Thursday, March 25, 2010

Cindy Sherman - Feminist Artist

Cindy Sherman is a postmodern photographer who started work in the 1970s and is still working today. She's been important in the areas of "studies of the decentered self, the mass media's reconstruction of reality, the inescapably of the male gaze, the seductions of abjection, and any number of related philosophical issues." (Heartney, 2007) She uses herself as the subject in almost all of her photographs except only a few. These are staged photographs that she takes in her studio. It's important that they're staged because we know that this is some sort of message embedded in them that she is trying to get across to us.

Eleanor Heartney also writes of her: "Though the photographs suggest a variety of scenarios, they differ from conventional film stills that tend to focus on moments of dramatic action between two of more characters. Sherman's heroines are always alone, nearly expressionless, and caught up in very private emotions. They seem to be women with impenetrable interior lives, caught in a moment of quiet contemplation." (Heartney, 2007)

Lets look at the photo on the upper right. This is a classic Sherman Untitled Film Still. This photo (Sherman, 1977) was taken in 1977 at the beginning of her career. The subject is located in a kitchen, at the sink no less. There is a pot on the stove and she's, of course, wearing an apron. This is clearly making a statement on "woman's place in the house." A few questions can be asked: why is that look on her face? is her husband out of frame berating her? why is she clutching her stomach? is she pregnant? is she hungry? These are the kinds of questions one has to keep in mind when looking at not only feminist artwork, but any artwork. You need to ask yourself why this artist has this particular staging and what it could possibly mean. The interpretation is totally up to you, you just have to look closely at what is being presented.

Sherman also deals with the stereotypes of women. Like the photo above (barefoot and pregnant in the kitchen?) and the photo (Sherman, 1978) to the right. Being a library science major, this photo appeals to me. When you think of a "librarian" don't you think of the woman who sits behind a desk and tells you to "shhhhh!"? Also, when you think of the people who enjoy reading, don't you think of women? This is what I'm getting from this photo. Sherman's photographs are making these comments on today's society as she sees it.

This photo (Sherman, 1990-91) that is called Untitled (Cosmo Cover Girl). You can easily see her social commentary. She's attacking the models that you usually see on the covers of glamour magazines, such as Cosmo. She states: "I like making images that from a distance seem kind of seductive, colorful, luscious and engaging, and then you realize what you’re looking at is something totally opposite. It seems boring to me to pursue the typical idea of beauty, because that is the easiest and the most obvious way to see the world. It’s more challenging to look at the other side." (Sherman, 1990-91)
Here she's addressing body image. How often do you see a real woman that looks like the cover models on Cosmo? More than likely you're going to see more women that look like the one Sherman is portraying on the right. You would never see someone who looked like that on the cover of Cosmo, but the women on the cover of Cosmo don't exist. Sherman's art is her way of fighting back against today's society.

Heartney, Eleanor. "Cindy Sherman: The Polemics of Play." After the Revolution: Women Who Transformed Contemporary Art. New York, NY: Prestel, 2007. Print.

Sherman, Cindy. "Untitled Film Still #3." 1977. 25 Mar. 2010.

Sherman, Cindy. "Untitled Film Still #13." 1978. 25 Mar. 2010.

Sherman, Cindy. "Untitled (Cosmo Cover Girl)." 1990-91. 25 Mar. 2010.


  1. great post! really enlightening, doing some research on cindy sherman and this was spot on!

  2. This is a brilliant post. I am also doing research on Cindy Sherman and this has been a perfect starting point, so thank you, it has really helped me to engage more with her art and begin to understand different influences she may have had.