Cindy Sherman: Inside and Out

Cindy Sherman

Cindy Sherman stands in an odd position in my pantheon of art. Her portraits, critics repeatedly tell us, are self-portraits but at the same time are not about her. That is my dilemma. The very characteristic that would make Sherman’s work interesting to study is dismissed by critics as insignificant. How can the artist’s self be unimportant when it is the one constant throughout her oeuvre? As with Renaissance art, we are left describing what the images literally depict and who they represent. That leads commentators to sneer at the slightly worn and nutty people she represents but whom we are told have little to do with her. A commentary on contemporary culture is said to be Cindy’s basic message. How boring.

Cindy is clearly aware, though, as her critics are not, that most significant art is about the artist’s self and that the artist is present in each work. I should welcome her contributions as further evidence of our principle proposition. However, and here’s the rub, her works are boring. They add nothing to our understanding of humanity, life and death or even art. Indeed I have always suspected that critics elevated Cindy to the stratosphere for one self-serving reason only: it enabled them, pseudo-philosophers and post-modern critics, to expand their avilable subject matter. Now they could talk profoundly, or seemingly profoundly, about a whole new body of work that was theirs for the telling. Cindy, perhaps knowingly, encouraged them by saying little or nothing about herself or her art, a blank slate.

Does Cindy's art participate in the esoteric tradition that it so plainly acknowledges through her repetitive metamorphoses? I'm not sure. Perhaps others know. If so, please keep us informed.

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