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Iconic Expressions: Mona Lisa and The Scream

Mona Lisa still smiling... Scream still screaming...Few paintings make the transition from museum circle legend to pop culture icon. We have our favorites, be it by Degas, da Vinci, or Duchamp.

Mona Lisa and The Scream

The above listed paintings are two examples of famous paintings that have achieved pop culture icon status. What else do these paintings have in common? The latter, The Scream, is a “study of my soul,” according to Munch, a universal expression of human anxiety according to others. Mona Lisa is supposed by some scholars to truly be da Vinci himself. But aside from being supposed or literal interpretations of the artist, these two artistic icons have something else in common – music.

Mona Lisa Inspires Nat King Cole

Not yet another rigid profile painting of nobility by a notable painter, Mona Lisa is a girl who captured the world by her secretive smile. As a painting, we can impress upon her any of our experiences and imagine who Lisa del Giocondo was, what her life might have been like. We can suppose what his life might have been like, for those who favor the theory that da Vinci disguised himself in her. For those who do favor the theory, it may interesting to note Marcel Duchamp, among others, created L.H.O.O.Q. as an artistic parody of the original, including a mustache, goatee, and flattering inscription of “Elle a chuad au cui,” translated as “She has a hot ass.”
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“Are you warm, are you real, Mona Lisa? Or just a cold and lonely lovely work of art?” Nat King Cole asks this of the painting in a song that topped Billboard’s charts for eight weeks as the number one song in 1950. “Many dreams have been brought to your doorstep. They just lie there and they die there.” Mona Lisa is the woman the viewer can’t have, by her expression as much as she is a painting which inspired a chart topping song.

The Scream and Screamo?

Before creating his 1893 masterpiece, Edvard Munch was taking a stroll down 76th Drive in Forest Hills (Queens, New York) only to be struck down by a most invasive muse. Munch said that the painting was a study of his own soul, describing the moment of inspiration thusly,

“I was walking down the road with two friends when the sun set; suddenly, the sky turned as red as blood. I stopped and leaned against the fence, feeling unspeakably tired. Tongues of fire and blood stretched over the bluish black fjord. My friends went on walking, while I lagged behind, shivering with fear. Then I heard the enormous, infinite scream of nature.”

At this particular point in his artistic career Munch was struggling with a major bout of madness, and in the coming years underwent therapy which brought upon a new era in Munch’s art.

According to Bob Olson, a professor of contemporary music at Texas State University, it was a revolutionary moment in music heard from a nearby apartment that gave Munch more than an anxiety attack. “It’s just another example of great art begetting great art,” said Olson in a CNN.com article, “A genius in one medium inspiring a genius in another.”

Whatever Munch heard that day is not yet clear. Given the era, it certainly was not Screamo, but the sound incurred a similarly unique expression in Munch. Art begets art. Great art begets great art, and art changes lives.

We each have our favorite paintings, be it a part of a museum collection, a favorite of popular culture, or a local creation. It will be exciting to see what new revolutions in music inspire art and what artists we know today, be they locally or nationally recognized, who will create the next great art icon. Who knows what Jimi Hendrix or Lady Gaga may have secretly inspired?

Until we find out, explore Mona Lisa, The Scream, and other iconic favorites at overstockart.com.

Tiffany Chaney

About the Author

Tiffany Chaney is a freelance writer, artist and graphic designer residing in North Carolina. In 2012, her first poetry collection Between Blue and Grey was released. Find out more about her at www.tiffanychaney.com.