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Title:Edvard Munch's "Frieze of Life" in the context of nineteenth-century physiology
Author(s):Cordulack, Shelley Wood
Doctoral Committee Chair(s):Franciscono, Marcel
Department / Program:Art History
Discipline:Art History
Degree Granting Institution:University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Subject(s):Art History
History of Science
Abstract:This work explores how and why the artist Edvard Munch exploited late nineteenth-century physiology as a means to express the Symbolist soul. Munch's subject matter may have dealt with feelings and the soul, love, life, death, and creativity. But it is the contemporary physiological framework that he seems to have drawn upon that helped him deepen and broaden his own understanding of these themes.
Nineteenth-century physiology connected the body, specifically the physiological processes of respiration, alimentation, circulation, and motor response to the human psyche. Munch's series of paintings through the 1890's known collectively as the Frieze of Life looks to the physiologically functioning (and malfunctioning) living organism for both its visual and organizational metaphors. The Frieze of Life was itself a living body, a harmonious whole. Munch's images make reference to the physiology of circulation, respiration, the nervous system, the brain, generation, alimentation, and death. As Munch worked through his series of paintings, he applied the vital processes of the human body in various metaphorical ways. In his references to the physiology of the nervous system, he addressed the contemporary beliefs that art was the product of nervous disorder and heightened sensibility, and that artistic creation was nervous release. Much of Munch's Frieze also drew on elements or current psycho-physiology; the psychic life paralleled the physiological life. Munch used his colors, shapes, and lines to symbolize soul states which were in turn the results of physiological processes. Patho-physiology found its way into his treatment of love. And finally, his representations of the physiology of metabolism and death allowed him to mold and resolve his thoughts on the meaning of art, life, and immortality, particularly in response to the general pessimism and absence of traditional spirituality otherwise found in his work. He drew upon physiology in order to penetrate the greatest mysteries of love, life, God, and cosmos. The body physiological (and its cells) was a microcosm of the universe cosmological (and its stars).
Issue Date:1996
Rights Information:Copyright 1996 Cordulack, Shelley Wood
Date Available in IDEALS:2011-05-07
Identifier in Online Catalog:AAI9712240
OCLC Identifier:(UMI)AAI9712240

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