a scream

Edvard Munch, The Scream, 1893

Tempera on panel, 32 7/8 x 26 inches

Munch Museum, Oslo

Lesson Model

This lesson model deals with the problem of interpretation by an artist and by the viewer of that artist's work. Munch's scream has become a virtual cliche as a work of art, showing up in keychains and life-size inflatable dolls. The original work of art stays alive within and despite every reproduction and reincarnation. The work retains its original potency as well, strengthened, in fact, by the use made of it by others. Herein might be said to be found genuine originality. What is it about "The Scream" that requires so much repeating?

The lesson idea developed here follows another person affected by Munch [Amy Kuech Martin] who uses Munch's work out of its original context. The same has often been done in literature. Consider, for example, the idea of a play within a play (e.g. Pirandello's Six Characters in Search of an Author or Shakespeare's Hamlet). Or the appearance of a character from an earlier poem (Odysseus perhaps) showing up in a later one (Dante's Inferno xxvi or Tennyson or Graves). This is a commonplace, but the experience for a reader is an important one and can be strengthened. Ms. Martin finds many other uses for the image. That is the purpose behind this investigation of "a scream".

There are thirteen postcard-size photo-collages to investigate. We suggest that each student evaluate each of the twelve as a problem solution. What was the problem? How does "The Scream" figure in the solution? This should be the basis for a good seminar discussion. We urge students to return often to Munch's original. The "titles" of the separate images are also problematic and open for discussion. Do they fit the images? Who made them up? Do they tell a "story"? What is their proper order?

A writing project to follow this seminar would ask students to discover other "problems" that might use a scream as part of the solution. It is to be expected that they will insist that many uses of the scream have little to do with the original painting or with "problems". But, if they persevere, if they then collect and compare their various applications, they will come to appreciate the possible impacts of a work of art (or well-turned verse) on one's life and community and to add a wider meaning to the terms "problem" and "solution" as well.

Link to Scream Gallery