Edvard Munch, Writing and Archetypes

the-sun-1916 (1)

I recently spent a few weeks in Oslo, Norway and while there visited the Edvard Munch Museum. I admit that I knew very little of his work beyond ‘The Scream’ before my visit but since visiting the museum I have been keenly interested in his work.

An odd experience occurred to me during my visit.

While visiting the Munch Museum I had a deep sense of familiarity with his work even though I had never seen it before. In particular one painting of the sun, (shown above), gave me such a strange feeling I felt it physically. My hairs stood on end and I became stuck to the spot and felt such a sense of affinity with his painting I found it hard to pull away from it. The moment I saw it I had strongest feeling that his image of the sun was identical to a dream I had many years ago. I used that dream in a story from my first collection of stories, Fallout. It’s called ‘Dreamtime.’

It’s taken me a while to explain why I felt this way, why the picture had such a strong impact on me.

Now I’m home in Ireland and having read a little of Munch’s life and about his approach to painting I have come to understand it. It’s because his paintings are an expression of the human unconscious. He paints archetypes: the sun, the couple, life, sex, death, mother, vampire. etc. His painting spoke to that shared human experience of the sun within me.

I see this as a lesson for writing fiction. Done correctly, writers who use these archetypal characters, ideas and objects can tap into the unconscious part of readers’ experience and give them a sense of belonging to the story the way I felt a part of Munch’s work at his museum.

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