THEMATIC: Characters and Identity

"Untitled (#466)," 2008. Color photograph, 101 7/8 x 69 1/4 inches (framed). Edition of 6. © Cindy Sherman. Courtesy Metro Pictures, New York.

Cindy Sherman utilizes a wide range of props, costumes, and wigs to create fictional characters. She then photographs herself as these characters to create evocative portraits. In her Art in the Twenty-First Century segment, Sherman talks about playing, as a child, in order "to see what makeup could do" to transform a person. View Sherman's segment, and discuss the choices the artist makes to transform herself, to represent a wide cast of characters and identities in her work.

Compare the way Cindy Sherman transforms herself and constructs her characters to the strategies of other artists, including: Eleanor Antin, Paul McCarthy, Cao Fei, and Matthew Barney.

SEGMENT: Cindy Sherman in "Transformation"

Before Viewing
How do makeup, accessories, clothing, and other props affect identity? How do they affect the way we present ourselves to the world? How can these things shape or create an alter ego, personality, or identity?

While Viewing
How would you describe the characters that Sherman creates? Select one portrait and note the visual clues that Sherman has included in the image. What do they tell you about the character she is presenting? Who is this person? Where is she? Imagine what might have happened to this character in the moments before and after the photograph was taken.

After Viewing
Discuss the term artistic license. What is it? How might this term apply to the choices that Sherman makes in her work?

Working with a small group of students, choose a Sherman photograph and ask each person to write a short story that relates to the character portrayed in the image. Compare similarities and differences between each of the stories, and discuss the aspects of the photograph that inspired different interpretations.