Not Another Coffee Table Book. Munch.

I love this book. I am drawn to books about artists. I want to know how other people, whether they were painters or sculptors or writers, lived the solitary life. Some did it in suffering. Some did not. Munch suffered. I’d like to see the paradigm of the tortured artist shift; to see more artists find freedom in their expression rather than having it beget more pain. It begs the question: does art have to come from pain in the first place? Can’t it come out of love and celebration and receiving the beauty of creation? I do not have the answer and there doesn’t need to be one. I only know that I am better for reading books like this which so deeply bring me along the empathic journey of a man’s passion for his art. With so many stacks of books in my office and nightstand and living room, I find that I need books with visuals. To move out of words and into images. This book is a perfect balance of both. It gives visuals as it gives wisdom. It’s not a coffee table book. It is the work of an art historian who, like certain doctors, has not detatched, but rather has moved further into her subject, if you will. When it comes to art historians, I want them to show me and then tell me what they know, in a language I can understand, as a result of all their years of passion in their field yes, but also as the humans that they are. Thanks to Jay Clarke, I feel like I know Munch now. I have had this book next to my writing desk for the last year. I refer to it often. It helps me to know the heart language of this man, behind his art. And in-so-doing, it helps me to know my own work that much better. It has me ask the question of art and suffering and freedom. We are all better for this sort of intuitive view that Jay Clarke has widened her art historian’s eye to see.

Dr. Jay Clarke is the Manton Curator of Prints, Drawings, and Photographs at the Clark Museum, Williamstown, MA

Maybe you saw the fabulous exhibit which debuted at Chicago’s Art Institute in 2009 and which Ms. Clarke curated. Here is a rave review and very interesting article in The New York Times.

Excerpt: CHICAGO — Society tends to prefer creative types who neatly fit the pigeonhole labeled Other. The artist as solitary, tormented, possibly insane genius is among the most durable staples of the modern imagination. It is also comforting. That’s not me, you can tell yourself. I may not be creative, but at least I’m not crazy.

The modern foundation of this stereotype lies with Vincent van Gogh, but no one gave it more definition than the Norwegian painter Edvard Munch (1863-1944). It is the ambition of “Becoming Edvard Munch: Influence, Anxiety and Myth,” a thrilling exhibition at the Art Institute of Chicago, to upend or at least balance Munch’s famous persona, which he himself helped shape, with a more realistic portrayal. Munch’s well-known suffering began with a childhood scarred by poverty and the deaths from tuberculosis of his mother and a beloved sister, Sophie; was made harsher by the religious fervor of a stern father; and was mitigated by precocious talent and the encouragement of a loving aunt. There followed early and repeated disappointments in love; recurring illness of several varieties; debilitating melancholia and bouts of paranoia; another sister committed to a mental asylum. His alcoholism didn’t help. Perhaps fittingly Munch’s most emblematic image, “The Scream,” with its hallucinatory sky and shrieking button face, was vandalized early on with delicately scrawled graffiti that reads in Norwegian, “Could only have been painted by a madman.”
Read more at The New York Times

Click here to read an illuminating interview with Jay Clarke.


Filed under A Place For Writers To Share, My Posts

5 Responses to Not Another Coffee Table Book. Munch.

  1. Hi Laura, good questions … does art have to come from pain in the first place? Can’t it come out of love and celebration and receiving the beauty of creation? I’d just offer, via comment, that suffering deepens the human experience, thus, often inspires creativity. Artists of all shapes and sizes have nearly always had something happen in their lives that makes a superficial existence less than appealing. Eckhart Tolle says we move into enlightenment via suffering, and I think he is brilliant. Great post! (you might enjoy reading this post by artist Whitney Peckman @ — she asks some excellent questions, as well) –Daisy (hard at work in SunnyRoomStudio :)

    • lauramunson

      Thanks, Daisy. I have learned that pain can be our guide. I just wonder if inner peace and gladness and happiness can too. I have a lot of unhappy miserable characters in my books. I’d like to see them freed from that. But all stories begin with a problem. Otherwise, there’s no story. I wonder if we change our attitude in the face of our problems if there’s still a story…and if people would want to read it. Have fun over in that sunny studio of yours. yrs. Laura

      • Yes, I wonder that, too, Laura … re joy leading to art. I think so, actually, because suffering often leads to inner peace and a steady sense of joy. I’m all about that! And I know you are too! Blessings. — Daisy

  2. I’ve wrestled with questions about work and passion for years. Six years ago I saw a photography exhibit of black-and-white images of people’s hands; the hands that were engaged in some kind of work (baker, knitter, spinner, gardener) especially spoke to me. I knew the photographer and approached her about combining our media (photos and words) into a book, and last year it came out – Hands at Work – Portraits and Profiles of People Who Work with Their Hands ( It’s an award-winning coffee table book (!) filled with both stories and images of people who are nourished by their work. About half of them are artisans, and though some of their work comes from pain, they all experience a kind of joy that comes from grounded, fulfilling work. So maybe it’s not all about suffering.

    • lauramunson

      Iris, your book is BEAUTIFUL! I’d love to feature it on my blog sometime as I’m always wanting to help get the word out when it comes to inspiring art. Thank you for sharing the website. I have a friend who makes soft instrument cases and is always sewing. Her husband is a blacksmith and they live off the grid. All to say that their hands are works of art in and of themselves. AND I see you got Matthew Fox to blurb your book. His book ORIGINAL BLESSING was ground breaking for me some years back. Please do stay in touch. yrs. Laura

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