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Edvard Munch, Anxiety, 1896, lithograph, composition: 16 5/16 x 15 3/8 in., Publisher: Vollard, Paris; Printer: Auguste Clot, Paris; Edition: 100; The Museum of Modern Art, New York; Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Fund, © 2011 The Munch Museum / The Munch-Ellingsen Group / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

I recently spent a lovely morning with my husband exploring the ‘Edvard Munch – Symbolism in Print’ exhibit at the North Carolina Museum of Art. This small spare exhibit is beautifully displayed on blood red walls that play up the many black and cream woodcuts.

I took several things away from the exhibit that are relevant to my writing practice. I was impressed by how Munch would do several versions of the same subject. For instance, he might paint a canvas of a group of women standing on a bridge, then do a etching of the same scene, then make a woodcut of the scene to distill the piece further and further down to its essence. I was struck by how that practice is like writing flash fiction. You can start with a fully fleshed out short story with subplots and multiple characters and distill it down the essential nugget of a story.

Edvard Munch did not make happy art. He was a troubled soul. His work deals with death and loneliness and despair. There is a quote painted on the wall that says, “Without anxiety and illness, I should have been like a ship without a rudder.” I needed to hear that. I frequently feel pressured to write happy shiny stories. The people in my head are rarely happy and are definitely not shiny. It’s good to hear that you can use anxiety and illness as a rudder to steer your art.

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