Quiet Desperation

Artist’s long career has had phenomenal self life

Column by Craig Marshall Smith
Posted 5/29/18

Here’s a pop quiz: Who is Cindy Sherman? Her picture should be on a postage stamp. The picture would be one she had taken herself. See that photograph next to the headline? It’s one of only nine …

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Quiet Desperation

Artist’s long career has had phenomenal self life

Posted

Here’s a pop quiz: Who is Cindy Sherman?

Her picture should be on a postage stamp. The picture would be one she had taken herself.

See that photograph next to the headline? It’s one of only nine known photographs of me. I like it like that. Why do I need photographs of myself? They have one in obits, Jennifer has one that was taken before my face turned into a pickle, and the DMV took one that permits me to drive and to board an airplane.

Sufficient, but out of touch with everyone else.

Cindy Sherman (born 1954) studied photography at Buffalo State College. Does that help? I could spend the rest of the column praising her and listing her contributions to modern and contemporary art.

Sherman is credited with the “selfie.” Not by anyone else yet. Just by me.

If you really wanted to get tight about it, Albrecht Dürer was just as responsible, and so was Rembrandt van Rijn. They both documented themselves in countless self-portraits long before there were Nikons and Hasselblads. And camera phones.

Architect Frank Gehry said artists need to find a niche. He found his, and Sherman found hers when she was an undergraduate at Buffalo State. I have tried and tried to find one, but time is running out, and I’ve conceded (mostly). But I am forever in awe of those — especially my contemporaries — who found theirs.

Without cheating.

You can cheat in art. You can appeal to our most fundamental fascinations, without really contributing anything that is truly nutritive: i.e., those interminable “Star Wars” films.

Sherman started taking photographs of herself when she was an undergraduate, and she hasn’t stopped yet.

I admit I once had a crush on Sherman. She has California-girl looks, but you have to work to find it, because she never looks exactly the same twice. She documents herself with appearance-altering costumes, makeup and prosthetics.

For better or worse, the world is full of Cindy Shermans. At its worse, there have been deaths.

“Earlier this year an Indian man was killed while trying to take a selfie next to a wounded bear (The Conversation).” You won’t get any sympathy out of me.

“A Polish tourist in Seville, Spain, fell off a bridge and died attempting to take a selfie.” You won’t get any sympathy out of me.

“Estimates of daily selfie posts range from 1 million to 93 million.”

Remember Debby Boone’s hit record? “I Light Up My Life.”

Whenever a conversation about selfies comes up, a character named Narcissus enters the room and hums some Carly: “You had one eye on the mirror, and watched yourself gavotte.”

You know how I feel about hand-held devices in the first place. They are endlessly intrusive. Now that they come with cameras, their rust on the intimacies of existence never sleeps.

Of course, there are those who think otherwise.

UCLA psychologist Andrea Letamendi believes selfies “allow young adults to express their mood states and share important experiences.”

Uh, sexting too?

“Cindy, oh, Cindy, don’t let me down. Send me a picture soon, and I’ll be homeward bound.”

Click.

Craig Marshall Smith is an artist, educator and Highlands Ranch resident. He can be reached at craigmarshallsmith@comcast.net.

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