Holding On: Edvard Munch’s Prints at the NGA

When you hear the name Edvard Munch, you almost immediately think of The Scream. It’s unavoidable.  Even during his lifetime, Munch found himself linked to that image and a select few others from his Frieze of Life series that comprised almost his entire career. Although Munch painted several versions of The Scream, the demand for more overwhelmed the supply. As a solution, Munch turned to printmaking, which allowed fans to have an authentic Munch at an affordable price, while also allowing Munch to capitalize on his fame. But it was much more than pure capitalism that compelled Munch to revisit certain themes and images, as Edvard Munch: Master Prints, now at the National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC, clearly demonstrates. Printmaking allowed Munch to hold on to certain images seemingly forever in a cycle of creation and recreation that made the image and the emotions linked to that image forever new and forever real.


As Andrew Robison remarks in the introduction to the catalogue to the exhibition, “Munch crystallized many of his profound psychological experiences into visually condensed but potent images… [and] [o]nce he gave definitive form to such an image, he could hardly drop it.” Printmaking allowed Munch to tinker with a favorite image again and again, varying colors or other effects to convey different shades of the same emotion. An astute businessman, Munch made the most of printmaking to further his career economically, of course, but that does not take anything away from the artistic aims of his printmaking program. As the exhibition and catalogue explain, Munch sometimes created multiple versions of a print for the sake of variety, but in other cases eventually settled on a favorite setup, which suggests that the variations on that theme were more like stages of the image’s evolution rather than aesthetic caprices.

Munch first encountered printmaking in Germany in 1894. He soon fell under the influence of successful German printmaking artists such as Max Klinger and Joseph Sattler. In her essay, Elizabeth Prelinger traces Munch’s evolution from lithography, which allowed Munch to draw freely on the limestone, to woodcuts using the side grain block, which became en vogue during a revival of interest in the work of German uber-artist Albrecht Durer. Unfortunately, World War I interrupted Munch’s association with Germany on many levels, ranging from physical separation from his printing blocks to an ideological divorce forced by the conflict. “Munch’s rejection of the darker symbolist works [of his German period] in favor of the brighter palette and more decorative forms of Matisse’s art emerged in his graphic art,” Prelinger writes. The Germanic Munch gave way to the French style of Matisse and, thus, created a new Norwegian nationalist style free of unfavorable ideological taint. “Although color remained Munch’s foremost source of visual and emotional communication until the end of his life,” Prelinger concludes, “his accommodations to political, economic, and artistic forces during the war redefined its role.” This exhibition excels at giving the full picture of the forces at work behind the prints both artistically and historically, allowing us to feel everything that Munch may have felt when making them, both in his interior and exterior lives.

Memory plays such a powerful part of Munch’s art, and his prints exemplify that more than any other medium he used. Munch’s “reworking of both his paintings and his graphics embodied a therapeutic process characterized less by repetition than by reiteration,” Prelinger believes. This revisiting of the scene psychically gives a power to each print that simple repetition of a theme could never possess. Of course, some themes become more and more decorative over time—a nod to the influence of Matisse—but that decorative effect seems like a cherishing of a feeling burnished to a brighter shine over time. Other themes pushed Munch to greater creativity to achieve exactly what he wanted to express. In several prints, including The Lonely Ones (shown), Munch cut up the elements of the image like a jigsaw before reassembling them in the final print, a technique some believe he invented, while others credit Gauguin. Nevertheless, each image became a kind of puzzle for Munch to ponder endlessly, as if he continually saw it for the very first time.

“Prints mimic what we are as humans,” Robison quotes Kiki Smith in his essay, “we are all the same and yet every one is different. I think there’s a spiritual power in repetition, a devotional quality, like saying rosaries.” Smith’s metaphor explains Munch’s printmaking beautifully. Munch formulated a personal mythology with each image contributing to a personal odyssey he revisited again and again, like a priest saying the mass each Sunday. Edvard Munch: Master Prints is a chance to enter the church of Munch and hear his gospel in painstaking detail. One visit and you’ll be converted to the power of emotions that perpetuate infinitely through the creative act of a single man.

 [Image: Edvard Munch. The Lonely Ones, 1899/c. 1917 or later. Color woodcut, from one woodblock sawn into three pieces, in black, blue green, yellow, and red with hand coloring on medium cream wove paper. The Epstein Family Collection. © Copyright Munch Museum/Munch Ellingsen Group/ARS, NY 2009.]

[Many thanks to the National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC, for providing me with the image above and a review copy of the catalogue to Edvard Munch: Master Prints, which runs through October 31, 2010.]

Drill, Baby, Drill: What will we look for when we’re mining on Mars?

It's unlikely that there's anything on the planet that is worth the cost of shipping it back

Photo Credit: National Geographic/Richard Donnelly
Surprising Science
  • In the second season of National Geographic Channel's MARS (premiering tonight, 11/12/18,) privatized miners on the red planet clash with a colony of international scientists
  • Privatized mining on both Mars and the Moon is likely to occur in the next century
  • The cost of returning mined materials from Space to the Earth will probably be too high to create a self-sustaining industry, but the resources may have other uses at their origin points

Want to go to Mars? It will cost you. In 2016, SpaceX founder Elon Musk estimated that manned missions to the planet may cost approximately $10 billion per person. As with any expensive endeavor, it is inevitable that sufficient returns on investment will be needed in order to sustain human presence on Mars. So, what's underneath all that red dust?

Mining Technology reported in 2017 that "there are areas [on Mars], especially large igneous provinces, volcanoes and impact craters that hold significant potential for nickel, copper, iron, titanium, platinum group elements and more."

Were a SpaceX-like company to establish a commercial mining presence on the planet, digging up these materials will be sure to provoke a fraught debate over environmental preservation in space, Martian land rights, and the slew of microbial unknowns which Martian soil may bring.

In National Geographic Channel's genre-bending narrative-docuseries, MARS, (the second season premieres tonight, November 12th, 9 pm ET / 8 pm CT) this dynamic is explored as astronauts from an international scientific coalition go head-to-head with industrial miners looking to exploit the planet's resources.

Given the rate of consumption of minerals on Earth, there is plenty of reason to believe that there will be demand for such an operation.

"Almost all of the easily mined gold, silver, copper, tin, zinc, antimony, and phosphorus we can mine on Earth may be gone within one hundred years" writes Stephen Petranek, author of How We'll Live on Mars, which Nat Geo's MARS is based on. That grim scenario will require either a massive rethinking of how we consume metals on earth, or supplementation from another source.

Elon Musk, founder of SpaceX, told Petranek that it's unlikely that even if all of Earth's metals were exhausted, it is unlikely that Martian materials could become an economically feasible supplement due to the high cost of fuel required to return the materials to Earth. "Anything transported with atoms would have to be incredibly valuable on a weight basis."

Actually, we've already done some of this kind of resource extraction. During NASA's Apollo missions to the Moon, astronauts used simple steel tools to collect about 842 pounds of moon rocks over six missions. Due to the high cost of those missions, the Moon rocks are now highly valuable on Earth.


Moon rock on display at US Space and Rocket Center, Huntsville, AL (Big Think/Matt Carlstrom)

In 1973, NASA valuated moon rocks at $50,800 per gram –– or over $300,000 today when adjusted for inflation. That figure doesn't reflect the value of the natural resources within the rock, but rather the cost of their extraction.

Assuming that Martian mining would be done with the purpose of bringing materials back to Earth, the cost of any materials mined from Mars would need to include both the cost of the extraction and the value of the materials themselves. Factoring in the price of fuel and the difficulties of returning a Martian lander to Earth, this figure may be entirely cost prohibitive.

What seems more likely, says Musk, is for the Martian resources to stay on the Red Planet to be used for construction and manufacturing within manned colonies, or to be used to support further mining missions of the mineral-rich asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter.

At the very least, mining on Mars has already produced great entertainment value on Earth: tune into Season 2 of MARS on National Geographic Channel.

For thousands of years, humans slept in two shifts. Should we do it again?

Researchers believe that the practice of sleeping through the whole night didn’t really take hold until just a few hundred years ago.

The Bed by Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec.
Surprising Science

She was wide awake and it was nearly two in the morning. When asked if everything was alright, she said, “Yes.” Asked why she couldn’t get to sleep she said, “I don’t know.” Neuroscientist Russell Foster of Oxford might suggest she was exhibiting “a throwback to the bi-modal sleep pattern." Research suggests we used to sleep in two segments with a period of wakefulness in-between.

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Antimicrobial resistance is a growing threat to good health and well-being

Antimicrobial resistance is growing worldwide, rendering many "work horse" medicines ineffective. Without intervention, drug-resistant pathogens could lead to millions of deaths by 2050. Thankfully, companies like Pfizer are taking action.

Image courtesy of Pfizer.
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  • Antimicrobial-resistant pathogens are one of the largest threats to global health today.
  • As we get older, our immune systems age, increasing our risk of life threatening infections. Without reliable antibiotics, life expectancy could decline for the first time in modern history.
  • If antibiotics become ineffective, common infections could result in hospitalization or even death. Life-saving interventions like cancer treatments and organ transplantation would become more difficult, more often resulting in death. Routine procedures would become hard to perform.
  • Without intervention, resistant pathogens could result in 10 million annual deaths by 2050.
  • By taking a multi-faceted approach—inclusive of adherence to good stewardship, surveillance and responsible manufacturing practices, as well as an emphasis on prevention and treatment—companies like Pfizer are fighting to help curb the spread.
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