The Intellectual Surplus Value

Cindy Sherman Untitled #193 1989

“Sherman’s work bloomed alongside, and was partly responsible for, photography’s entrée into museum, gallery, and critical circles. Painting and sculpture were no longer perceived by the art market and museums as the only legitimate modes of art production. Sherman insists, however, that she is not a photographer but, rather, an artist who uses photography. Critics and curators debated what it meant to “use photography” to make art, as opposed to making photographs as art, in the new discourse on the medium that engaged histories and referents other than the modernist history of photography. The work of postmodern photographers can be read as a tacit rejection of the ideals of modernist photographers like Alfred Stieglitz, Paul Strand, Edward Weston, and Ansel Adams, a refusal of form in favor of content. Sherman and her contemporaries cared little about the perfect print or correct exposure; they were more interested in how vernacular pictures reverberated in their art, how photography shaped the world and raised issues about power and representation. These photographers were also creating work alongside the rising mode of fictional photography by artists like Philip-Lorca diCorcia and Jeff Wall, who were producing elaborately constructed tableaus and cinematically staged pictures. It was a groundbreaking era for photography, and Sherman’s work was at the center of this fertile and radical repositioning of the medium.” [Eva Respini on Cindy Shearman]

Cindy Sherman Untitled #173 1987

Isabelle Graw: If we assume that artworks, when circulating on the market, are seen both for their symbolic and their market value, and if we furthermore assume that the price of an artwork is arbitrary and differs from its symbolic importance, how would you describe the intellectual surplus value that your work generates and provides?
CS: I don’t think I can explain it, and I can only take your word that it’s true. I don’t analyze what I’m doing. I’ve read convincing interpretations of my work, and sometimes I’ve noticed something that I wasn’t aware of, but I think, at this point, people read into my work out of habit. Or I’m just very, very smart.
Peter Galassi: Has a critic or a curator ever asked you a question that led you to consider your work in a way you hadn’t expected?
CS: Early in my career, a critic said that I needed to “explain” the irony in my work, suggesting that I needed to add text next to the images to help people understand what I was trying to say. At first I was dismayed that I wasn’t making work with a clear enough message. That’s when I realized that that was the exact opposite of what I wanted to do—that I wasn’t responsible for a misinterpretation of my work, that there should be some ambiguity to it. They either got it, or they didn’t. [Interview Magazine on Cindy Sherman]

“I was getting disgusted with the attitude of art being so religious or sacred, so I wanted to make something that people could relate to without having to read a book about it beforehand,” she said. “So that anybody off the street could appreciate it, even if they couldn’t fully understand it; they could still get something out of it. That’s the reason why I wanted to imitate something out of the culture, and also make fun of the culture as I was doing it.” From the very beginning, Sherman eschewed theory in favor of pop culture, film, television, and magazines—inspirations that remain at the heart of her work….
For Sherman, performing for the camera was always undertaken in relation to the act of photographing: “Once I’m set up, the camera starts clicking, then I just start to move and watch how I move in the mirror. It’s not like I’m method acting or anything. I don’t feel that I am that person,” she has explained. “I may be thinking about a certain story or situation, but I don’t become her. There’s this distance. The image in the mirror becomes her—the image the camera gets on the film. And the one thing I’ve always known is that the camera lies.” Sherman acknowledges that we are conditioned by cinema and other media, and she uses these associations to steer her viewers in many narrative directions.” [Eva Respini on Cindy Shearman]

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