Blossom of Pain
A stream of blood pours from the chest of the man. It pools at the base of the flower, nourishing its growth. The blossom’s tapered petals are like droplets of blood.
Edvard Munch’s Blossom of Pain is a striking work of art. The man in the woodcut bears Munch’s features and is the closest one might have to an artistic credo of his work. David Gariff, curator of the Dialogues exhibit, writes, “Art is created from the lifeblood of the artist, like the beautiful flower, which shoots up from the earth next to the suffering man.”
In comparison to other woodcuts, the background of the piece is barely carved. The thick, black marks left by the relatively few cuts preserve the grain of wood beneath the ink. The grain of wood represents the very muscles of the suffering Artist; his tense and sinewy neck is like the knotted, twisted texture of a branch. The few cuts in the background are drops of blood or tears raining from the sky. The technique and style of the piece is surprisingly organic and violently contrasts the surrealism of the image itself.
The Artist arches his back in pain, one hand against his head and the other pressed against his chest from where the blood seeps. His muscled torso, tense and pained, is set in dramatic opposition to the slender, elegant stem of the young flower. They are connected by a thin stream blood. Yet the hand over the Artist’s chest does not appear to forcefully hold back the stream of blood, but merely rests upon the chest. His arched back does not clench inward like one who holds their clenching stomach in tormenting pain. Instead, his body stretches outward and open, allowing the blood to flow freely and into the earth. He embraces the pain.
Even though he suffers, the Artist freely gives his life to that which is nourished by his dying body – that is, his artwork. As his body sinks into the earth, the delicate blossom of his art rises. Intriguingly, Munch sets the flower higher that the man. Perhaps at some point in his life, the art rises above Artist. Perhaps at some point, the Artist will sink entirely into the earth and nourishing the blossom with the last of his blood, will cease to exist completely. But then perhaps he will live through the art, become the art itself. The Artist suffers; yet through his suffering or because he suffers, he lives. From the Artist’s pain his art grows and blossoms into something that is more than himself as a man or as an artist. It becomes something that is living.
The Artist’s suffering is both pain and joy – pain as he dies for his art, joy as he lives again incarnate in the blossom of his own blood.
Holly Huey – St. John’s College student
Photo credit: Edvard Munch, Blossom of Pain, 1898