Edvard Munch: what a cigarette means

8 minutes

When is art a better tool for understanding mental illness than science?

The Norwegian artist Edvard Munch (1863-1944) – best-known for his painting The Scream (1893) – was a key figure in the expressionist movement, which emphasised subjective experiences over the natural world. Part of a rising bohemian class that rejected conventions in society and art, Munch’s unsettling work often reflected and refracted his personal struggles with mental illness, much to the alarm of Oslo’s prevailing conservative class. In this video essay, Evan Puschak (also known as The Nerdwriter) uses a short cultural history of the cigarette to explore how Munch’s Self-Portrait with Cigarette (1895) signified an impending revolt in both art and society – and how art allows for a ‘probing and nuanced understanding’ of mental illness that often eludes medical science.

Video by The Nerdwriter

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