University of Missouri, Columbia
December 3, 2014
THE ART OF CINDY SHERMAN
"The still must tease with the promise of a story the viewer of it itches to be told." Cindy Sherman
Born in Glen Ridge, NJ, Cindy Sherman is a contemporary artist of repute. As a young child, she moved to Long Island with her family and it was perhaps here that the vibrancy and eclecticism of the art scene in the 1970s started to influence her. Cindy’s Parents did not share a particular interest in the arts, but Cindy studied at the State University of New York At Buffalo. Beginning as a painter, Cindy found the medium constraining her artistic spirit. She felt painting had reached a saturation point and there was not much that could be explored in that area. Cindy’s attention was grabbed by photography in this period.
Her passion for photography reached a point when despite failing the photography course initially, she passed it a second time with flying colors. Co-artists such as Charles Cough and Robert Longo helped her co-found the Hallwalls Center for Contemporary Art in 1974. Sherman’s exposure to Conceptual Art and other progressive art movements and media was largely due to Barbara Jo Revelle, Sherman’s art instructor. Sherman’s art is an epitome of the “1980s technique of image scavenging and appropriation” in which the artist seeks to become a participant-critic of mass consumer culture … partaking of its daily realities while nonetheless challenging its underlying assumptions” (Rosenberg). Sherman’s philosophy is to raise questions on the truth potential of mass imagery and how it seduces our individual and collective psyches. Its depersonalizing quality to portrait photography in particular, is what has transformed the medium of photography into a medium that is very different from what it was a couple of years ago, namely a tool for aesthetic pleasure.
Moreover, the quality of an image to be appropriated in a way that it turns subtly into something “more conceptually problematic, if not psychologically disturbing” is a definite characteristic of Sherman’s work. It is difficult to characterize her work into any kind of an easy category. She fuses the narrative with the statis, she has an incredible plasticity that evades any kind of clichés. Other artists like “Jeff Wall, Anna Gaskell, Justine Kurland, Jenny Gage, and Sharon Lockhart ... extend Sherman's anti-narrative approach to the medium and its subject matter, in work that frequently suggests unresolved stories and scenarios wrenched from contexts both common and disturbingly mysterious” (Rosenberg).
Photography, in Sherman’s hands, becomes a tool to break common stereotypes and cultural assumptions such as caricature, the graphic novel, pulp fiction, stand-up comedy and even political satire, among other socially critical disciplines. Taking a look at her art work, one can detect her variation on the common methods of self-portraiture. The single most striking feature of her photography is that she looks into the viewer’s eyes directly, “no less in the case of posed sex dolls, as though to suggest that an underlying penchant for deception is perhaps the only "value" that truly unites us” (Rosenberg).
The key ideas behind Sherman’s work are to use the camera and other tools of everyday cinema such as wigs, costumes, makeup, and stage scenery. In doing so, Sherman successfully recreates icon snapshots that signify various concepts of “public celebrity, self-confidence, sexual adventure, entertainment, and other socially sanctioned, existential condition” (Rosenberg). Cindy recalls the traditional art of self-portraiture and theatre role play, but in a way that the images unravel in different ways how “self-identity is often an unstable compromise between social dictates and personal intention” (Rosenberg). Her photography invariably draws the attention of the audience