and Principles of Design

The visual elements that the artist used in this artwork are a mix of straight and wavy lines and complementary colors-blue and orange and black and shades of whites. There are bold curved lines of the sky that flow directly into the figure, which is the focal point of this piece and continue to form the body of the individual. This element is representative of feelings of drama, uneasiness, chaos, and madness ("Visual Analysis of Edvard Munch's The Scream"). It is important to point out that the curvy bold lines not only form the body of the individual, but they also shape the landscape, which could be interpreted as representations of the forces that are weighing down on the individual. Also, while the straight lines of the road pass underneath the dominant figure, the straight lines of the railing seem to be pierced and continue through the individual ("Visual Analysis of Edvard Munch's The Scream"). Unlike the wavy lines, these straight lines are depicted in a manner that they stand apart from both the figure and the landscape. Although they seem to be bringing about a sense of order in this chaos, they are also moving away and fading into the distance.

The wavy lines that form both the sky and the landscape seem to be in motion and are carrying the piercing scream from the chaotic surroundings into the figure. These wavy lines provide the impression of an actual scream that the artist intended his audience to not only witness it through the figure's reaction but to also experience it from a visual perspective ("Visual Analysis of Edvard Munch's The Scream"). The use of straight lines particularly in the bridge depicts the separation of the three human figures in this art piece. In addition to that, the faceless upright figures in the background have a similar geometric precision of the bridge, and the curvy lines on the foreground-the figure's body are similar to the curving shapes-landscape and sea that dominate the background landscape. While the use of a mix of straight and curved lines is considered to be the strongest element illustrating the mood of the painting, color choices and strategic placement of light and shadow add to the emotional appeal in this scene.

The use of complementary colors, orange in the sky and dark blue and black in the landscape and sea makes the scene to appear dark and gloomy (Friedlaender and Friedlaender 202). The sky appears as if it is burning because of the orange color, while the black and blue hues of the land and sea are associated with sadness and depression. The contrast between the light, pale face and the dark body was strategically used to draw the audience's eyes to the focal point of the painting (Friedlaender and Friedlaender 202). The figure seems to be surrounded by darkness, which it seems the figure is unable to escape. A shadow is cast by the landscape. Light appears in the distance where the two figures in the background seem to be moving towards.

Another visual element that contributes to the mood depicted in this art piece is the artist use of simplified and distorted figures. The three human figures and the surrounding landscape are not overly detailed. It is difficult to determine if the main figure is that of a man or a woman as it appears to be sexless. It may have been designed in this manner to create an appeal to both genders on what the artist was communicating to his audience. In addition to that, the distorted images in this painting seem to add to the effect of instability and chaos (Prideaux and Munch). The vast and majorly empty background space represent a sense of isolation and fear that the figure in this painting seems to be experiencing. This is illustrated by the use of lines at the bridge that shows the distance between the main figure and the two figures in the background and also the main figure appears to be larger than the ones at the background, which signifies that it is closer to the audience than the two figures at the background (Prideaux and Munch).

The principles of design that is incorporated by the artist are a balance. The use of balance assists the audience to understand the significance of this painting. The frightful figure who seems motionless surrounded by darkness is placed in the foreground and a sense of balance is achieved by placing two small figures at the background, who seems to be walking towards the light (Prideaux and Munch). The use of contrasting elements also creates a sense of balance. The straight lines in the painting seem to be balancing the wavy lines. Also, the cold colors (black and blue) seem to balance the warm colors (yellows and shades of white).

Interpretation of the Content

In human beings, the sense of sight is one of the most important sense, and it is considered to be more developed than the others. People tend to use sight more than the other senses, and this appears to be what the artist took advantage of, ensuring that people 'see' the scream. What individuals is conditioned by what they know, which provides them with a sense of understanding of a situation. The artist is expressing his feelings using visual effects. It is not a realistic visual interpretation of reality, but an abstract image that shows his inner thoughts and feelings. He uses art to convey his most terrifying feelings to the audience. A walk with friends while experiencing a beautiful sunset at a beach, which is normally viewed as a beautiful experience is transformed into dread, anguish, chaos and a sense of hopelessness by the artist.

Intentions of the Artist and What is Being Communicated

The artist uses a sexless figure to depict that human anguish and pain transcends gender. People from all walks of life are susceptible to feeling abandoned, depressed, hopeless, and are prone to fear or feeling afraid. Interestingly, the artist uses things such as walking with friends on a beach as the sun is setting. Such scenes have been romanticized in movies and novels, and depict a sense of happiness. However, the artist seems to be communicating that even when people are exposed to the ideal or fantasies of life such as walking by the beach as the sun sets with friends, one can still feel lonely and it is highly likely that the friends may not notice the anguish and the pain that a person is experiencing at a particular period. Even if they were to notice, they may not care enough or understand the situation, which means that they will go on with their lives while their friends or loved ones are suffering in silence. It also seems that the artist is communicating to the audience that a sense of hopelessness seems to make individuals motionless, stuck in a dark place, and the only way to get out is to move towards the light.

Value of the Art-Piece and Aesthetic Quality of the Work

The painting incorporates an existentialist approach, which points out that human beings are susceptible to anguish. The artist can portray human emotion through the use of art. Edvard Munch in Scream is cautioning his audience against suffering in silence. While there are individuals who can disguise their anxiety, or any form of emotional pain and appear to be functioning in a normal manner, there are suffering inside, and fail to enjoy the best things in life. The artist seems to be stating that for such people, even when they are exposed things that a majority of individuals dream of, they are unable to have fun because of internal torments. They are lonely and feel abandoned even when their family members and friends are around.

Works Cited

Aspden, Peter. ""So, what does 'The Scream' mean?". Financial Times." 21 Apr. 2012.

Friedlaender, Gary E., and Linda K. Friedlaender. "Edvard Munch and The Scream." Clinical Orthopaedics and Related Research, vol. 476, no. 2, 2018, pp. 200-202.

Prideaux, S., and Edvard Munch. "Behind the Scream. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press." 2012.

"Visual Analysis of Edvard Munch's The Scream." YouTube, 25 Nov. 2017,

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