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How Cindy Sherman’s Instagram works are making contributions to the Art Historical Canon

Alyson Agar, Lecturer in Visual and Creative Cultures

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Cindy Sherman is one of the world’s most renowned female contemporary photographers. Frequently identified as a conceptual photographer by critics and academics, Cindy Sherman’s photographic practice has spanned decades; from her beginnings in the late 1970s to her most recent explorations of ‘selfie culture’ on Instagram. Subsequently, the prevalent theme firmly embedded within Sherman’s practice is the exploration of identity and its social constructs; in particular, societal female archetypes, evidenced throughout Cindy Sherman’s pre and post-internet practice.

In the summer of 2017, Cindy Sherman made her Instagram account public; since doing this, she has amassed more than 187,000 followers (May, 2018) This move to Instagram marked a seismic shift in Sherman’s photographic practice; initially it provided the public with an insight into the ‘real Cindy Sherman’ and the introduction of a ‘digital mask’ in contrast to the other masks Sherman has worn previously throughout her forty year career.

In order to explore Cindy Sherman’s move to Instagram, we must first ascertain why Cindy Sherman has elected to use Instagram as a mode of operation. In addition to this, Sherman’s shift in practice must be located within a contemporary critical and theoretical framework in an endeavour to understand her positioning. Sherman’s Instagram works make a valid contribution to the art-historical canon, they examine and reference new developments in visual culture in the widest possible sense, whilst simultaneously referencing Sherman’s historical practice.

Sherman’s Instagram images reference contemporary ‘selfie’ culture; an interesting, yet not unexpected exploration for Sherman who is one of the most important female artists of the twentieth century to turn the camera on herself in dialogue with a wider cultural and historical vision. Arguably, Sherman’s Instagram ‘selfies’ serve to continue the conversation as they confidently comment upon new representations of self in the digital realm; contributing to new knowledge regarding new taxonomies regarding new statements of femininity.

Sherman’s handling of a new visual language; the language of the internet is compelling. Key characteristics of the selfie are examined, and ultimately subverted throughout Sherman’s Instagram works. Methodically, she examines the tilt of the head, the upwards angle, the pouting lips and presents them as hallmarks of contemporary selfie culture. An analytical and visual enquiry is manifested in the work, in parlance with a new confidence and inquisitiveness seen as Sherman navigates new working methods.

Blending In, 2nd March 2018, depicts an elongated floating head that operates fully within the centre of the frame. Blending In mimics the shape of a classical bust, in particular, the triangle of the décolletage. Referencing unity and connoting insinuations of the golden ratio; further reinforced by the gold medallion that the figure wears around her neck. The character seems detached from reality, gazing down at the world below, one can’t help but wonder if this could be a metaphor for Sherman’s relationship with technology.

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