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Psychology Of Edvard Munch Essay, Research Paper

Edvard Munch

Edvard Munch was born on December 12, 1863, in Loten, Norway. When Edvard was only five years old, he helplessly watched his mother die of tuberculosis. Soon there after, Edvard’s older sister, Sophie, hemorrhaged to death from the same disease; she was only 15 years old. His father was a stern man who died when Edvard was 27. His younger sister was diagnosed with mental illness, and his brother, Andreas, died when Evard was 32 years old. Additionally, Edvard was an alcoholic by the time he was 28; moreover, his mental health was beginning to destabilize at age 33.

Edvard had a difficult time dealing with life s tragedies. He often isolated himself from family and friends during childhood and adolescence, and continued this pattern through his adult life. He avoided interactions and forming close relationships with others. His only love relationship ended with a gun blast that blew off two of his fingers. As an adult artist, he painted reoccurring themes of his childhood nightmares and torment; however, he rarely attended any of his art exhibits. He saw life as dreadful and took no pleasure in activities. At age 42, Edvard sought treatment for his anguish at many health spas.

In the case of Munch, he would fit the profile of a person suffering from anxiety, more specifically social phobia generalized type, an Axis I disorder. He always felt shy and uncomfortable around his family and acquaintances as well as strangers. Since he has chose self-isolation through his life, beginning in late childhood, he would also meet the criteria for an Axis II; his schizoid personality disorder had been chronic. A blood vessel burst in one of his eyes and a few years prior a cyst had damaged the other, resulting in legal blindness, Edvard was added to Axis III. On Axis IV, psychosocial stress was not a symptom of his disorders but undoubtedly made them worse. Although he appeared to have no maladaptive functioning in his professional life, his personal life was only moderately adaptive. His overall functioning level on Axis V would be a conservative 65.

The DSM-IV criteria for social phobia generalized type, occasionally called social anxiety disorder, is extremely and painful shyness in almost all social situations. (Barlow, Durarnd 1999 p136) Because Munch felt an overwhelming since of being critically judged by his peers, he could not bring himself to attend many of his own art exhibits. His shyness extended within his own family. Although his family loved and supported him, he constantly rejected closeness with them.

Schizoid personality disorder is in Cluster A (odd or eccentric) disorder featuring a pervasive pattern of detachment from social relationships and a restricted range of expression or emotions. The DSM-IV explains that not everyone with a schizoid personality disorder is insensitive to the opinions of others; rather, they are just unwilling or unable to express this emotion. For these people, social isolation may be extremely painful (Barlow, Durarnd 1999cp 382). Fellow artist has stated that in one glance Edvard s paintings communicate more than his words ever could. Most who knew him said he only expressed emotions through his craft. However, a friend, Christian Skredsvig, , says when talking about his past Edvard felt sad and uneasy (WWW).

Alcohol had been problematic for him since his late teen years. According to reports, however, he did not reach Jellinek s (Barlow, Duran p 347) chronic stage but rather the crucial stage. He was drinking and out of control the night his fingers were shot off. He began to seriously abuse alcohol at age 24. The same year his father passed away. Although his father accepted him, Edvard was very aware of his father s disappointment about him becoming an artist. The relationship between the two had never developed. After his mother died, an aunt more or less raised him. His father s support came merely via money. The alcoholism replaced his grief.

His never-ending self-induced loneliness might have brought life to his paintings but brought an inner sadness to his life. While his work was greatly acclaimed by it, it was a detriment to his personal relationships. In other words, the way he adapted his cognitive and emotional states to his work actually, for art s sake, improved its function; however, these same mental states were maladaptive to the functioning of his daily personal life.

Additionally, Edvard displays some traits of depression. He had frequent anhedonia episodes were he had no interest or the ability to experience any pleasure from life, including interactions with family or friends and accomplishments at work (B D p184). He would most likely fit into the category of a dysthymic disorder. His depressive symptoms were milder and of longer duration than those of major depressive disorder; he showed signs of anhedonia throught his entire life.

In 1908, Edvard was hospitalized for anxiety. It was reported that he had had a nervous breakdown. By this time, he had already been to several health spas in search of a cure or maybe in search of peace in mind, following the Hippocratic-Galenic idea that he had to get his humors back in balance. The doctors also diagnosed him as having depression; unfortunately, no sublevel or subcategory was mentioned. Although one could outwardly observe his traits of anhedonia, he never reported having delusions or hallucinations associated with schizophrenia; nevertheless, the treatment received was electroshock therapy. This must have been one of the earliest cases because according to Barlow and Durand, authors of the text Abnormal Psychology, the biological treatments for psychopathology began to emerge in the 1920s.

He was released after eight months. If you look at his artwork before and than after therapy, one might conclude it did bring some relief to his emotional instability and torment. His most famous paintings, depicting fear, hopelessness and aloneness and the theme of misery and the preoccupation with life’s dismal side, were completed before he received professional help. Later works presented more realistic characters in tune with nature, but still not quite in perfect harmony.

I chose to write about the life of Edvard Munch because I found not only his professional work intriguing but also his personal existence most fascinating. Here was a young man that faced unspeakable heartbreaks as a child and endured them through his artistic therapy. I say he endured them because I believe he never fully dealt with the problem of intrusive thoughts of his childhood. Although Edvard’s childhood home was culturally invigorating, his compositions repeatedly reverted back to the painful childhood memories of illness, psychosis, death and grief. They were saturated with dark sexuality and morbid death. However, I wonder without these dreadful childhood experiences, in what style and fashion would his artistic talents have surfaced? Would we only be able to appreciate the essence of his later work? Strong colors, striving for harmony, Mother Nature’s beauty. Munch brought to light what many people were not ready to see and admit existed, to some extent, within each of them: fear, loneliness, paranoia, sadness.

Munch’s convulsed and tortuous art was formed by the misery and conflicts of his time, and, even more important, by his own unhappy life. Childhood tragedy, intense and dramatic love affairs, alcoholism, and ceaseless traveling are reflected in his works.


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