Knausgaard’s ambition is to whittle away at the legend to arrive at insights about the genesis of the art itself, and not only Munch’s art, but all art ... Knausgaard’s response to the varying opinions of those he encounters is at once measured, insightful and tinged with comedy. He has walked into the land of the experts and visual artists and is afraid of looking like an 'idiot' when the exhibition is mounted. His analysis of his own feelings is bracing ... The writer enacts on the page exactly what he hopes to convey. Art can sometimes break through the blinding conventions that dictate our perceptions ... Such superb moments are offset by less successful passages. When he is at a loss to explain a painting’s effect on him, Knausgaard periodically lapses into clichés ... He displays confidence about theories he has misunderstood ... That said, Knausgaard never underestimates the painter’s labor and study, and this book stands as a sincere, often lyrical and penetrating attempt to enter the world of another artist.
Karl Ove Knausgaard’s treatise on the art of Edvard Munch, So Much Longing in So Little Space, fails — as art criticism is prone to do — to adequately 'read' or 'translate' Munch’s paintings for us. But it should not be expected to be a translator ... And yet, though the book fails in the ways it must, it succeeds where others have failed, in its ability to imbue its failure with its own blend of artifice and truth, cliche and possibility, openness and closedness, creating something that may prove to be classic ... the book feels of a piece with the autofiction for which the Norwegian novelist is best known ... What is so compelling about the book, though, is that this longed-for unifying element and these supposed truisms become themselves suspect as the book approaches its terminus.
A more accurate title would have been 'Munch and Me: The Most Famous Norwegian Writer Since Knut Hamsun Considers the Most Famous Norwegian Painter Ever.' Very little space is given over to the details of Munch’s life; instead, the book considers what it means to be an artist in general and what it meant to be a highly talented artist from a restrictive Scandinavian background, obsessed with a peculiar set of personal issues, and living in a time of radical change, artistic and otherwise ... This book is an account of Knausgaard trying to come to terms with the giant. As a writer rather than an art historian, his discussion of paintings largely involves description ... In writing about Munch, [Knausgaard] considers the work of another specialist in cultural excavation. And specialists get paid well.
This is an affecting but strangely structured book. It begins midstream, with deconstructions of various paintings before any biographical context is provided. But, while the authorial journey as a thread feels a little flimsy at first, Knausgaard’s charm gradually takes hold. He brings a refreshing — at times comical — naivety to the rarefied art world.
The book has some drawbacks worth speaking of. Knausgaard’s rambling style can take a little getting used to. His tangents and digressions into his own personal life appear self-indulgent, unnecessary and like time-wasting. But these egotistical diversions can be forgiven for what is otherwise an intriguing analysis exploring the many layers of artistic creation: its power to deliver something beyond language; its search for something resembling absolute and uninhibited truth; its transitory and metaphysical qualities, which, crucially, allow it to outlive the creator’s own existence, and influence posterity ... Intellectually rewarding, philosophically engaging, and written in a gripping narrative voice that is sincere, authoritative, and authentic, Knausgaard’s book subtly teaches the reader, in almost mystical and theological terms, about the positive spiritual value of art in a godless world, suggesting that thinking beyond the realm of words – or indeed beyond the illusionary concept that is the self – might actually be a long-term spiritual endeavour worth pursuing indefinitely.
...[Knausgaard's] approach is no different from that in prior works, for his meandering stream-of-consciousness puts him squarely at the center even though here his subject is purportedly the early-twentieth-century Norwegian painter Edvard Munch. This allows Knausgaard to contemplate creativity and the life of an artist more generally and subtly undoes the myth of the critic’s supposed objectivity. But it also makes the book difficult to follow as Knausgaard jumps between Munch paintings (many of which are reproduced), contemporary artists such as Anselm Kiefer and Vanessa Baird, and his own forays into the art world. Knausgaard tends to avoid using traditional chapters, thus immersing the reader in his rich mind and experiences. Here such text-dividers would have usefully structured his frequently compelling insights, helping to transform them into actual arguments. Knausgaard is attentive to how composition, color, and brushstroke can elicit in the viewer unanticipated emotions, but it’s hard to stay with him long enough to get there. Primarily for fans of this high-profile writer.
... in no sense a biography of Munch. We’re more than halfway through before getting details about the artist’s childhood, upbringing, and family tragedies. Instead, the book is a quest after what art is, what it’s for, and what artists are. Like most of Knausgaard’s work, it’s about him as much as his subject. That sounds self-indulgent, but Knausgaard possesses an uncanny magic for rendering mundane personal observations compelling. So did Munch ... Given such outsized success, Knausgaard presumably writes for a global audience, but this book is insistently Norwegian, offering few crutches for anyone unfamiliar with that country’s history and culture ... Knausgaard offers a glimpse into this influential and sometimes obscure history, though it’s mostly a male one ... The translation by Ingvild Burkey is mostly excellent, though can sometimes be confusing.
Although a fine primer on Norwegian painter Edvard Munch (1863-1944), this book is more about the experience of wandering into the world of art and being consumed by its confluence of history, narrative, and sublimity ... Fans of the author’s acclaimed autobiographical novels will find this book to be of Rosetta Stone–like importance as he delves into Munch’s exploration of memory and how the artist rendered the past in a way that still feels both intimate and universally relatable ... Knausgaard ... jumps among paintings, biographical fragments, and interviews with other artists with disregard for traditional narrative flow ... This all may seem baggy and misdirected, but it is in fact appropriate when discussing Munch ... Knausgaard’s chaos, too, finds a striking vitality. An immersive, impassioned history that illuminates both subject and author.
...[a] knotty aesthetic-biographical study ... The results are uneven, by turns illuminating and obscure ... Knausgaard lapses into murky art-crit pensées ... Knausgaard inserts his own droll, hang-dog psychic travails—asked to curate a Munch exhibition, he feels like a failure for showcasing subpar paintings—as a much-needed relief from high-falutin’ theory. Unfortunately, his sometimes turgid and baffling passages on the art exemplify how difficult it is to convey in words the visceral impact of images.