Women in Art and Craft: Cindy Sherman

Women in Art and Craft: Cindy Sherman

Untitled 1978I’m going slightly off piste here, but the story of knitting/craft is so intricately linked to female social history that I’m hoping you’ll forgive me for broadening the remit somewhat to indulge my fascination with creative women in all fields.

It’s been 20 years or so since I first read Linda Nochlin’s ‘Women, Art and Power’ … returning to it recently I found it to be as solid and as full of impact as I remember it, but it left me wanting to explore a more up-to-date view. A chance wander through the Art section in the library unearthed ‘After The Revolution: Women Who Transformed Contemporary Art’, with a foreword by Nochlin herself (Lewes Local Library, we salute you).

I’m jumping the gun, a bit of premature speculation if you will, as I’m not that far through it. A product of the bite-sized info chunk generation, I’ll admit I’ve shunned it as a linear narrative and flicked ahead to read about my favourite artists: step forward Cindy Sherman. As a feminist artist she’s always been somewhat controversial, many critics arguing that she serves merely to perpetuate and objectify the female stereotype through her images of feminine beauty and vulnerability, but there’s something so uncomfortable (and somewhat grotesque) about the viewing experience that I side with the argument that she challenges those same stereotypes.

Sherman is notoriously interview-shy, and it seems that she, along with many artists, doesn’t like to pigeonhole her own work as neatly as the critics would prefer. The article attempts to sum up her work in a post-feminist context, but concludes that “any comprehensive survey of Sherman’s work underscores the inadequacy of critical models that tie her to particular theoretical positions.” Sherman herself seems to confirm this in a quote: “The only time critical writing really affected my work was when it seemed like someone was trying to second guess where I was going next: I would use that to go somewhere else.”

This is the message that stood out for me – apart from cocking a snook at the critics, I love the creative freedom that quote suggests, along with the alternative view of ego. The idea that you can freely absorb an idea which was the result of someone second-guessing your own work implies a fluid connectivity and an openness which many are reluctant to admit, intent as we all are on wanting to be seen as fiercely individual, unique and full of our own vision.

We are, after all, human, and part of a great collective biological and spiritual consciousness (made more tangible by the way we’ve bear-hugged the connectivity the web has offered us). For anyone working in a creative field that’s a never-ending source of inspiration … what that quote tells me is take it where you can find it, even from the most unlikely provenance and be humble enough to admit your humanity.

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