The Scream and Starry Night: Differences and Similarities

The Scream by Edvard Munch was painted in Norway in 1893 and is a product of the Expressionism period. This piece measures 3’x 2’5” and was created using oil paint on canvas. Starry Night by Vincent Van Gogh measures 2’5” x 3’ and was painted in France in 1889 using oil paint on canvas. This work is from the Post-Impressionism period. Both of these paintings have techniques that are individual to their periods, but they have similarities among them as well. Emotions are a common thread in both artists’ paintings, yet each artist relays a different kind of emotion through their choice of colors and techniques.

Edvard Munch created the scream as part of his Frieze of Life series and gives an expressive representation of personal relationships and emotions. Natural detail is rejected in this piece and instead the emotion of the painting is shown in an expressive style (Expressionism in Art: Characteristics of Expressionism, n.d.).

Expressionism in arts looked closer at the psychological and emotional state.

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The use of irregular shapes and distorted images were used to depict anguish, anxiety, and terror (Expressionism, n.d.). These characteristics are apparent in The Scream with the main focus on the distorted bald figure along with a lack of detail in the background. Munch put emotions at the forefront to convey his feelings to the viewer. The Scream was painted after an outing with some friends. Munch recalled that he was walking with friends as the sun was setting which gave the sky a blood red look.

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He described the scene as clouds of flame that hung like blood and a sword over the blue-black fjord and city, and that he felt a “loud, unending scream that piercing nature” (Expressionism: The spirit of expressionist art, n.d.). Similar to Expressionists, Post-Impressionists looked to their memories and emotions to connect on a deeper level with the viewer. Interrelation between shape and color was used to describe the world around them (Your Guide to Modern Art, n.d.). By using color and form to express movement and emotions the artists were able to stress their personal views (Post Impressionism, n.d.).

This allowed for an artist to paint not what he saw, but what he felt. Van Gogh painted Starry Night from memory as he recalled a constellation he had seen earlier in the night. While the village in the background in in part made up, the church spire is a memory from the Netherlands, his native land. The impasto technique is used by both artists to create a swirling pattern which not only gives movement to the works, but also creates a combination of realism and abstract. In both works the viewer can see distinct figures and forms, but the swirls of color give and abstract view. In The Scream the viewer can make out two figures in the background, which are most likely Munch’s friends who he was taking the walk with. However, the distortion and swirling along with the use of reds and oranges give the painting a feeling of terror or anguish. Some may interpret the work as the distorted man being Munch, the two figures walking away being his friends, and the sense of terror and anguish as being Munch’s way of expressing a feeling of loneliness and a fear of being along.

This fear of being alone may have a connection to his past. Munch had a history of both mental and physical health problems in his family, which removed close connections that most people are used to. The background in The Scream is the neighborhood where Munch’s younger sister had been placed into an insane asylum. Like Munch, Vincent Van Gogh used impasto to create swirls and texture in the painting. Van Gogh creates movement with the swirls in the sky and the use of bright colors against the darkness. The difference with this piece compared to The Scream through the use of pointillism. This technique began in the Post-Impressionism period, and is the use of dots of paint to add more depth to a piece of work. Instead of using dots, Van Gogh painted multidirectional dashes throughout the sky (Post-Impressionism, 2011).

This gave the work a stronger sense of energy. The emotion evoked from Starry Night differs depending on the view you take on it. The glow from the town looks peaceful, yet the cypress in the forefront add a darker side to the emotion. Then there is the swirling sky. The viewer can see the movement of the wind, but is it a calm breeze blowing through the sky or a strong, gusty wind. Van Gogh painted this piece while in an asylum in France, and this can be a strong insight into what he was feeling as he painted this. There is a sense of disconnect with the world. There is a calm town in the distance, like Van Gogh felt that he was out of touch with the rest of the world, but found
some comfort in the view of the skies.

Post-Impressionism. (2011). Retrieved from Esaak, S. (n.d.). The Scream by Edvard Munch. Retrieved from Art History: Expressionism. (n.d.). Retrieved from Expressionism and the Second Viennese School: Expressionism in Art: Characteristics of Expressionism. (n.d.). Retrieved from Painting and Sculpture: Expressionism: The spirit of expressionist art. (n.d.). Retrieved from Post Impressionism. (n.d.). Retrieved from Van Gogh Gallery: Your Guide to Modern Art. (n.d.). Retrieved from Post-Impressionism:

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The Scream and Starry Night: Differences and Similarities. (2016, Mar 28). Retrieved from

The Scream and Starry Night: Differences and Similarities
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