Stopping to Hear the Flowers

Time is the most valued illusion of mankind. It’s a made-up concept used to measure our lives through past, present and future. Humanity is constantly thinking of the future, of where we are going instead of stopping and seeing where we are and how far we’ve come. My understanding from Nicholas Mirzoeff’s introduction in How To See the World (Mirzoeff 1-27) is that in a world of technologies that aid us in our everyday lives, we find it hard to stop and look at things that take more time to understand than it would to type a few words into your phone. As blogger Isaac Kaplan states, “…people can go to a museum, spend hours there looking at hundreds of works, and walk out not really having seen anything.” (Kaplan). We are stopping to smell the flowers, but we move on before noticing the sound the stem makes when you pick it. Through experiencing The Cindy Sherman Show, I learnt that clearing your mind of expectations and judgements is the only way to allow the visual world to communicate with you, that hearing out the artist’s work takes time.

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Fig.1. Sherman, Cindy. Untitled #415. 2004, Photography, City Gallery Wellington.

The first image I saw in the show was of this clown (fig. 1) and all I could see was poor workmanship with the makeup and costuming and couldn’t see the reasoning behind the madness. But even in this initial mindset, I wanted to understand the image so I took a little more time and tried to look past the overall image and read into the detail. The large nose prosthetic with a small red dot painted in the middle of it caught my eye; it amused me in the way it was making fun of the traditional clown nose. This one small detail reeled me into the character and I started to fill in the blanks of their identity. I could feel Sherman’s humility and how she was expressing it with sarcasm and irony through the pose of the character (the way they hold the bottle at their crotch, imitating genitalia) and the sly know-it-all expression on their face. Sherman communicates through more than just a visual sense, she makes her works interactive by allowing us to subconsciously create worlds for these identities to live in in our minds. “Think of your mind’s eye as a white canvas, a blank page or an empty gallery…” (Ward 12). Emptying my mind of initial judgement meant that I was allowing Sherman to paint her thoughts and feelings in my head.

“We date a painting to the specific year it was finished but it is impossible to tell how long it took to paint.” (Mirzoeff 26). The visual world communicates to us through feeling. The value of a piece isn’t held in the time it took to create or how long it takes to understand, the value is in understanding the feelings of the artist who created it. When you finally understand an artwork, the feelings that are passed to you are timeless.

Works Cited

Kaplan, Isaac. “How Long do I Need to Look at a Work of Art to Get it?”. Artsy, 26 Jan. 2017,

Mirzoeff, Nicholas. “How to See the World”. How to See the World, Pelican, 2015. pp. 1-27.

Sherman, Cindy. Untitled #415. 2004, Photography, City Gallery Wellington.

Ward, Ossian. Ways of Looking. Laurence King Publishing Ltd, 2014, pp. 12.

The Cindy Sherman Show: Linking to my Discipline

Sherman, Cindy. “Untitled #462”, Balenciaga Series. Photography. Wellington City Art Gallery, 2007-08.

I found that Untitled #462 and the Balenciaga series sparked my creative interests more than the other images in the show. I think it was interesting to me because of how simply but effectively it was composed and captured. It looks as if it was taken using the automatic setting on a digital camera, giving it a tourist photo effect. This makes the photo look more “in the moment”, that the women were just having a drink and someone asked to take their photo. I think it is an honorable skill to be able to make a fabricated situation look as natural and momentous as this.

The women’s faces are in the top horizontal third of the frame and their bodies are taking up the bottom two thirds. It almost looks as if Sherman was imitating the classic ¾ pose from her headshots series, although it is not so zoomed in due to there being two subjects in the image. This makes sense, because Sherman’s ideas from headshots do link to the ones in Balenciaga. The women in Balenciaga are wearing couture clothing, but are not expected to be doing so as these clothes were intended to be worn by young women (as seen in the advertising with younger women used as the models). They are aware of this, and are wearing the clothes to try and relive their youth. Even their posing and background use kind of looks as though they are at some kind of house party or club which are typically scenes of youthfulness. These women are seeking out the camera, desperately trying to get into the frame. In the headshots series, the women are also past their youth and are desperately seeking out the audience, as Sherman explained, they almost look as if they could be saying “Don’t you want to hire me?”. The women are seeking stardom and fame, look through the camera into their audience and pleading for another chance at their dream. In both series, the women are trying to look and act much younger than they are through their posing and seeking of the camera. Particularly in this image, the woman the right looks like she is in the middle of moving into a more attractive pose, but was caught by the camera at an unfortunate moment. Either this, or she is drunk. Sherman is constantly trying to express the idea that women are told that our glory days are in our youth and that the rest of our lives we must live conservatively and without lust for those days to reoccur. Men tend to be more fortunate in this situation, in being considered attractive even when they are aged. But women in the media have an expiry date and it isn’t fair to those people who maybe want to live their whole lives as they did in their 20’s.

I also noticed that in this series, women in the same frame tended to look similar in appearance and in what they were wearing. What I got from this image was that this was the same woman (or identity) captured twice and then melted into one frame. The woman on the right looks more composed and aware of her surroundings than the woman on the right. The only differences between them are that they have different jackets and that the woman on the right has put her glasses on her head. Because they are so similar in identity (which is not typical of Sherman, she normally creates her characters to be dramatically different to one another) I think they might be the same person captured at different times of one night. The woman on the left is posed as if she is a little camera shy, with her hands held in front of her stomach and her jacket almost closed. She looks as if she has just arrived at the party and is not quite comfortable in her surroundings yet. The woman on the right has her arms open and her jacket open with her glasses no longer shielding her face from the camera. She looks drunk in appearance as her eyes are half shut and has an absent, unplanned smile on her face. Her demeanor seems as if she has just put on her jacket and is ready to leave the party. Because of these things, I believe this might be Sherman’s interpretation of a before and after shot. And with the jackets, because they are so similar in style but not quite the same, I think the “before” woman must have come in with the green coat, but on leaving, her “after” identity picked up the black and white one due to confusion in her drunken state.  This image was Cindy’s way of interpreting a less dramatic state of changing identities. On first glance, the two women look just that; like two different women. But on closer inspection, they are two characters of the same body or two versions of the same person. Sherman was showing us that everybody has parts and segments to their complex identities and that everybody expresses them in one way or another, whether we choose to believe they are there or not.

Untitled #462 and the Balenciaga series spoke to me with its simplicity in visuals but complexity in its ideas. I have become more aware of myself and parts of my identity as a result and feel more at terms with it in seeing Sherman’s interpretation of the matter.

The Cindy Sherman Show: Reflection

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Sherman, Cindy. “Untitled #415”, Clown series. Photography. Wellington City Art Gallery, 2004.

Seeing this particular image (Untitled #415) in The Cindy Sherman Show stood out to me as an important moment because it was the moment I started to take Sherman seriously (which is ironic considering how not serious the image itself is). During the first series of her work that we looked at (the Headshots series), I saw Sherman as unprofessional. At first glance I couldn’t see the value in her works and didn’t understand how on earth they could be as successful as they are. It wasn’t until I got to this clown photo in the second series we went through that I began to understand where Sherman was coming from and how clever she actually was.

I tend to give a lot of credit to artists who have comedic elements in their work and after seeing the picture above, I suddenly saw Sherman’s thought process through all of the works we had just seen and was able to respect her works in the way she deserves. Her visual jokes are so subtle and yet so impacting in the way Sherman portrays them. Such as how in this image, the clown has a naturally huge nose but has drawn a very small red dot in the centre of it, playing at how original clowns place big red noses on their comparatively smaller ones.

Sherman also made fun surrounding genders, because clowns are seemingly genderless, she holds a bottle at her crotch simulating male genitalia. This contrast in showing a character that the audience is supposed to interpret as ungendered and playing at the idea of male genitalia is kind of a funny hypocrisy that Sherman enjoys portraying. The smug face on the clown almost seems like they are laughing at the people who are confused by this contrast, the people who are in need of knowing what gender the clown is. The main point being only the clown knows and that, frankly, it is none of our business, but it is still fun for the clown to tease it’s audience about.

After realizing this comedic value in this work, I went back to the headshots and in almost every frame there was an element of similar value that caught my fancy. The thing with Sherman is that at first glance, she invites you to judge her and misinterpret her works to the point of confusion and frustration at her “lack of ability”. It is only once you look closer at the detailing and see that all the exaggerations and seemingly poor workmanship were purposeful and overall more impacting than if she had executed her works in a perfected manner.

Because Sherman’s humility (and therefore impact) is in the detail of her works, it takes more than a simple glance to be able to understand and appreciate her creations. I have seen Sherman in a new light and have learnt to not give up on artists so easily. Next time I visit a gallery or see an artwork, I am not going to judge it until I look closer and try to properly understand the reasoning behind their actions.

The Cindy Sherman Show: Experience

I am overwhelmed in the same way you are overwhelmed when you find out how many pages are in a book you have to read. At first glance, it seems an impossible task, that you will never be able to understand the whole story or even be able to finish it, but once you force yourself to start reading, you find yourself unable to stop and see that the whole story was there in order for you to understand it, in the author’s way or in your own.

The Woman Dressed As A Man And/Or A Woman Dressed As A Clown is a long and complicated story and I see myself in confusion. I want to look away, but instead I look closer. I see a small red dot inhabiting a wide white nose, seemingly mocking the other clowns in the room with their bigoted obnoxious foam prosthetics. For the first time, I see the hilarity in a clown. I see a bottle held at their crotch and a glint in their playful eye and I see a mime, a painter, an artist, an entertainer. I read Cindy’s story and feel no intimidation of how many pages there are to understand because it is all lain out for me, all I have to do is look.

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Sherman, Cindy. “Untitled #415”, Clown Series. Photography. Wellington City Art Gallery, 2004.

How To See The World – An Insight Into The Intro

I have found while reading How to See The World by Nicholas Mirzoeff that I agree with his almost negative opinions more often than I do not, which is really annoying in a lot of ways because I do not want him to be right about how our generation is not seeing things as richly or in such an impacting way as someone would maybe 50 years ago. In the now, everything is instant and multiplied, nothing has value in it’s origin anymore and everyone seems to need to document everything digitally from their cat meowing to a live concert.

After reading the intro, a few of his points struck me, which I will continue to state below.

“By echoing the daily practice of the selfie, the camera and the picture make space real and imaginable to us in an even more direct way than Blue Marble, but with none of the social impact of the earlier image.” (Mirzoeff: 8) In the text this was referring to the ‘selfie’ that Japanese astronaut, Hoshide, took of himself where the earth was reflecting onto his space helmet. It stuck with me because of the sheer ridiculousness but accuracy of the explanation. We cannot imagine ourselves in an unimaginable situation until we can see somebody else in that situation. Hoshide made space seem all that much more real to the viewer who in some ways couldn’t believe that Blue Marble was actuality of the earth.

“More people still have access to television but hardly anyone has influence over what is shown on television and fewer still can place their own work on tv.” (Mirzoeff: 17) I had never before thought about an ordinary person trying to air their own footage on tv unless it was meant to be on America’s Funniest Home Videos. It is such a bizarre concept to me because it was never an option to even think about. The vast majority of people have a tv and yet do not have control over what is being fed to them through this medium.

“We date a painting to the specific year it was finished but it is impossible to tell how long it took to paint” (Mirzoeff: 26) This last quote also baffled me a little bit as with some things, such as art, there is beauty in the unknown. A painting could have taken hours, days, or years to paint but in the end, it doesn’t matter. It is not about the time taken to create something, it is about how you have impacted the rest of the world. If a painting is timeless, then it makes sense that we aren’t to know how long it took to create.

So far, I have found the book really really interesting and I am excited to be enlighten and annoyed some more 🙂

Works Cited List

Mirzoeff, Nicholas. How to see the world. London: Penguin , 2015. Print.

Hoshide, Akihiko. Selfie. NASA, 2012. Photograph.

Alexa Meade

I admire Alexa Meade’s work because of how she turns something 3d into a 2d figure, rather than sticking with the crowd and trying to paint a flat piece of paper into a 3d realistic image. I think by painting onto people, she is simplifying them and making her audience focus on the aspects of a person that she wishes to portray. Like with the old man on the bus, because she has painted him, we see his face more dramatically and thoughtfully than if he were left unpainted. I love these works to no end and hope to be able to create something as impacting as this in the future.

Howl’s Moving Castle

As much as I would like to be able to create animations, I don’t have the patience to draw the same things over and over as necessary as it is to make one. Animation is just hundreds and hundreds of connected artworks played fluidly to create an overall beautiful moving image. I think that’s why I appreciate Studio Ghibli films so much, because they can produce things I could never imagine being able to put the time and effort into myself.

Every frame to them is a new artwork, as it would be in real life. They accentuate backgrounds that we see (but not notice) every day and make them into something more captivating than reality, which I think is what animation is all about; creating something hyper-realistic so it is simultaneously believable and awe-striking.

Howl’s Moving Castle was the film that first got me addicted to Ghibli works. In my opinion, it had the most beautiful background work and seemingly the most time put into the overall visual element of it. I have the soundtrack on my laptop and still listen to it when I am studying for exams or tests (which is actually quite dangerous because when it was pizza night at home I would force my parents to watch it with me, so now I want pizza every time I hear it).

Hayao Miyazaki (the director of Howl’s Moving Castle) is probably the person I respect most in the art world that I have so far experienced, even if he himself doesn’t consider himself anything more than an old man who has failed to retire more times than he hasn’t.