The rawness of pain and loss

Love and Angst runs at the British Museum until 21 July.

I had the privilege of visiting this exhibition on its opening weekend. I have never really had the patience for art, much to the chagrin of my various art teachers in school. However, there is something about ‘The Scream’ which has always caught my attention and I felt compelled to see it first-hand.  

Far from being a secondary school modern art lesson, this exhibition is a lesson in the expression of emotion through different art techniques. Most of Munch’s artworks are made using prints and the original wooden carvings to make the prints are available in the exhibition. What makes this so wonderous, is that Munch manages to capture emotions which are often intangible using these carved print techniques.  

The exhibition works through Munch’s own emotional discoveries, starting with artworks reflecting a conflict between desire and fearing the power of women. At the time (1863–1944) this placed him as ‘radical thinker’ and he spent much of his time with women and men who believed that the role of women in society should change. Once he met his wife, his art became bright and colourful, indicating the love that he felt for his partner.  

More intriguing to my mind, however, is what comes next. Munch and his wife separate, a young member of his family perishes, and he suffers and struggles. His artworks are now full of sadness, fear and pain. What Munch achieves, is to use his print technique to illustrate the facial and physical expression of emotional pain without the mask that we often use to cover the hurt we feel inside. Grief, anxiety, sadness and fear are difficult emotions to capture – our individual expressions, combined with our learnt coping strategies, make these emotions challenging to pin down. As observers we are drawn to these images – with The Scream just one amongst many – because Munch replicates the rawness of anxiety, pain and loss in the moment before we have a chance to conceal it.

- Reviewed by Ciara Wild, a chartered psychologist with Her Majesty’s Prison and Probation Service

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