Memoir IX: Tales of Humanity

“Hindsight is 20/20”, I never really got that phrase. Especially the 20/20 part But if we look at the phrase with the assistance of the internet it means, one can evaluate their past choices more clearly, than at the time of making said choice. The “20/20” part also means having normal/clear vision 20 feet away

We all could make the right decisions if we could travel back in time, but life does not work that way. At times our anxiety can be brought about, by the inevitability of our hindsight telling us, “If only I did this” and that’s the issue with hindsight, it is that smart-ass person who is always right.

Anxiety, on the other hand, is different. It’s that annoying person who is always asking questions. For example, “How would do you do this?” or “What about this?” or “I don’t think you can do this?”.

I remember watching a poem by an artist called Jae Nichelle and she said this about her own anxiety, “Me and my anxiety have inside jokes, like when I say I’ma go talk to that person over there. My anxiety looks at me and is like bitch please”

Anxiety is that best friend who is always irrational, you want to tell them to “shut up” in a serious tone but you cannot because socially that is rude. They are your best friend after all, so you accept them.

Anxiety is always present in our lives, but we should not succumb to its weight.

At times, I wish I could fast forward to 30 years old me and ask myself, “How do I get to this point? Where are we going?”. Because I like knowing where I am heading. But I know the 30 years old me would respond with, “Don’t look at me. Ask yourself, what would you do?”. He would probably say some Sci-fi stuff too. For instance, “No can do, younger me. I don’t want to break the time-space continuum”

As of recently, my anxiety has been at an all-time high. I can feel the pressure of getting “things” right, ensuring my future is safe. You know, getting good grades and getting a good job

The one song I keep on coming back to is Childish Gambino’s “3005” and I love it. From the music video with the teddy bear to the lyrics. People think the song is about a boy declaring his love for a girl, but no! It is much deeper than that and Gambino has said in interviews, the song is about existentialism and the fear of being alone. “I’ll be right by your side, till 3005”. Is Gambino going to be there till the year 3005? No.  I mean, I wish him a long life, but he probably won’t see the year 2105. Gambino’s response to the lyric was, “It’s about me building something with someone that I’ll never see, hence the “3005””, and it is the use of figurative language that resonates with me. Because I’m trying to build something with someone as well, something that will impact our children and their children financially. It’s that fear of not getting that “thing” right, that ultimately plays on my anxiety.

Anxiety has been around since the dawn of man. Many famous people have spoken about their own battles with anxiety and one of the many artists who have done this is Edvard Munch.

Born 12th December 1863, to Christian Munch and Laura Catherine. Edvard Munch was the second born of five children. At just the age of one, Munch and his family moved to Kristiania this place would eventually be renamed Oslo, which is the current capital of Norway. It was here, that his father, would continue his practice of being an army doctor.

At just the age of 5, Munch lost his mother to tuberculosis. The death had a massive impact on his father, and it sent him into a deep depression.

1875 and the family decided to move to a different region in Kristiania. His mother’s sister moved in with them, assuming care of Munch and his siblings. In addition, during this year, Munch was enrolled in Cathedral school. However, due to his poor health, he had to be home-schooled.

But the family’s tragedy was compounded even more and two years later Munch’s older sister died from tuberculosis at just the age of 15.

1878 and due to his father’s wishes, Munch enrolled in the Royal Technical College and studied architecture. Whilst there, Munch showed tremendous talent. But again, due to his health. He was forced to leave.

Once his health was in good shape, Munch decided to pursue a career as an artist. Munch enrolled in Tegneskole, the Royal School of Art and Design. It was here, where Munch honed his skills as an artist.

1882 and the artist decided to rent a studio with six other artists. The seven artists worked together and were supervised by naturalist painter Christian Krohg. With the artist’s guidance, the seven started to learn more about art. They would visit a variety of exhibitions and gradually their views and ideologies were shaped.

A year later Munch’s first big opportunity came, and his work was exhibited at the Air Academy’s Autumn Exhibition. This was the turning point for the artist.

Because in 1884, with the assistance of Christian Krohg; Munch received a scholarship. The following year, he exhibited his work in Antwerp, Netherlands. During 1885, he travelled to Paris and began an affair with a married woman called Milly Thaulow she was the wife of Munch’s distant cousin

However, she ended the relationship after two years. This abrupt end had a profound effect on Munch.

1889 and Munch secured a solo exhibition in his home country, Norway. After the exhibition, the Norwegian government gave the artist a grant and it allowed him to study in Paris.

However, upon his arrival in Paris, Munch learned about his father’s death. The death led the artist into a deep depression, and he spiralled into excessive drinking. He refused to paint for months.

While in Paris, Munch stayed in St. Cloud and it was this location that Munch used for his piece, Night in St Cloud (painted 1890). Munch used this peace to emotionally address the impact of his Father’s Death. We as the viewer see a man sitting in a dark room, staring out into the night sky. This man could be Munch, who is in a pensive state looking into the night sky. This could be him seeking answers about his situation. Because after his father’s death, he became the main provider of his family. To be thrust into a position, such as this and so early in your career, would affect anyone. So, Munch could have seen this a burden, both emotionally and financially. Additionally, during this period; Munch moved away from realistic backgrounds. This was crucial for his future work since it forced the viewer to look at the psychology of his work and less on the situation.

nights in st cloud

The Summer of 1890, Munch returned to Norway and exhibited his work at the Autumn Exhibition in Kristainia. Once finished, Munch returned to Paris in November that year. During the early periods of this decade, Munch’s life revolved between studying in France and exhibiting his work in Norway.

This life of exhibiting his work would continue for years. However, it must be noted, that during this period, Munch’s sister would be hospitalized due to schizophrenia. This and along with a culmination of other experiences affected him too.

Moreover, Munch also began to expand his skills and started to make prints. This was done to attract a greater audience to his work. He would spend his time experimenting with graphic designs.

December 1895, Munch’s brother dies from pneumonia and yet again his mental stability was affected.

If we move away from Munch’s tragedies, we see that the final years of the 19th century were an iconic period for Munch, because he produced his most famous work. For example, The Scream (painted 1893) and Anxiety (painted 1894). These two and along with other pieces would go on to form the series known as “The Freeze of Life”. All these pieces touched on existential topics, such as love, pain and anxiety.

With regards to the Scream, it is one of Munch’s most iconic pieces. Even to this day, it still has a significant impact on our pop culture. For example, “The Silence” in Doctor Who to the movie franchise “Scream”. The Scream is more than a piece involving a screaming person, it delves into the ideas of fear and anxiety. Munch transports the viewer into his own mind, into a realm where everything around him is breaking down. In this piece, the figure holds their head and has their mouth open, these actions are typical gestures seen in someone having a mental breakdown. Whenever we scream, we tend to block out the world and release this primordial roar. The human scream has been used as an emotional release for centuries and here we see Munch displaying this as an internal reaction to the outside world and its pressure.


Anxiety is another piece which touches on Munch’s anxiety. In this piece, we see a girl who appears to be a maid and behind her is a crowd of men in top hats. I believe these men represent the upper class. By Munch using class, age and sex; he is showing the viewer that the girl feels judged and it is this judgement that makes her fearful about her potential actions. We as the viewer can clearly see the girl feels uneasy and depressed. The men, on the other hand, we can see that one is looking at her with disgust. While the other man, we cannot really tell. However, we do not need to see his facial expression. Because as stated before, it is the use of class, age and sex that give us our answer. Moreover, just like “The Scream”, Munch uses the motif of blood-red skies. Munch wrote in one of his diary entries, “As I was walking with my friend, I suddenly felt this gust of sadness and what had appeared to be a beautiful sunset turned into a blood-red sky”. I think both this and the scream touch on the very essence of anxiety. As Anxiety being this thing, that amplifies the imperfections within ourselves. Anxiety makes us focus on the inadequacies in our lives and conjures a future in which these inadequacies reign supreme. Fear of the unknown and fear of failure, these two coupled together are the driving force of anxiety and we see this shown here.

anxiety 1894

Just before the turn of the 20th Century, Munch started a new relationship with a woman called Tulla Larsen, this was in 1898. The first few months were pleasant. But in 1902, Munch ended their relationship. Before the two parted ways, they entered an altercation and it led to Munch getting shot in his left hand. He lost the tip of one of his fingers.

The incident had an extreme effect on Munch, it permanently damaged his self-esteem, he noticed that when anyone shared a table would him, they would be disgusted by the sight of his lost finger. It was this disgust, that made him more anxious than ever. To battle this, Munch always wore gloves.

Nonetheless, Munch resumed his work and continued to travel around Europe exhibiting his art. However at this point, both his physical and mental health had spiralled out of control. Munch was now an alcoholic. It was only until November 1905, that Munch decided to tackle this problem. He chose to stay in Germany and seek treatment for both his mental health and alcoholism, but the rehabilitation was not effective.

During a trip to Copenhagen, Denmark; the artist had suffered from a nervous breakdown and collapsed. Munch was strongly advised to seek help; he had been hallucinating for a while and his left side was partially paralyzed. Munch spent six months in Copenhagen. With the assistance of doctors, he successfully reduced his excessive drinking and his mental health improved.

In 1909, Munch returned to his home country and decided to enter a competition to create a wall of paintings for the University Aula in Kristiania. He was successful and in 1910, he began the paintings. Initially, there was a conflict between Munch and the university, but the paintings were finished and unveiled in 1916.

Moreover, between the year 1910 and 1916, Munch’s work was exhibited internationally. He had exhibitions in San Francisco and New York. He even exhibited his work alongside Picasso. During this period, Munch produced pieces such as the Weeping Nude (painted 1913).

The Weeping Nude is an interesting piece because Munch had multiple relationships but never got married. During his relationship with Tulla Larsen, he deliberately avoided her. So, he could be using this piece to address his fallout with Tulla. Using the title and the emotional state of the woman, Munch could be suggesting to the viewer that this was how Tulla felt after he ended their relationship. Regardless of if it is Tulla Larsen or not, Munch does an excellent job in showing how distraught she is feeling, her body is painted using a lazy and impressionistic style. But by doing this, he makes it clear to the viewer that her body is not the focus but the emotion she depicts. The multicolour background helps as well, again to emphasise the point that us as the viewer should focus on the emotion the woman is depicting.

The Nude 1913

By 1916, Munch had amassed a large amount of money, he decided to buy a small estate in Ekely, Kristiania. Over the years, Munch would build several large outdoor studios that surrounded the property.

1922, Munch was commissioned to paint several murals for the Freia Chocolate Factory in Kristiania. (The murals were placed in the workers’ dining room)

1926 and Munch lost another one of his siblings, this time his sister Laura. Towards the end of the 1920s, Munch would continue to exhibit his work in both America and Europe.

The 1930s had arrived and painting became difficult for Munch, his vision started to deteriorate. He had contracted an eye disease. But this did not stop him, Munch started a series of photographic self-portraits. Even during this decade, Munch would still lose family, his aunt who took care of him died in 1931.

1933 and Munch’s eyesight became even worse, a blood vessel in his right eye had burst. 1933 was also the year Munch officially became a national treasure to his home country. He was awarded the Grand Cross of the Order of St. Olaf. This is a special award, which is only given to foreign royalty and heads of state

With the rise of Hitler in Germany, 1937. 82 of Munch’s work were confiscated and labelled “degenerate”. But instead of being destroyed, Munch’s work was auctioned, multiple Norwegian dealers and collectors desperately tried to keep these pieces within Norway.

With the arrival of World War II, the German forces invaded Norway. Munch refused to flee his home country and decided to stay. Moreover, it was around 1940 that Munch began to draft his will. In it, he stated, that upon his death all his work should be bequeathed to the city of Oslo.

During his final years, Munch began to produce self-portraits, such as a Self-Portrait: Between the Clock and the Bed (painted 1943)

With this piece, we can see an old Munch squashed between a grandfather clock and a bed. If we analyse his body; his arms are limp, he has an uneasy look and an awkward stance. Also, we can see the physical toll that death, rejection and loneliness have had on the artist. Munch appears to be fearful but is passively waiting for his time of death, and this is aided with him standing next to a grandfather clock. Grandfather clocks are symbolic for the passing of time. Overall, what we can learn from the piece, is that the artist is apologising to the viewer for his own existence.

Self-Portrait - Between the Clock and the Bed

But even at an old age, the artist still exhibited his work and he still had an appetite for producing art.

But on the year he turned 80, Munch caught a cold which he never recovered from and on January 23rd, 1944, he died. In total, Munch left around 1150 paintings, 17,800 prints, 4500 watercolour drawings and 13 sculptures. In addition, he left his writing and literary notes.

Munch was an individual who projected his emotions on to the canvas. His art told a story about his own tragedies in his life. Munch once said, “Without anxiety and illness, I am a ship without a rudder. (…) My sufferings are part of myself and my art. They are indistinguishable from me, and their destruction would destroy my art.”. Munch never saw his mental health as something negative. Instead, he saw his depression and anxiety as his own fuel.

Towards the later years of Munch’s life, he was constantly living in this air of anxiety, but he always kept his focus. He was always exhibiting his work around Europe and America. Munch did something profound to the world of art, he emotionally changed it forever. He opened the conversation for artists to use their art to communicate their own feelings. Munch delved into the saddest parts of his own life. But most importantly, his art discussed the tales of humanity.

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