Iconography. It’s a scream.

04th May

A few days ago, the ‘best version’ of Edvard Munch’s The Scream sold in ten minutes for an eye watering $120m. For those of us not in adolescence or therapy it is, perhaps, a bemusingly histrionic painting. Nevertheless, its value is a result of its iconic status.

“Instantly recognisable, this is one of the very few images which transcends art history and reaches a global icon. The Scream arguably embodies even greater power today than when it was conceived” The Head of Sotheby’s Impressionist and Modern Art in New York told The Guardian.

But how did it achieve this? I think it’s because its emotional authenticity is so blindingly clear. Munch described himself as “shivering with anxiety” and feeling “the great scream in nature”. This is raw, not artifice – its genius is that it taps into a universal feeling and expresses it directly yet idiosyncratically.

I saw the Gavin Turk print above last night in a trendy Soho bar. It is a playful appropriation of Robert Indiana’s ‘iconic’ love painting. It’s knowing and smart, and slightly tiresome. It will never be worth a hundred and twenty million pounds, because it has no emotion. The Indiana painting might, one day, because it does.

So to drag these thoughts away from art to branding…the value of The Scream is dwarfed by the ‘brand value’ of Coke, Nike and a few choice others. Coke is joy. Nike is empowerment. They have parlayed emotion into multi-million or billion pound assets. I am not suggesting that the board members in Atlanta are as emotionally authentic as Munch. I doubt their meetings are particularly joyful affairs, or that expressing their inner joy is a formal agenda point. But I think their agencies, over decades, have on some level ‘really meant it’. Iconography is one thing. But emotion, simply, boldly expressed, is what makes us invest value in the symbolism. It takes a special kind of talent to directly express this stuff whether you are a tortured artist or a brand.

Have a great bank holiday.

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