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.
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.
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.