The Scream

Please bear with me as I work through my astonishment at finding out The Scream, painted by Norwegian Edvard Munch in 1895, sold for a whopping $120 million this past week at Sotheby’s in New York.  Okay, the real price was $119,922,500, but who’s counting???? 

Have you seen this picture?  It’s considered a masterpiece, second only to the Mona Lisa in fame.  Its image has been on everything from editorial cartoons to coffee mugs, which seems appropriate since that’s how most of us feel on Monday morning before we’ve had our caffeine fix.  But $120 million?  Give me a break.  Has the world gone mad?  Well, if you look at this picture long enough you would think so.

Although I’ve been to many world famous art museums here and abroad, I admit that my artwork pallet isn’t as sharp as the trained eye.  So here are a few things about this particular purchase that bother me. 

First, it always saddens me when people become famous after they die.  Van Gogh sold few paintings while alive and was basically considered an artistic failure.  Yet today his artwork such as The Starry Night and The Sower is worth millions and displayed in the best museums.  Authors like Henry David Thoreau, Edgar Allen Poe, and Emily Dickenson published few of their writings and were paid very little while alive.  Yet today you can’t get through a high school literature class without reading their prose.  I just think it’s nice to be alive when people start to appreciate your life’s work.  And although Munch was not considered an abject failure while alive, he would be shocked to see how his artwork has influenced the world.  I know I am!

Secondly, do you know what a person could do with $120 million?  They could leave a legacy of good works.  They could educate the underprivileged, shelter the homeless, train the unemployed for new jobs, feed the poor, or become president.  Oops!  Sorry!  You need much more money than that to become president.  But the point is that $120 million is a massive amount of money.  While it’s true a million dollars doesn’t go as far as it used to, it can still go farther than most of us.   

However, with that said, I will concede that people who make the money or have the money should be allowed to spend it how they want – whether it is for a solid gold toilet seat, platinum bassinette, diamond tiara, or The Scream.  We poor, those without a million or so in the bank, have no right to tell rich people how to spend their money.

Lastly, I think there is a problem with society putting an inflated value on certain things.  We pay athletes and entertainers exorbitant salaries to play ball and make us laugh, while we pay other professions very little in comparison to educate our children, put out fires, protect us from criminals, or fight our battles.   And when it comes to material possessions I guess it’s a matter of what the market will allow.  I still remember people paying hundreds of dollars for beanie babies. 

However in spite of all of this I think about Ephesians 2:10 when Paul refers to Christians as God’s artwork.  It says, “For we are God’s masterpiece (NLT).” 

As masterpieces go I must admit I identify more with Munch’s The Scream than a Degas ballerina.  Sometimes I even look like that person in The Scream. Many times I’ve put my hands over my ears trying to block out the sounds of life.   

Masterpieces are worth a lot.  I know this because Jesus paid for me with the highest price of all – his life.  Now to look at me, many would think why in the world would Jesus pay that kind of price for that?  Even I marvel at it.    

So is The Scream worth $120 million?  Probably not!  But I’m not worth the price Jesus paid for me either.  Yet, here I am!  Happy and thankful he considers me a masterpiece. 



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