Gnomicon 221

If you have not already done so, you may wish to read the
Introduction to Gnomica.

Gnomicon  221
Wednesday 19 December 2012
Read gnomica 1-200 here!

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The still must tease with the promise of
a story the viewer of it itches to be told.
Cindy Sherman (19 Jan 1954 – )

This talented photographer and portraitist makes an appealing comment about art in general, her substantivalizing of ‘still’ laying the burden of experiencing the artist’s art not so much on the artist as on the viewer.  Certainly in the case of paintings, or photographs, the onus of understanding is in the final analysis always that of the observer’s imagination somehow ‘picking up’ on the suggestions the artist has put before an imagined audience.  It is their imagination that makes of the art what the artist creates, and it seems to me perfectly reasonable that the former may legitimately get something from the art the artist had not intended – and surely the same is true of the verbal arts of various kinds (short story, poem, play, novel).  In short, a work of art is ‘large’ and it ‘contains multitudes’.

Serious interest in the artist is suggested by the MOMA exhibit of her work earlier this year.  I confess that not everything she does invites awed notice on my part but more something like an inquisitive, tentative fascination.  The images are compelling, but what is it all about – really?  The flamboyant narcissism of her work – sometimes straight-forward photography, sometimes painterly grotesues – is hard to ignore, and looking at a number of her pieces does in fact leave one ‘itching to be told’ not only the story that the artist herself promises but the one that the viewer is constructing, shaping, finalizing.

Perfectly ‘normal’ images of the self are certainly not wanting in her oeuvre (e.g., here, here and here), and then there are the ‘grotesques’ (e.g., here, here and here) that scratch the vaunted itch.  What do we make of them?  Perhaps oddly enough, her various series of autopicts (if I may coin a phrase off autograph) remind me of Picasso’s cubist visions of women – with the distinction that hers are multiple unities of the self and his were fragmented simplexes.  She ‘sees’ or wants us to ‘see’ woman — herself – as a protean, shape-shifting creature whose infinite complexity cannot possibly be pinned down in single wholes. Picasso shows us woman as deconstructed parts (e.g., here, here and here), a kind of graphic and painterly series of synecdoches whose fragmented states suggest that no one part of any one whole can possibly capture what woman is all about.

Both artists’ subjects are tarted up in different ways but do explore or examine what the essence of that subject entails both individually and generically.  The works are all of interest in their own right and for their own reasons.

Which, for the record, is as much the case for the ‘Parisienne’ on Minoan pottery from the middle of the second millennium BCE as for a sensuous nude by Ingres from the early nineteenth century CE.  As disparate as these two are from each other and from the women of Picasso and Sherman in both time and space, they, too, offer to tell us a story … a story only we can tell.

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