|Munch's The Scream.
The poem was on the frame of one of the pastel versions of the painting
I only found this out recently when a pastel version of said work was auctioned off at Sotheby's to an unnamed buyer for $120m (£74m). Which made ME want to scream, too. But let me deal first with the reason, or reasons, for my incredulousness.
I'd always thought that The Scream had been born out of horror, not amazement at nature. I'd always been under the impression that the figure holding his (I've also always believed it was a bloke, right? Unless early 90s Sinead O' Connor had a doppelganger in Norway in the 1800s) face on that bridge had just seen his worst nightmare walking towards him at a Usain Bolt-like pace. Never did it cross my mind that a "sky turned blood red" and "tongues of fire" could inspire terror. Unless one was to find onself on top of a volcano, of course.
However, a couple of days after I'd read the news about the auction in the paper, I happened to be at home listening to Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata whilst looking out of the windows in my lounge. The sun was setting down and it'd been raining quite a lot before. I was just noticing how tall the grass had grown on account of the endless showers we'd just had recently when all of a sudden the sky became a dark, threatening red. The type that presages storms. Or Armageddon, if I were to get really biblical. And yet, I couldn't take my eyes off it. For the next few minutes, nature turned into a Jackson Pollock and threw as many colours as it could at this hitherto grey, grim, vast canvas. Violets mixed with purples, auburns danced with bronzes and crimsons flirted with pinks. It didn't rain. At least, insofar as water falling from the sky, but colours did pour down.
Beethoven's masterpiece was still playing when this polychromatic invasion finished. What I'd just experienced helped me understand what Munch had tried to say with The Scream. On that bridge that evening he'd been witness to one of those rare "eureka moments" nature comes up with every now and then.
You can watch a sunset everyday of your life and appreciate the beauty of it, but not be completely bowled over by it. What I mean is that you're full aware that the twilight will always be there because night follows day. Nature cannot conjure up a magical sunset everyday, and it's aware of it. Pretty ones, yes, but otherworldly? That's a tall order.
However, once in a while, it has a creative moment. And this moment usually follows an impasse. A lull, a period of inactivity or "normality". And then, this revelatory instant catches you unawares. It could be a majestic rainbow after heavy rain, the bluest of blue whilst on a trip to the ocean or a birds chorus waking you up at dawn in the middle of London (it does happen, you know). Whatever the situation, nature has treated you to a special occasion.
Munch grabbed that occasion and regurgitated it in The Scream. And that's what art is sometimes, an act of regurgitation, of giving something back, not just to nature but also to the people by whom we're surrounded. Munch's The Scream was his way of shouting: "I know you won't be able to see this sun setting and these tongues of fire, but I can and I'm telling you that right now, this minute, there's nothing more beautiful on earth". That night I finally got it and it made me want to scream, too. But first I needed to finish listening to Beethoven.
Next Post: “Food, Music, Food, Music, Food, Music… Ad Infinitum”, to be published on Wednesday 30th May at 11:59pm (GMT)