Postmodernism: Cindy Sherman and Art Theory

The following prompts are concerned with art theory and the work of Cindy Sherman with a specific focus on her series of Untitled Film Stills.

  • Is Sherman sincere when she claims innocence of theory in the creation of the Untitled Film Stills?
  • Does her growing awareness of postmodern theoretical constructs influence her work over time? Is she more, or less, self-conscious about application of theory to her work in, for example, The Sex Picturesthan she is in earlier serial work? Does theory begins to lead her work, (and if so, when), or is she content to let theory “find” her after the fact?
  • Should an artist’s work be aware of and consciously guided by theory, or should an artist cultivate a conscious insulation from theory? If the latter, what good is understanding theory for an artist? What are the creative consequences, personally and globally, of accepting or adapting any one postmodern belief?

Cindy Sherman is an artist who in her photography is both the photographer and the model. This poses a new role for the field of photography and one that was never done before. The theory she was working under during her series of the Untitled Film Stills was that of Postmodernism. This means that she is finding a new way to express art without the usage of the old Modernistic dogma.

I believe that Sherman is sincere in her Untitled Films Stills series, but when viewers see her works they read into them believing that she is purposefully working for the feminist agenda. Due to the fact that Sherman is a woman these stills read as if the male gaze is affecting her (the model in the scene depicted). Sherman is innocent in her intent due to the fact that she is trying to make points about stereotyping with the usage of images, or film stills for that matter. The reason she is not seen as a feminist by art historians is due to the fact that she is not using her body in a way to call for change in equality like the feminists of her time did. Sherman focuses on stereotypes and how a still image can make a viewer draw conclusions about that person just from first glance.

These film stills looked as if they were sometimes taken directly from a movie. Sherman quite often uses personas to engage in her work when using photography in order to keep her own self out of the image. I believe in some ways Postmodernist theory does begin to lead her work. This is because of the challenges she makes for the artistic community with her works as model and photographer. Modernists would not have accepted her as both model and photographer, but with the viewpoint of Postmodernism, she can now be seen as avant-garde in thinking to make this bold step in photography. Sherman did not make this effort consciously; it was more or less a product of her time and her creative process.

After learning about Cindy Sherman I believe that it is important for an artist’s work and the artist itself to be guided by theory. Theory itself can help an artist work within their timeline of art history and make valid points about the world and society. If an artist neither excludes theory in their work nor has knowledge in art theory, they can really deter and art critic or art galleries from understanding the work presented. An artist needs to understand theory and be able to either use or work against theory to aid them in their artistic process of producing works.


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Joanna Nawn

Welcome to my blog! My name is Joanna Nawn and I have a deep passion for art and animation. This blog was started in order to share my journey through art with the hopes of becoming an animator someday! Animation is a major part of my life and I am always looking for ways to improve. I keep up to date with viewing animated shorts and films in order to understand the standards I should uphold in my own work. Please feel free to contact me and/or follow me on social media!

3 thoughts on “Postmodernism: Cindy Sherman and Art Theory”

  1. Joanna, your writing piece has been constructed with great strength and the opinion you hold is backed up very well. I completely agree with your realization of how people reacted towards Shermans photographs and how the male gaze was clearly read when viewed. Your statement, “I believe that it is important for an artist’s work and the artist itself to be guided by theory”, really spoke to me. It’s safe to say we both agree upon thery being very substantial to an artist and their work when it comes to history of art and how a critic percieves them or their work. Overall this was a swell reply to you have given to the questions asked! 🙂


  2. Although I agree with you that Sherman falls under postmodern “theory”, I disagree with your point that this shows the necessity of theory since postmodernism is just a name for lack of theory, or a theory-less theory if you will. While critics do need this label, it is only to give it a name, much like the word nothing.


  3. although you make some sound points and back them up well, i disagree. I don’t believe Sherman is innocent of theory. She cant not be to make work in the first place. Theory is what inspires work, you cant operate without it.


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