Edvard Munch (1863–1944) was one of the founders of the Expressionist Movement in art. In his diary, Munch recorded his initial conception in 1891 for his most famous artwork, titled in translation as “The Scream” or “The Screech” [Figure 1] as follows:
“I was walking along the road with two of my friends. Then the sun set. The sky suddenly turned into blood, and I felt something akin to a touch of melancholy. I stood still, leaned against the railing, dead tired. Above the blue black fjord and city hung clouds of dripping, rippling blood. My friends went on and again I stood, frightened with an open wound in my breast. A great scream pierced through nature.” (p. 109)
This experience, clearly a visual hallucination, was creatively transformed by Munch over a period of eighteen months into a work of art. The phases of that transformation are illustrated in the accompanying Figures 2–5.
In his first drawing right after the hallucination, Munch showed a solitary man far in the distance leaning in profile over a bridge and looking at the sky and a boat on a small lake [Figure 2].
In the next version, a painting [Figure 3], the still-profiled leaning solitary man was by Munch portrayed in the front portion of the scene where he then appeared closer both to the lake and the viewer of the artwork. Introduced into the next charcoal drawing was a round bowler hat on the man as he continued to look in profile at the lake [Figure 4].
This rounded shape of the hat was eventually emphasized in the curved lines of both sky and man’s body in the completed artwork. Following this drawing, he did two more pencil and ink sketches.
One depicted the round-hatted man in the same position as previously (Figure 5 top) and the other showed the man, for the first time, looking frontward (Figure 5 bottom).. This shift constituted a critical and creative change of presenting the man within and connected to the nature scene rather than turned in profile and separately observing it. In the final version [Figure 1], first done as a lithograph and later as a painting, the hatless but round headed forward facing man is portrayed with an oval open screaming mouth and with differently oriented but similarly rounded shapes in both the red sky and the man’s body. Munch had thereby visually integrated the screaming man with the scene and produced what has been described as a universal type of metaphor, an artwork displaying a “scream of nature” or “the scream of man and nature.”
The last three steps indicate his use of a creative homospatial process—actively conceiving two or more discrete entities in the same mentally constructed space (superimposition), a conception leading to the articulation of new identities. The artist juxtaposed the front facing round-hatted man with the nature vista and, as indicated by the composition, he then mentally superimposed an image of that man upon the same space of the scene. In this way, he developed the rounded shapes of head, mouth, sky, and body and the expressive images integrating the man with nature.
Although the artwork began with the psychotic experience of a visual hallucination, it was necessary for the artist to transform creatively in work and thought his initial image over the period of more than a year to produce a meaningful new and valuable work of art.
Visual hallucinations such as Munch’s commonly occur in psychotic illnesses but healthy creative processes are necessary to transform them into art. The homospatial process involving superimposition of images is a conscious, intentional form of cognition and not a product of the pathological condition. It is used to bring about innovations and unifications and, as in the case of “The Scream,” to articulate the sensory and emotional underpinnings of ideas and experiences.
.Rothenberg A. Homospatial process. In: Runco M.A. & Pritzker S.R., eds. Encyclopedia of creativity. San Diego, CA: Academic Press, 1999, pp 831- 835.