Art Annotations


Munch, Edvard
Compassion


MediumArt
Art FormDry point and aquatint
KeywordsArt of Medicine, Caregivers, Catastrophe, Communication, Depression, Doctor-Patient Relationship, Empathy, Grief, Love, Mourning, Narrative as Method, Nursing, Patient Experience, Professionalism, Psycho-social Medicine, Suffering
SummaryA seated naked figure, back to viewer, embraces another facing forward, her hands covering her eyes and face. To the left of the couple, clearly "attached," is a third, amorphous, dark menacing, shadowy entity literally touching the pair. The empty space to the right of the figures is filled only with a wallpaper pattern, suggesting, on a cursory glance, that the painter was more interested in composition than content.
Commentary

Eros, suffering, and death are Munch's perennial concerns. While the placement of figures in relation to empty space in this painting might, on a cursory glance, suggest that the painter was more interested in composition than content, in fact, composition, as much as content, contributes to the expression of emotions in this and other paintings. In contrast to The Scream (see this database) Munch embodies consolation in this composition. The spiritual pain and fear are ameliorated only by the comfort of another human heart.

Who is supporting whom? What does the shadow represent? An excellent discussion trigger to address spiritual pain and psychological suffering, the tension between detachment and connection, and the therapeutic relationship.

Self as medicine is also the theme of Alice Walker's poem, "Medicine" (see this database). For further discussion of this painting ['Compassion"] and Walker's poem, see Facing Death: Images, Insights, and Interventions, pp. 74-75, 187, annotated in this database. For further relevant discussion of Munch's work, see Judith Stillion's essay, "Death and Grief Made Visible: The Life and Work of Edvard Munch," in Grief and the Healing Arts: Creativity as Therapy, ed. Sandra Bertman, pp. 289-301, annotated in this database.

Alternate SourceSandra L. Bertman, Facing Death: Images, Insights and Interventions (Washington: Hemisphere Publishing)1991, p. 75 (b/w)
MiscellaneousExecuted in 1894. There is an earlier version that is even more sketch-like, the composition in reverse with the shadow on the right.
Annotated by Bertman, Sandra L.
Date of Entry 09/17/99
Last Revised 12/16/09