Reinhold Heller comments on the psychological content of Munch’s The Scream :
“Psychologists since Freud have been fascinated with the degree to which an artist’s work reflects his personality; notably [Carl Gustaf] Jung and his followers have sought to find in art the symbols of man’s numerous neuroses. And Munch has proved a popular subject for their study because the subjectivity of his visions is so blatantly presenting. Accordingly, the work of art becomes viewed as a translation and objectivization of subjective content into universally comprehensible and lasting symbols, i.e. a non-verbal image which communicates a meaning not verbally expressible. The pathological content of The Scream is then recognized as the fear of the loss of self-integrity, the fear of being incorporated into the environment. [Stanisław] Przybyszewski*and other critics of the 1890s...already discovered this meaning in the painting, so that it is less significant to retrace the reasoning of the psychologists than it is to analyze how Munch captured his near-psychotic sensation and why his contemporaries, as well as many other viewers, instinctively recognized what he was saying....A highly introspective personality, he was at the same time unusually receptive to sensual stimuli, both visual and tactile, to the point where he could identify almost totally with the sources of these stimuli. At its greatest intensity, in erotic sensations, this receptivity appeared to him to result in a loss of identity in the other reality. The extreme tension existing between his intensified drive towards self-preservation and the threat located in an external separate existence bringing ego-destroying communicative experiences from the realm of the sensual led him to depict this subjective experience, to create a personal reality which could withstand the pressure of objective reality existing outside him.”
* Stanisław Przybyszewski (1868-1927) was a Polish bohemian intellectual. He and his wife, Norwegian actress Dagny Juel, were the centers of the Zum schwarzen Ferkel (Black Piglet) circle in Berlin to which Munch and August Strindberg belonged. He was a co-founder of the journal Pan.
Reinhold Heller, Edvard Munch: The Scream (London: Penguin Press, 1973), pp. 89-90.
Michelle Facos situates Munch’s The Scream in the context of contemporary philosophy:
“The interpenetration of individual and environment expressed in Scream reflected Munch’s belief in Monism – a philosophy that dismisses the dualistic oppositions of body and soul, mind and matter, as figments of a stunted imagination. Championed by Emanuel Swedenborg, Monism gained popularity in the 1880s through the writings of Ernst Haeckel, who legitimized it by linking it to the evolutionary theories of Charles Darwin....Haeckel illustrated the interrelationship of all life and its evolution from a common ancestor, the ‘moner,’ in his tree of life, in which humans appear as the most highly evolved form of life.”
Michelle Facos, Symbolist Art in Context (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 2009), 80-1.
Øivind Storm Bjerke comments on the painting’s title:
“The title The Scream has become the main basis for interpreting the painting, but the title alone is a narrow frame of reference. Using this title as the main basis for interpretation raises the risk of transforming the painting from an open, Symbolist work to an emblem symbolizing the act of screaming. In his article on Munch from 1896, Sigbørn Obstfelder calls the artist a ‘poet in color’; he sees ‘grief and screams and brooding and decay in color.’ Obstfelder criticizes the use of titles for Munch’s painting: ‘He has paintings that much like symphonies do not need and should not have a title. There should never have been a title for the painting The Scream. This term from the world of sound serves only to bungle things.’”
Øivind Storm Bjerke, Edvard Munch/Harald Sohlberg: Landscapes of the Mind. Exhibition catalogue (New York: National Academy of Design), 1995.