Cindy Sherman and the Anti-Self

Hande will be our guide for this very interesting article on Cindy Sherman’s work. One of my very favorite quotes about Greece is that it is like a mirror, for first one suffers and then one learns. This article reminded me of that bit of wisdom.

1. Though Cindy Sherman titles and exhibits her works as a series of independently numbered photographs, the author imposes a cohesive narrative upon this corpus of images. Is this just another cheeky art historian at work or do you agree with his interpretation of her “story?”
2. Why does her work constitute an anti-mirror and what does it reflect?
3. Do you feel that the author over-interprets Untitled Film Still #25?
4. What role has satire played in the work of Cindy Sherman?
5. What is the element in Sherman’s work that surpasses a mere parody of female stereotypical roles, etc.?
6. “You can still sense the quotation marks around them as Sherman essays to foreground contemporary types of femininity.” Discuss this observation.
7. In exposing the anti-self’s passivity in these images, Sherman realizes her own agency as an artist for she has unlocked the door to her unconscious. This is what Keats called “negative capability.” Do you agree that this is what occurs in Sherman’s portrayal of powerless women?
8. In the darkest photographs that Sherman produces, with women truly on the edge, looking like recent patients in a psychiatric ward, the artist becomes the nightmare. How does Johnson characterize these works?
9. What in the final analysis is the role of art?

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8 responses

  1. Here are Hande’s questions—-Blog away!

    What does the Whitney catalogue reveal about Sherman’s work?
    How does the writer define the anti-self of Sherman?
    What does the 1950’s style photographs of Sherman reveal about American Culture? Discuss.
    What are the concepts that Sherman explores with the Horizontal shots of 1981?
    How do Sherman’s individual shots converge as a tale? Why?
    What is the overall theme of Sherman’s work?

  2. Hande’s Third question–Sherman’s maipulation of sterotypes and film tropes reveal deeply engrained notions of feminity/masculinity, passivity/agency. In doing so, she also reveals some of the means by which “femininty” is constructed

  3. The overall theme of Sherman’s work is to reveal a part of people that they don’t want to see in themselves. Her works range from feelings of , insecurities, sadness, loneliness, fear, disgust, insanity, etc. It brings forward the things that she not only represses in herself, but that society suppresses and rejects.

  4. I think that the observation about Sherman deliberately not naming the photographs,so there is no narrative or reference or anything to be derived from the title is interesting when contrasted with the author’s creation of a narrative in her photographs. It is true that her self portraits get weirder over time, so I understand this desire.
    In Sherman’s 1950s stills, meaning those that are reminiscent of the time emphasize the hyper femininity that was so prevalent in cultural outlets.

  5. I really needed to look up each image Johnson was referring to in order to be able to draw my own conclusions about Sherman’s film stills, not just relying on his interpretations…That being said:

    Johnson defines the anti-self as “the shadow of ego consciousness which…assumes more disturbing, primitive, threatening, and powerful guises.” (49) I take this to be the dark side of the subconscious, the negative things in the back of your mind, the id…
    Only by accepting it–acknowledging and tolerating/embracing versus denying its existence–can a person become psychologically and spiritually complete, according to Johnson…

    Keats’ “negative capability” is a concept where the filter between the conscious and unconscious dissolves, where the mind is in dreamlike state. The conscious mind can receive products and messages of the unconscious/subconscious. Johnson argues that Sherman uses this negative capability to connect with her anti-self (selves?) in order to create her passive-depressed-manic images…

    Sherman’s 1950s photographs demonstrate American stereotypes of the ultrafeminine, docile submissive woman, the good content housewife. To me, it evokes another peak of activity for the cult of true womanhood/motherhood. An appealing woman was respectable/vulnerable and passive–or amazingly attractive, and destructive to all men under her “spell” (makes me think of Dangerous Beauty). Femininity, as a part of gender, is socially constructed.

  6. In the long horizontals of 1981, Sherman pays with the idea of female sensitivity, being emotional versus toughening up to cope with a cruel world? She depicts teenage girls obsessed with romance, daydreaming, fantasy providing emotional satisfaction for unrequited love; excessive crying, exhaustion–the extremes of infatuation (seems so androcentric) Then, there is the red bathrobe series where her paper doll figures are depressed, resigned, aimless, doubtful…They lack legitimate agency…
    Making these film stills self portraits demonstrates that not only does Sherman perform these characters as extension of self, but inserts herself so that her viewers will also.
    Johnson attaches a lot of emotion to his interpretations…I don’t know how I feel about that…

    • Johnson describes the dark photos as one would a case of schizophrenia: multiple antiselves from Pandora’s box. Sherman looking her worst nightmares in the faces, deranged characters that became unhinged courtesy of American repression.

      interesting quote from the end:
      “Nastiness, evil, sickness, death and decomposition are not just out there, overseas, in that polymorphously threatening alien figure, the Other…It is repression that pumps so much energy into the unconscious that the material imprisoned there must erupt with destructive violence, causing at best neurosis, but at worst, real world atrocities.”

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