Saturday, March 20, 2010

Art podcast of the Day- Edvard Munch

From BBCs In Our Time;

First exhibited in 1893 in Berlin, The Scream was the culmination of Munch's magnum opus, a series of paintings called The Frieze of Life. This depicted the course of human existence through burgeoning love and sexual passion to suffering, despair and death, in Munch's highly original, proto-expressionist style.

His titles, from Death in the Sickroom, through Madonna to The Vampire, suggest just how directly and unironically he sought to depict the anxieties of late-19th century Europe.

But against all Munch's images, it is The Scream which stands out as the work which has seared itself into the Western imagination. It remains widely celebrated for capturing the torment of existence in what appeared to many in Munch's time to be a frightening, godless world.

Munch himself endured a childhood beset by illness, madness and bereavement. At 13, he was told by his father that his tuberculosis was fatal. But he survived and went on to become a major figure first in the Norwegian, then the European, avant-garde.

He became involved with two of the great playwrights of the period. He collaborated with his fellow countryman Henrik Ibsen and became a close friend of the tempestuous Swede August Strindberg. He admired the work of Post-Impressionist painters such as Paul Gauguin and Vincent van Gogh and the philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche, all of whom influenced his art.

Munch's own influence resonated through the 20th century, from German Expressionism to Andy Warhol and beyond. His work, particularly The Scream, remains powerful today.

Download the podcast

Painting by Words- a Tyler Cowan review of The new edition of van Gogh's letters;
Time and again, the reader wonders just how much van Gogh and his brother trust each other. In the letter of August 14, 1879, for instance, he complains that Theo has advised him to give up his quest to be an artist. "And, joking apart, I honestly think it would be better if the relationship between us were more trusting on both sides," van Gogh suggests, before apologizing for the possibility that so much of the family sorrow and discord have been caused by him. These look and sound like letters to his brother, but in essence we are reading fund-raising proposals....

So what did van Gogh see as his own strengths and weaknesses? In an early letter to Theo (May 8, 1875), he quotes Renan: "Man is not placed on the earth merely to be happy; nor is he placed here merely to be honest, he is here to accomplish great things through society, to arrive at nobleness, and to outgrow the vulgarity in which the existence of almost all individuals drags on." This is a vision he lived. But at what cost? In one of his late letters to his brother (July 2, 1889), van Gogh says that he was "infinitely too harsh . . . in claiming that it was better to love painters than paintings." The reader now has to ask similar questions. Van Gogh becomes less likable and more lovable, more familiar and yet somehow ever stranger. In reading and studying these books, we can at once achieve both ends.

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