Cindy Sherman

Cindy Sherman


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Cindy Sherman
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Mauer, Barry J
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Robert Ray introduced me to Cindy Sherman's Untitled Film Stills in

his Introduction to Theory class and encouraged me to use them in
my teaching. Susan Hegeman revised sections of Chapter 6. Gregory

Ulmer encouraged me and guided this work. I am extremely
grateful for their contributions, without which this work would not

exist. My deepest gratitude goes to Claire, whose dialogue with me

these many months has contributed immeasurably to this work.




ABSTRACT......................................................................................................... i v


1 INTRODUCTION ............................................................................................. 1

Toward an Electronic Rhetoric............................................................... 1
Dissertation Overview ............................................................................ 10


B axandall...................................................................................................... 1 6
Charge and Brief....................................................................................... 21
Troc, Markets, Tradition................................. ....................................... 33

3 THE UNCERTAIN STATUS OF THE OBJECT....................................... 38

The Prospects for an Inferential Treatment of the
Postmodern Avant-Garde................................................................. 38
James Peterson's Inferential Treatment of the
Avant-Garde........................................................................................... 40
Film Stills as W riting............................................................................... 59
The Photographic Message................................................................... 63
Image and (Missing) Text: The Publicity Still.............................. 70
Sherman's Charge and Brief................................................................. 7
Sherman's Resources............................................................................... 80
W arhol and the Aesthetics of Appropriation..........................8..... 3

4 THE RHETORIC OF WRITING WITH THE STAR.............................. 88

C harism a....................................................................................................... 8 9
The Star as Rhetoric.............................................................................. 100
W writing with the Fetish........................................................................107
Laura Mulvey and the Political Aesthetics of
th e F etish ............................................................................................... 1 1 2

5 THE RHETORIC OF INTERPRETATION.............................................. 120

Bordwell's Rhetoric of Criticism ...................................................1.... 23
Explicatory and Symptomatic Criticism...................................1..... 34
A Grammatology of Critique........................................................1...... 43
Case Study: Judith W illiamson.....................................................1..... 46
Case Study: Kaja Silverman................................................................ 152

6 TEACHING W ITH FILM STILLS......................................................... 168

An Arts-Oriented Program of Research and Pedagogy.....1..... 68
A New Approach.................................................................................1.... 70
M materials and Methods ........................................................................ 73
The Assignment ...................................................................................... 80
Planning Your Film Still....................................................................... 82
Evaluations................................................................................................ 86
Film Stills, Part Two: The Third Meaning................................1..... 87
Reflections ............................................................................................1..... 92

CONCLUSION: THE INVENTION METHOD ........................................... 195

REFERENCES ................................................................................................... 197

BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH........................................................................... 200

Abstract of Dissertation Presented to the Graduate School
of the University of Florida in Partial Fulfillment of the
Requirements for the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy



Barry Jason Mauer

May 1999

Chairman: Gregory Ulmer
Major Department: English

My dissertation proposes an arts model of humanities learning for a
computerized networked writing environment. Through case studies

of Picasso's cubist paintings, Cindy Sherman's Untitled Film Stills, and

the Hollywood star system, I discuss the invention of a new rhetoric

for media practices within the institutional frames of art and
entertainment. My goal is to develop a rhetoric for hypermedia
practices within education. As a work of heuretics, which uses the
logic of invention rather than interpretation, my dissertation
explores art, theory and criticism as resources for a hybrid genre of
writing within electronic media. In this genre, students produce
their own film stills and criticism. The context for this project is
Hollywood's use of "the star." Hollywood and its stars produce a way

of communicating information bodily, through looks and poses which

have spread through the culture. Sherman appropriates these

behaviors for works of high art, showing that the products of

Hollywood can be remotivated for other purposes. My appropriation

of Sherman's work for a pedagogical project follows the example set

by Sherman herself. The dissertation uses the inferential criticism of

Michael Baxandall and James Peterson to construct a poetics from

Sherman's work. This poetics, in turn, becomes the basis for

humanities writing in electronic media.


Toward An Electronic Rhetoric

In the rhetoric of literacy, ethos is known as the problem of
"voice," an acknowledgment of the writer's simulated performance of

a spoken "role" for a particular occasion. The elements of ethos

change as we move from self-representation within alphabetic

writing to self-representation within images; the self is no longer
understood as a "voice" but as a "look." In hypertext, a computer-

based writing program, we can represent ourselves using both text

and images. Therefore, we need to explore what it means to write
with images. My dissertation presents an electronic rhetoric for use

within a computerized learning environment. I developed this
rhetoric, in part, from a case study of Cindy Sherman's Untitled Film
Stills, small black-and-white images of Sherman impersonating
various character types from old movies. Sherman's series is

directly relevant to the problem of self-representation in this new
media environment. By showing us how we can represent ourselves
with images "on screen," Sherman's work helps us do humanities
research, writing, and teaching using electronic media.
Is the humanities responsible for teaching people how to use
multimedia? Perhaps we should ask whether we are in the literacy

business or in the communications business. An analogy can be

made between the humanities in the age of the computer and the

railroad companies in the age of the commercial jet; the railroad

companies had to ask whether they were in the railroad business or

the transportation business. If they didn't embrace changes in

transportation, they risked becoming irrelevant. Since ordinary
people now use photography, film, video, and hypertext, with or

without humanities training, humanities educators have an

opportunity, and perhaps even an obligation, to teach
"communication" in these new media. Whichever direction society

takes in its use of communications technologies, the humanities' role

is to help teach reading and writing. If we refuse this role, we

abdicate our responsibilities to other institutions, such as trade

schools, commercial institutions, and the military, that don't
necessarily share humanist values.

Currently, the humanities addresses new media by means of

critique; critique by itself, however, does little to affect the ways in

which people communicate and produce work in these media (with

some exceptions--see Chapter 4). The humanities' commitment to

the written essay as its only acceptable form means that little

experimentation has been done to develop humanities writing

practices for new media.
As humanities educators, we know a lot about argument,
narrative, and metaphor, and can teach students how to use these

forms to their advantage in their writing, but what do we know
about rhetoric in electronic media such as hypertext? A rhetoric of
hypertext should provide instructions for using all the features of

the medium. HyperCard, the first mass-marketed hypertext system,

came with the following description:

The model for HyperCard is the 3-by-5 card. A card is
represented by a Macintosh screen. As you flip through
screens (cards) you read them one after another, as if they
were a stack. Cards can hold any kind of information you
want, in any format you want, including pictures. Rather than
resting inertly, as on a Rolodex, information can be actively
linked to any other point on any other card. Another way to
imagine it would be to think of a book that had footnotes that
appear only when you clicked on a passage you wanted to
know more about. It would carry you to interesting details,
which might themselves have footnotes which are footnoted
and so on. (HyperCard Software," 102; quoted in Ulmer, 29)

Although Apple describes HyperCard in metaphors from

alphabetic literacy (the card and the book), we need to understand
how electronic media differs from alphabet literacy. Grammatology,
the study of the history of writing, posits that different technologies

of communication, the means by which people store, retrieve, and
process information, occasion different kinds of thinking.

Grammatology suggests that human history has seen only two major
revolutions in communication technology: the first involved the shift
from oral to alphabetic cultures; the second, the transformation to
"electronic" or "cinematic" culture, which we are living through now.

Grammatologists investigate the consequences, characteristics, and
modes of an age of film and computers. In this dissertation, I
examine the way humanities educators currently conduct writing
and research; my goal is to find ways of adapting these practices to
electronic media.

Because communication in electronic media differs in
fundamental ways from communication in alphabetic media, we
must invent new ways of "writing" in order to adapt. Seen from the

perspective of grammatology, the electronic revolution parallels the
alphabetic revolution of some 2,500 years ago. Eric Havelock, a
grammatologist who studies classic Greek literature, argues that the
introduction of alphabetic literacy into human culture brought about
new forms of communication. For example, he argues that pre-

Socratic philosophers invented "a conceptual language in which all
future systems of philosophic thought could be expressed; this same
language, however, [was] extracted from Homer and Hesiod and

given a new non-oralist syntax" (2-3). Among these invented
concepts was "justice" (4). It is worth remembering that many of the
concepts and reasoning procedures we use every day in our spoken
and written thoughts are not natural or eternal; they were invented
in relation to a specific technology (alphabetic writing) and a specific

institution (education). In other words, they are historically and
institutionally bound. The lesson of grammatology is that as

technologies change, we must adapt our concepts and reasoning

procedures for use within the new technologies.
The context for our problem, the invention of humanities
writing practices, is the apparatus shift from an alphabetic culture to
an electronic culture. Gregory Ulmer writes: "For grammatology,
hypermedia is the technological aspect of an electronic apparatus
(referring to an interactive matrix of technology, institutional
practices, and ideological subject formation)" (17). Changes in
information technology precipitate changes in institutional practices,

and ideological subject formation. As educators, we have little direct

control over the design of new technologies (such as computer
hardware), but we can influence the use of these technologies,

especially within our own institutions. We can design the writing
practices for these media just as Plato did for alphabetic writing.

Plato did not invent the alphabet, but he did design a literate
pedagogy in contrast to the established oral pedagogy of his time.
Havelock, in The Muse Learns to Write, explains:

[Plato] was attacking the poets less for their poetry . than for
the instruction which it had been their accepted role to
provide. They had been the teachers of Greece. . Greek
literature had been poetic because the poetry had performed a
social function, that of preserving the tradition in which the
Greeks lived and instructing them in it. This could only mean a
tradition which was orally taught and memorized. It was
precisely this didactic function and the authority that went
with it to which Plato objected. What could have been his
motive, unless he intended that his own teachings should
supplant it? What was the difference? The obvious one . .
was that his own teaching was formally nonpoetic. It was
composed in prose. Was this a superficial accident? Or, since it
represented a replacement for poetry, was it also meant to
replace orality? Was the arrival of Platonism, meaning the
appearance of a large body of discourse written in prose, a
signal announcing that Greek orality was giving way to Greek
literacy and that an oral state of mind was to be replaced by a
literate state of mind? (8)

Havelock answers these questions affirmatively. Just as Plato
invented literate practices for education, we can invent the practices
of "electracy" (a term coined by Ulmer meaning the electronic
version of literacy) for education. Our practices of electracy will be
defined in contrast to those of literacy, just as Plato defined his

literate practices in contrast to those of orality. Electracy, however,

is not intended to "replace" literacy; rather, it supplements it. A
humanities education set in a computerized networked writing
environment still requires the practices of literacy, including analysis

and critique; these are crucial components of electracy, as I will
argue in the chapters ahead. Electracy supplements literate practices
by the addition of "aesthetics." Aesthetics, for my purposes, means

the ability to reason with images. The ways in which we synthesize

aesthetics and critique need to be invented.

Ulmer calls the logic of invention "heuretics," which he
contrasts to hermeneutics, or the logic of interpretation. A heuretics
for the humanities, writes Ulmer, is charged with inventing "forms

appropriate for conducting cultural studies research" (xi) in new
media. Heuretics has a history; thinkers from Plato to Roland
Barthes have invented genres of "writing" appropriate to their

disciplines and to new information technologies. Plato invented the
dialectic to take advantage of the critical distance made possible by
alphabetic writing. Roland Barthes, in S/Z, A Lover's Discourse, and
Barthes by Barthes, invented genres of writing that employ
associative networks or reasoning, thus simulating electronic effects

(like those of hypertext) in book form. My goal for the past several
years has been to invent a rhetoric for hypermedia.

In 1995, my colleagues and I in the English Department at the
University of Florida taught in a computerized networked writing
environment for the first time; we began experimenting with
humanities writing practices for new media. We saw ourselves as a
pedagogical avant-garde, inventing assignments, teaching strategies,

and writing methods for the computer labs. The computer labs
presented an opportunity to do something we had never dreamed

possible; previously we had studied works of art (literature, film,
music, photography) as cases of invention but now we were
inventing. Cases of invention in the arts became examples for us to

emulate in education; for instance, we asked how Eisenstein's

development of a language for the cinema in the 1920s could be
used as an analogy for our development of a language of hypertext
and multimedia in the classroom. We tried methods that would have

seemed highly idiosyncratic in a traditional classroom setting.

I present a hypertextual writing method for the humanities by
means of an analogy to the work of Cindy Sherman. Sherman's work

demonstrates a variety of ways to represent the self visually. I want
to learn how educators and students can represent our identities

within hypertext by reformulating the rhetorical function of ethos.
The theory I use to support my reasoning-by-analogy (between art

and electracy) is cognitive psychology.
Cognitive pyschology, represented in Cultural Studies by
Michael Baxandall, James Peterson, and David Bordwell, uses
inferential reasoning to reconstruct the poetics of works of art. A
poetics, according to Bordwell, is "the study of how, in determinate
circumstances, films [or texts in any media] are put together, serve
specific functions, and achieve specific effects" (266-7). Baxandall
and Peterson provide a historical reconstruction of a problem that
the artist's work addressed and the means by which the artist
addressed that problem; thus they provide the points of my analogy
between invention in the arts and my invention of a pedagogical

genre within electracy. The common theme in both cases is "a

person facing a problem." When a solution to a problem (in the arts
or in the humanities) does not yet exist, the person facing the

problem invents a solution. Three concepts from Baxandall's

inferential criticism, Charge, Brief, and troc, become points of analogy

linking invention in the arts to my invention of electronic "writing"
in the humanities. In Baxandall's method, the Charge is the problem

itself, the Brief is the specific nature of the problem (its "local
conditions") as well as the resources available for addressing that

problem, and the troc is the broader marketplace in which the
problem-solver finds resources and rewards for his or her work.

We can think of Baxandall's Charge, Brief, and troc as a series
of slots into which we plug the elements of a particular case.

Baxandall fills in these slots with the elements of Picasso's invention

of cubism. In Chapter 3, I fill in these same slots with the elements
of Sherman's invention of the Untitled Film Still genre. Finally, in

Chapters 4 and 5, I plug the elements of my problem-complex ("how
do we do humanities writing in hypermedia?") into these slots in

order to invent a solution.
Baxandall uses inferential criticism in order to interpret works

of art. In Chapter 2 I examine his case study of Picasso's invention

of cubism, represented by the Portrait of Kahnweiler. As an
interpretive method, Baxandall's inferential criticism is enormously

powerful. As a strategy of invention, however, it is just as powerful.
Baxandall's method enables me to conceptualize my own Problem,
and the method I use to address it. For instance, my Charge is "to
learn to do humanities research and writing in hypertext using text

and images." My Brief includes the local conditions (all the specific

details of teaching English classes in the computer labs at the
University of Florida) and the resources I use to address the problem

stated in the Charge. These resources include media, models, and
"aesthetic." I will discuss these types of resources at length in the

next chapter, but I should mention that "aesthetic" includes a critical
account of the maker's process and the function of his or her work: in
other words, traditional academic criticism. Traditional academic
criticism is part my troc; in academic culture, traditional academic

criticism provides the context in which my inventions in humanities

writing will be used (or not) and will be judged.
My method takes cognitive psychology and inferential criticism

to the next step. Cognitive psychology and inferential criticism are
currently employed as "reading strategies," but I turn them into a

poetics for generating new inventions. A poetics is a guide to
problem-solving; it explains how artists create certain effects in their
works and how viewers solve perceptual and conceptual problems

posed by those works. Poetics is often, but not always, concerned
with meaning; it is more generally concerned with effects, of which
meaning is but one type. The prototype for all poetics is Aristotle's
Poetics, which described the specific properties of epic and tragedy,

but then became a prescriptive set of instructions for writers of
works in these genres.
A poetics functions either as a description or as a set of
instructions; it describes particular genres, but can also be used to
produce works in a particular genre. To produce a new genre, one
can alter an existing poetics or construct an original poetics. I

propose a new hybrid text/image genre for hypertextual media that
combines art practices with literate practices: the Untitled Films Stills

and critique about the Untitled Films Stills. This hybrid might be
compared to a synthesis of Aristotle's Poetics (about the structure of
poetry and drama) and his Rhetoric (about the structure of
argument). My hybrid poetics provides instructions for an arts-
oriented approach to the humanities. This arts approach does not
separate the artist from the critic; rather, it is a holistic approach to

learning, drawing on interdisciplinary skills to produce a synthesis of
aesthetic and critical modes of writing. I provide an example of an
arts-oriented class project in Chapter 6: Teaching with Film Stills.

Dissertation Overview
Chapter 2: Inferential Reasoning and the Avant-Garde
In this chapter, I draw upon cognitive models of inferential
reasoning to reconstruct Sherman's invention process. I introduce

Michael Baxandall's Patterns of Intention: On the Historical
Explanation of Pictures, which explains how Picasso invented cubism,

which in turn sets up my inferential study of Sherman. Baxandall
treats Picasso's work as a solution to a problem we do not yet know.
Baxandall's method is oriented towards the discovery of the problem
the "maker" (in this case, the artist) solved and the means by which
he or she solved it. This method is based on a triangulation of
elements--"a simplified reconstruction of the maker's reflection and
rationality applying an individual selection from collective resources
to a task." Baxandall introduces three key terms in his cognitivist
method: Charge (the major problem a maker tried to solve), Brief

(the local conditions, including the available resources, in which the

maker addressed the problem posed by the Charge), and troc (the

cultural marketplace in which the maker's work makes sense).

Baxandall's reconstruction process produces a poetics of Picasso's

work. Any principles of inferential problem solving discovered by

cognitivist methods can be turned into a poetics for generating new

work but cognitive authors do not show us how to do that. My

project is to take Baxandall a step further and show how his

inferential method can become a method of invention, using my

classroom project based on Sherman's Untitled Film Stills as the test


Chapter 3: The Uncertain Status of the Object

I use James Peterson's Dreams of Chaos, Visions of Order to

distinguish between ordinary interpretation and inferential criticism.

I then present an inferential reading of Sherman's work by drawing

upon Henry Sayre's The Object of Performance to discuss the context

of Sherman's work (the postmodern avant-garde) and Roland

Barthes' "The Photographic Message" to study the connotation

procedures of Sherman's work. I consider Sherman's Untitled Film

Stills as a kind of writing that takes advantage of cinematic and

electronic modes. I then apply Baxandall's methodology to

Sherman's work in order to extract a poetics for the film still, which
includes a strategy of appropriation.

Chapter 4: The Rhetoric of Writing with the Star
I introduce my rhetoric and poetics of this new writing. The
institutional context for this writing is electronic pedagogy in the age

of the star. This chapter thus deals with the invention of the
Hollywood star, Sherman's appropriation of the star's poses and looks

for a work of high art, and my appropriation of Sherman's work into
a pedagogical project.

Chapter 5: The Rhetoric of Interpretation
Recent criticism of Sherman's Untitled Film Stills by Laura
Mulvey (Fetishism and Curiosity) and Kaja Silverman (The Threshold
of the Visible World) indicate that Sherman's photographs have
become increasingly important to the disciplines of cultural studies
and film studies. Both critics approach the stills from the
perspective of psychoanalytic theory, Mulvey employing Freud's
concept of fetishism and Silverman employing Lacan's concept of the
screen, to explain how Sherman's work challenges patriarchal
aesthetics and identity construction. David Bordwell (Making
Meaning) has written a rhetoric of modern interpretive criticism,
which I employ as part of my Brief. Although Bordwell attacks

interpretation, that is not my intention. Rather, my purpose is to
design a poetics for generating student writing in a networked
writing environment that includes an aesthetic component and a

critical component. The critical component in my rhetoric is derived
from Bordwell's account of psychoanalytic criticism.


Chapter 6: Teaching with Film Stills
This chapter presents my "Film Stills Project," adapted from Cindy
Sherman's Untitled Film Stills, and discusses some of the results of

this approach in the classroom. In my conclusion I discuss how the
lessons of this dissertation can be generalized to aid invention in any
field. Finally, I point to problems raised by computerized writing
which need more research.


This dissertation explores a research and writing strategy that
adapts high art and entertainment (Cindy Sherman's Untitled Film

Stills and Hollywood movies) for use within education. My goal is to

create a genre of humanities writing, employing images and text, for

an electronic environment. Sherman and the filmmakers within the
Hollywood studio system have solved numerous problems posed by

the electronic/cinematic apparatus including the problem of how to

use new information technologies (photography and film) in order to

communicate, and the problem of how to adapt new discourse

practices for use within particular institutions (art and

entertainment). These artists' works can be considered solutions to
problems similar to those educators face as we shift to electronic

modes of literacy.
This chapter contains the structural frame of my dissertation:
Michael Baxandall's "inferential criticism." Baxandall uses the

inferential method to reconstruct Picasso's invention of cubism. I

adapt Baxandall's method to produce an inferential reading of
Sherman's Untitled Film Stills (which can be found in Chapter 3).
This reading of Sherman's work, in turn, lays the groundwork for my

invention of a hypertextual genre of humanities writing.

Baxandall's account of Picasso's cubist paintings focuses not on
Picasso's "genius," but on the historical context in which Picasso

developed his work and in which it was received. Baxandall
represents the invention of cubism as a series of choices Picasso

made within a complex set of historical circumstances. By showing
us how Picasso identified problems within his historical frame and

discovered ways of addressing those problems (through his choice of

resources and markets), Baxandall provides us with a description of

invention. In Chapter 3, I demonstrate how Baxandall's method,

which he uses to untangle the complicated strands of Picasso's
invention, works equally well when adapted for the purpose of

analyzing Cindy Sherman's Untitled Film Stills. In Chapters 4 and 5,

I demonstrate how Baxandall's method, which he uses as a reading
method, can be converted into instructions for generating our own

Sherman's situation within the art-world of the late 1970s is

analogous to my situation within education in the late 1990s. We
both find ways to represent the self using photography. Sherman
adapted the discourse practices of entertainment for use within art
while I adapt the discourse practices of avant-garde for use within
education. This chapter and the next present avant-garde problem-

solving strategies. The methods that avant-garde artists used to
solve problems in the arts becomes, by analogy, a method we can use
to solve our own problems in the humanities. But in order for this

analogy to be productive, we must first explore some of the
strategies that avant-garde artists used to solve their problems. I

present historical and theoretical accounts of artists' problem-solving

in the chapters that follow, and draw attention to those strategies

used by artists which offer the most promise for the humanities.

I chose Michael Baxandall's inferential criticism as the basis for

my study of Cindy Sherman because Baxandall examines how
creative peoples' intentions guided their choices and led to their

'finished work.' My interest lies in aiding creativity; inferential

criticism, in aiming to uncover the process of invention in historical
cases, provides the "slots" we need to compose our own recipes for

invention. In adapting Baxandall's methodology for a heuretic
project within education, we fill in the "slots" provided by

Baxandall's inferential model with our own materials appropriate for

addressing problems within our discipline.
In the first two chapters of Patterns of Intention: On the

Historical Explanation of Pictures, Baxandall applies inferential
criticism to two cases, Benjamin Baker's Forth Bridge and Picasso's

Portrait of Kahnweiler. I present a discussion of these chapters here
in order to explain Baxandall's theory of historical explanation and to

present some of his terms and concepts.
Baxandall characterizes theories of historical explanation as

belonging to one of two camps, either the nomological or the

nomological people argue that it is possible, at least in
principle, to explain historical human actions within quite strict
causal terms as examples covered by general laws, on the same
logical pattern as a physical scientist explaining the fall of an

apple. On the other side are the teleological folk, who decline
the model of the physical sciences and argue that the
explanation of human actions demands that we attend formally
to the actor's purposes: we identify the ends of actions and
reconstruct purpose on the basis of particular rather than
general facts, even while clearly if implicitly using
generalizations, soft rather than hard ones, about human
nature and so on. (12)

Baxandall studies human-made creations and not phenomena
in nature; therefore he works in the teleological mode because he
seeks "to understand a finished piece of behavior [represented by a
painting] by reconstructing a purposiveness or intention in it" (14).

He sums up his method of historical reconstruction as follows:

For the moment . let us say: The maker of a picture or other
historical artifact is a man addressing a problem of which his
product is a finished and concrete solution. To understand it
we try to reconstruct both the specific problem it was designed
to solve and the specific circumstances out of which he was
addressing it. The reconstruction is not identical with what he
internally experienced: it will be simplified and limited to the
conceptualizable, though it will also be operating in a reciprocal
relation with the picture itself, which contributes, among other
things, modes of perceiving and feeling. What we are going to
be dealing in are relations--relations of problems to solutions,
of both to circumstances, of our conceptualized constructs to a
picture covered by a description, and of a description to a
picture. (10-11)

Baxandall's method is a historical constructionist approach; he
focuses not on the maker's feelings, but on the society in which the
maker produced. Baxandall begins his case studies by examining the
art work, which he calls "the deposit of activity" (14). He reasons
inferentially from the deposit of activity to the "purposiveness or
intention" (14) that shaped it. Baxandall notes that in seeking the

"intention" behind the "causal field behind a picture" (41), he is not

aiming to discover "an actual, particular psychological state or even a

historical set of mental events inside the heads" of the artists and

other makers he studies; "Rather," he writes, "it is primarily a

general condition of rational human action which I posit in the

course of arranging my circumstantial facts" (42).

This can be referred to as intentionalityy' no doubt. One
assumes purposefulness--or intent, as it were, 'intentiveness'--
in the historical actor but even more in the historical objects
themselves. Intentionality in this sense is taken to be
characteristic of both. Intention is the forward-leaning look of
things. (42)

The historical actor may have provided some clues about this
intentiveness, but he or she may also have been unaware of his or

her intentions. Baxandall explains that intentions "may have been
implicit in institutions to which the actor unreflectively acquiesced,"

or that intentions implicit in a work "may have been dispositions
acquired through a history of behavior in which reflection once but

no longer had a part. Genres are often a case of the first and skills
are often a case of the second" (42). Thus in order to surmise the
intentions behind an object, one might "take in the rationality of the

institution or of the behavior that led to the disposition" (42). We

seek signs of intentionality, therefore, in objects and institutions as
well as in the behaviors and explanations of individual historical

Baxandall's method requires us to reconstruct "the process of
thought" (14) that led to the production of the historical object. (This
"thought," as I mentioned above, is not necessarily the conscious

intent of an individual historical actor.) Reconstructing the process

of thought means reasoning backwards from the historical artifact
under investigation, or the "effects," to the processes that led to its

production, or the "causes." This reasoning, from effects to causes,

Baxandall calls "inferential criticism," though other theorists call it
"abductive reasoning" (see Eco and Sebeok, The Sign of Three). It

involves reasoning from the known to the unknown: for example,

from a painting, which we may observe, to the motives, materials,

and techniques motivating the work, which may be partly or wholly

Baxandall cautions that we should consider a work as neither

finished nor unfinished; we should assume rather that the maker

stopped work on it for whatever reason. He also cautions that when

we write about pictures, "we are describing our thoughts about a

picture--not the picture, nor mental events in the painter's mind"

(58). In other words, in order to do an inferential reading, it is

necessary for us to reconstruct a "model picture" in language; the

ways in which we describe a picture in writing determine and limit

which types of inquiries and speculations we pursue. Therefore,

when we write about a historical object, we are dealing not with the

object itself, but with descriptive concepts which we check against

the object. When Baxandall describes a picture, he is concerned

primarily with finding signs of problems addressed by the maker
and the resources the maker used to address those problems.

Baxandall's discussion of Picasso's Portrait of Kahnweiler
demonstrates this "problems-resources" approach. Baxandall

indicates three "problem-complexes" Picasso dealt with--"tension

between two and three dimensions; tensions between priorities of
form and colour; the contradiction between sustained experience and

the fictive instant . (64). Baxandall calls these the "primary
problems" that occupied Picasso during this period of his career.

Picasso also encountered "secondary problems" as he worked on the

paintings themselves. "It is, no doubt, these [secondary problems]

that the painter himself is most immediately aware of, and this is the
reason why painters' statements about their art often seem at odds

with what the observer sees" (64). The observer perceives Picasso

struggling both with the primary problems and an evolving set of

secondary problems as his work developed over time.

Here are a few of the derivative problems we apprehend in the
Portrait of Kahnweiler. There is a problem, newly heightened
by the leaving open of the plane edge of the figure, of
distinction between figure and ground, between the man and
what lies around and behind him. The immediate solution has
been to establish the distinction tonally and by hue; the man is
darker than the ground next to him, and also less yellowish.
But this sets another problem. Given our experience of looking
at nature and more especially at pictures, it is hard not to
apprehend this differentiation as representational of some sort
of difference of illumination. This is basically a duochrome
picture. The problem was to increase for a year or so yet, to
the point of almost monochromy, before being partly solved
and partly evaded -- Braque leading on this occasion and
Picasso rather hesitantly following -- by detaching hue from
the hued object itself and redisposing the sum of hues in a
more independent arrangement. And this was in turn a
solution that was to always be in tension, as a cognitive
compact between painter and beholder, with the Cubist
ambition about volume and masses. (64-5)

Baxandall enumerates several other secondary problems
Picasso addresses in the Portrait of Kahnweiler, including

-- "the residual problem of tonal relief modeling on the basis of

directional lighting"

"the problem of the recomposition of faces"
-- "the relation of scale, whether absolute or perceived, to the

registration of objects"
-- "a problem about local texture"
-- "a problem . in the still life" (64)

Furthermore, Baxandall enumerates several resources Picasso

employed in order to address these problems, including

-- "African mask"

"thick impasto"

"collage and paper coll6" (64)
Baxandall supports his analyses with abundant evidence he

observes in the canvases. It should be clear from Baxandall's

description of the Portrait of Kahnweiler that we are dealing here

with works of art as examples of problem-stating and problem-


Charge and Brief
Baxandall uses the term Charge to mean the primary problems

that the historical agent was responding to, and the term Brief to

mean the specific local conditions, the situation, that the historical

agent found himself or herself in. Baxandall contends "that historical
objects may be explained by treating them as solutions to problems
in situations, and by reconstructing a rational relationship between

these three" (35).

By examining heterogeneous objects--bridges and paintings--
Baxandall tests the limits of his method. In the case of Benjamin
Baker's Forth Bridge, the Charge did not originate with Baker, the

architect who designed the bridge, but rather with the North British
Railway Company. Here, the Charge preceded the Brief; in other
words, the company gave Baker an objective ("Bridge!") and Baker
then set himself the task of examining the local conditions. Baker

divided his task into two separate processes, conception and

execution. Baker carried out the conceptual part himself by
designing the bridge and hired another man, William Arrol, to

oversee its construction. Baker's solution (embodied in the bridge
itself) required an accounting of local conditions, or Brief, which

meant, for example, dealing with a construction site that included a
silted river bottom and strong side winds. "Together Charge and

Brief seemed to constitute a problem to which we might see the

bridge as a solution" (35).
The Brief includes the resources available for solving the
problem indicated in the Charge. Baxandall classifies these as
"resources of medium, of models (both positive and negative), and of
'aesthetic'" (35). To grossly oversimplify, Baker's medium was

structurally-deployed metal, his positive model was the Oriental

cantilever system, his negative model (an example of what not to do)
was the Tay Bridge, which was blown down by side winds, and his
aesthetic was 'functional expressionism.' These resources were
available in the culture when Baker began his work on the Forth
Bridge; he didn't need to invent them, although he put some of them
to new uses. Baker chose from his resources of medium, models, and

aesthetics those which would best serve his needs. In order to solve

the problems posed to him by the North British Railway Company

and the local conditions of the Forth River, Baker had to select some

resources and reject others.

In order to reconstruct the intentionality that shaped a
particular work, we need to examine three kinds of elements: the

terms of the problem, which includes the Charge and Brief, the

resources of the maker's culture, and the concepts pertaining to the

finished product. Baxandall's method involves reasoning among

these three elements, which he calls the triangle of re-enactment:
"What we do if we want to know about Baker is to play a conceptual

game on the triangle, a simplified reconstruction of the maker's

reflection and rationality applying an individual selection from

collective resources to a task" (34).

An individual, Benjamin Baker or X, made a selection from
these resources and alloyed his selection into a form, one
solution. X is elusive; very little worth saying can be said
about him directly, though some broad things can be inferred
from his other behavior and his statements. The way we are
proceeding seems to entail that we are thinking of him as a
compound of rationality and culture and quiddity. This means,
among other things, that we could not work through our
sequence from the problem to his solution if the solution were
not visible, because he is an insufficiently known quantity in
the schedule; instead the solution is the given and we
continually refer to it. What we do about X then is to play a
conceptual game on what I have just called the triangle of re-
enactment. This is a very simplified diagram of quite a high
level of consciousness: it is not a narrative. It is a
representation of reflection or rationality purposefully at work
on circumstances--and I shall insist again that this
representation takes life and meaning from its ostensible
relation to the Bridge itself--and we derive a sense of the
agent's quiddity by relating to these circumstances the solution

he actually arrived at. If we 'explain' the form of the Bridge at
all, it is only by expounding it as one rational way of attaining
an inferred end. (36)

Baxandall's inferential method, used in this way to explain the
making of the Forth Bridge, seems relatively obvious, given that
making the bridge: (a) solved a set of practical problems, (b)

developed sequentially from conception to execution, and (c)

employed a set of easily identifiable resources.
When Baxandall examines Picasso's invention of cubist

painting, he admits that he is putting his explanatory system under a
huge strain. He finds two weaknesses with the attempt to explain
Picasso's Portrait of Kahnweiler on the Forth Bridge pattern. In the

case of the bridge,

it seemed plausible to distinguish between two phases,
conception and execution . But in a picture like the Portrait
of Kahnweiler it is not quite a matter of the painter first
working out a finished design and then picking up his brushes
in an executive role and just carrying it out. The phases
interpenetrate and one would surely wish at least to
accommodate this sense of process. (39)

Secondly, something quite preliminary that is missing is the
problem that Picasso was addressing, both general Charge and
specific Brief. In 'bridge' and in 'silt', 'side winds' and the rest
we had sharply focused demands on Baker. Moreover, it seems
clear who had issued the Charge to design the Bridge: the Forth
Bridge Company. But what were Picasso's Charge and Brief--
setting a problem in response to which he painted like this--
and who on earth issued it, for that matter? If we are to
exercise on the triangle of re-enactment, we cannot start with
one of the three bases missing. Until we know what Picasso
had been set to do, we cannot think constructively about his
relation to the resources of the culture. (39)

If we cannot address the problems posed by the invention of
cubism (Picasso) in terms of inferential criticism, then it seems
unlikely that we can do the same with postmodern art
(Cindy Sherman) or entertainment (Hollywood). But these problems
are not intractable, as we shall see. If we can find common use of
resources between Baker and Picasso, we can posit a model of
invention that cuts across a wide range of domains, extending from

engineering to the arts. Indeed, Baxandall does find common use of
resources in the cases of Baker and Picasso. First, Picasso selected
elements of his medium just as Baker selected elements of his

medium. Baker's medium, 'metal structurally deployed', is the
equivalent not to Picasso's paints and canvases but to 'forms and
colours perceived' (38). A second area of congruence between Baker
and Picasso seems apparent as well; Picasso had positive and
negative models just as Baker had. The positive models were of two

types, determined by the domain from which they were drawn.
Picasso found his positive models within the world of European high
art when he looked to Cezanne, and in exotic models outside the
domain of European high art when he looked to African sculpture.
Picasso then adapted these models for his own ends.

Let us examine more closely how Picasso adopted these models
as part of his resources. Picasso described Les Demoiselles d'Avignon
as an unfinished work, but it pointed the direction for his future

painting. The year that Picasso began working on Les Demoiselles
d'Avignon, Cezanne died and there were numerous exhibitions of his
work on display in Paris. Many painters were drawn to aspects of
Cezanne's work. Matisse, for instance, found in Cezanne "a reductive

registration of the human figure" and "a means to a form both
energetically decorative on the picture-plane and suggestive of a
toughly colossal sort of object of representation" (60). Picasso found

a whole range of ideas in C6zanne's work that he chose to

appropriate for his own purposes.

. C6zanne was for him part of the history of interesting
painting he chose to be aware of and which constituted his
Charge. But then, by attending to him, he made him more than
that. There were various rather general C6zannian things
Picasso accepted en troc from the culture, as part of his Brief;
one would be C6zanne as an epic model of determined
individual who saw his own sense of the problem of painting as
larger than any immediate formulation urged on him by the
market; another might be some of C6zanne's verbalizations
about painting -- 'deal with nature in terms of the cylinder, the
sphere, the cone . But again, and very obviously, Picasso
also went to C6zanne's pictures as an actual resource,
somewhere he could find means to an end, varied tools for
solving problems. The matter of Cezanne's passage--of
representing a relation between two separate planes by
registering them as one continuous superplane--I have already
mentioned. . To Picasso different aspects of C6zanne were
what 'Span!' and side winds and the cantilever principle and
Siemens steel were to Benjamin Baker . (60-1)

Baxandall argues, however, that it would be a mistake to think
"Cezanne influenced Picasso." Rather, Baxandall argues that the
historical agent is active; the artist uses the works of other artists as

resources in his or her own work.

[Picasso's] angle on C6zanne . was a particular one, affected
among other things by his having referred also to such other
art as African sculpture. He saw and extracted this rather than
that in C6zanne and modified it, towards his own intention and
into his own universe of representation. And then again, by
doing this he changed for ever the way we can see Cezanne
(and African sculpture), whom we must see partly diffracted

through Picasso's idiosyncratic reading: we will never see
C6zanne undistorted by what, in C6zanne, painting after
Cezanne has made productive in our tradition.

'Tradition,' by the way, I take to be not some aesthetical sort of
cultural gene but a specifically discriminating view of the past
in an active and reciprocal relation with a developing set of
dispositions and skills acquirable in the culture that possesses
this view. But influence I do not want to talk about. (61-2)

In addition to Picasso's use of C6zanne as a positive model,
Picasso also used an exotic positive model (African sculpture) and a
negative model, which consisted of art he reacted against in his

work. These resources were not independent of one another.
Picasso adapted each in relation to the others; he found a way to
piece these three types of models into a coherent aesthetic.
Baxandall compares Picasso's use of artistic models to Baker's use of
models in his design of the Forth Bridge:

The exotic positive model corresponding to the oriental
cantilever might be the schematization of form Picasso saw in
African sculpture. . As for Thomas Bouch and the Tay Bridge,
negative examples to react away from, Picasso had many of
these: the most immediate in 1910, perhaps, were offered by
Matisse and also his earlier self, but the underlying case would
be the painting and even more the rationale of Impressionism.
The Impressionists' fiction that one registered in a picture a
momentary sensation and their frivolity in attending to hues
more than volumes were things Picasso is sometimes seen as
working almost programmatically against. (38)

The models discussed here are instances of Picasso's
intentionality remotivating his resources. African sculptors may
have had any number of intentions for their works, but Picasso
disregarded these and instead found his own purposes for their

work. Picasso's intentional "misreading" of African sculpture, seeing
it in structural terms rather than in ritual terms, was a key

component of his creativity.
The third resource Baxandall examines, 'aesthetic,' can be
traced very clearly in the case of Baker's Bridge, since Baker
presented a very cogent defense of his aesthetic ("a sort of
expressive functionalism") in an address to the Edinburgh Literary
Institute. We have no such clearly verbalized account of aesthetic

from Picasso at the time of his cubist period, but we do from his
dealer, Kahnweiler, who presents an account of formalist problems

addressed in Picasso's work.

Kahnweiler writes:

The beginning of Cubism! The first onslaught. Desperate,
Titanic, wrestling with all problems at once. With what
problems? With the fundamental problems of painting: the
representation of the three-dimensional and the coloured on
the plane surface, and their comprehension within the unity of
this plane surface. But 'representation' and 'comprehension' in
the strictest, highest sense. Not ['representation'] as
counterfeiting of form by means of light and shade, but rather
a demonstration of the three-dimensional by means of design
on the plane. Not ['comprehension' as] pleasing 'composition',
but rather an inexorable articulated construction. And then
the problem of colour as well, and lastly the most central and
difficult point, the alloyance and reconciliation of the whole.

Picasso, in contrast to Kahnweiler, claims (in 1923, years after
his cubist period) that he had had no interest in solving the problems
of painting. He writes:

I can hardly understand the importance given to the word
research in connection with modern painting. In my opinion to
search means nothing. To find is the thing . .

Among the several sins that I have been accused of, none is
more false than that I have, as the principle objective of my
work, the spirit of research. When I paint, my object is to
show what I have found and not what I am looking for. In art
intentions are not sufficient and, as we way in Spanish, love
must be proved by deeds and not by reason. What one does is
what counts and not what one had the intention of doing. . .

The several manners I have used in my art must not be
considered as an evolution, or as steps towards an unknown
ideal of painting. All I have ever made is for the present . .

How do we explain these different points of view? Baxandall
explains that they are the result of different orientations: "'problem
solving' is a construction [the observer] puts on other peoples'

purposeful activity. The intentional behavior he is watching does not
always involve an awareness in the actor of solving problems" (69).
The observer attends to 'problems' as a means of analyzing ends and

means, while the actor may be solving problems he or she does not
know exist, or else may be solving problems by means of habit, in
which case the 'problem' seems to be less of a 'problem' than it does

to the observer. The historical actor is often unreflective, whereas
the observer sees the actor's behavior as problem-solving. Baxandall
argues that although Picasso claimed he was not problem-solving, his

behavior indicates otherwise.

For Picasso the Brief and the grand problems might largely be
embodied in his likes and dislikes about pictures, particularly
his own: he need not formulate them out as problems. His
active relation to each of his pictures was indeed always in the

present moment, and at the level of process and emerging
derivative problems on which he spent his time. In a sense,
since it was his pictorial dispositions that were evolving
between 1906 and 1912, his painting was at any moment
almost habitual. But even to 'find' presupposes criteria of what
is a find: that he was not always reflectively aware of his
criteria does not mean he did not have them. And to have
criteria by which one assesses one's performance is to act
intentionally. (70)

Kahnweiler, we might say, had his own process of problem-
solving. As Picasso's exclusive dealer, starting in 1912, Kahnweiler
was "invested" in his interpretation of Picasso's work. His
description of Picasso's work as "Desperate, Titanic, wrestling with all
problems at once" would likely have had a receptive audience

amongst modernists who valued the notion of art as a titanic
struggle. To say that Kahnweiler found favorable things to say about

Picasso is not to say that his interpretations were wrong. It is to say,
rather, that the critic performs a rhetorical act within an institution

to achieve specific goals. The critic, like the artist, produces work in
relationship to a problem; this relationship shapes the critic's choices

of materials and methods, or the critic's rhetoric. In other words, the
interpreter has his or her own Charge, Brief, and troc. Thus I argue
in chapter 5 that Baxandall's method of inferential criticism, when
converted into a heuretic method, allows us to fuse the roles of artist

and critic.
I include a critical component in my poetics to create a
'PicWeiler,' a combination of artist (Picasso) and critic (Kahnweiler).
I want students to be able to write in either an aesthetic or a critical
mode, or a combination of both, to become reflective observers of

their own work, explaining and articulating their purposes to
themselves and other, and to become advocates for their own

projects, just as Kahnweiler became an advocate for Picasso's
paintings. I want them to learn which rhetorical and aesthetic
strategies produce the most powerful effects within institutions, just
as, together, Picasso and Kahnweiler produced powerful effects
within the art world. Baxandall refers to Kahnweiler's criticism
about Picasso as evidence of aesthetic resources within Picasso's

Brief; thus I shall consider Sherman's critics' statements as evidence
of aesthetic resources within Sherman's Brief. Furthermore, I will
posit ways in which we can combine the roles of artist and critic into

our teaching, writing, and research.
I return here to the question of whether Baxandall's inferential
model can explain Picasso's invention of cubism as effectively as it

explains Baker's design of the Forth Bridge. Picasso and Baker
selected their resources; these were materials, positive and negative
models, and 'aesthetic.' Baker, however, was issued his Charge by
the Forth Bridge Railway Company while Picasso appears to have had
no external entity issue his Charge. Baxandall points out, however,

that Baker did not work solely for the company; "in the matter of
who issued Charge and Brief, one suspects that Baker would not have

considered himself as working solely to the directors of the Forth
Bridge Railway Company: he was working also to his professional
colleagues and rivals, and to a society" (40). Picasso, like Baker,
would have considered himself working for his professional
colleagues and for a society. Baxandall concludes that, "The Forth
Bridge and the Portrait of Kahnweiler, both purposeful objects, are

not necessarily in principle different. The differences seem more of
degree and of balance . (40)
Can we equate the bridge-builder's Charge with that of the

painter? The bridge-builder's Charge is pretty clear--"to span"--but
the painter's Charge seems much more elusive; Baxandall posits a
very general definition of the painter's Charge: "the painter's role has
been to make marks on a plane surface in such a way that their
visual interest is directed to an end" which he shortens to

"intentional visual interest" (43). This definition is vague enough for
Baxandall to claim that the painter's Charge is "featureless" while

"Character begins with the Brief" (44). The painter's Brief is, "largely

S. a critical relation to previous painting" (72). Baxandall cites
Kahnweiler's account of Picasso and Braque in Der Weg zum
Kubismus to propose three elements of Picasso's Brief: (a) the
representation of a three-dimensional reality on a two-dimensional

surface, (b) the relative importance of form and color, and (c) the
fictive instantaneousness of painting versus the factual process of

perceptual and intellectual engagement that painting required

The terms of Picasso's Brief can be inferred "from the character
of his pictures in relation to other pictures and . from the
developing character of his own pictures during these years" (46).
Picasso's Brief, in other words, can be inferred only from historical
context, from the way in which his paintings embody his likes and
dislikes about other paintings, his own as well as those of other


The painter's formulation of a Brief is a very personal form
indeed. Benjamin Baker's problem had been made up of
elements--silt and side winds and so on--that were objectively
pressing. He did not himself select them as the matter of his
problem-solving, even though he . was free to put a personal
emphasis, relatively, on this or on that. But the elements of
Picasso's problem were rather more freely selected by Picasso
out of an array, and arranged by Picasso into a problem
constituting the immediate Brief. (47)

The terms of Picasso's Brief shaped the look of his paintings.

But who shaped this Brief? Picasso did not have a Forth Bridge

Company setting his tasks. We might be tempted to say that the

artist acts alone in setting a Brief, but Baxandall argues that the

artist acts "as a social being in cultural circumstances" (47). The
Brief develops from a relationship between the artist and a set of

changing historical conditions, which Baxandall calls the troc.

Troc, Markets. Tradition
Baxandall defines the troc as "no more than the form of
relation in which two classes of people, both within the same culture,

are free to make choices in the course of an exchange, any choice
affecting the universe of the exchange and so the other participants"

(48). The troc is a market model, "a coming into contact of producers

and consumers for the purpose of exchange" (47). Within a market,
there is "a degree of competition among both producers and
consumers" and "parties on either side can make statements with
their feet, as it were, by participating or abstaining" (47).

Furthermore, "Any one market can be defined through the kind of
commodity exchanged in it, and also geographically: within it there is
likely to be a pattern of specialized sub-markets" (47). A troc

includes the cultural resources available to the artist (which, when

selected, become elements of the artist's Brief), as well as the

rewards an artist may find for his or her work.
In purely economic terms, a market is the exchange of goods

and services for money, but in Baxandall's description of the relation
between painter and culture, the exchange

includes such things as approval, intellectual nurture and, later,
reassurance, provocation and irritation of stimulating kinds,
the articulation of ideas, vernacular visual skills, friendship
and--very important indeed--a history of one's activity and a
heredity, as well as sometimes money acting both as a token of
some of these and a means to continuing performance. (48)

The troc sets the range of expectations for producers and

consumers. Each party, producer and consumer, uses their

recollections of past experiences to establish their expectations in

present situations. These expectations develop in reciprocal relation

to a market. An artist's intervention in the troc can change cultural

expectations as he or she produces and exhibits new work.
The troc of the artist's historical period provides choices of
production ("what do I make?") and of distribution ("how do I get it

out there?"). Picasso changed the nature of his Brief when he found
new ways to distribute his work. In his choice of distribution,

Picasso set himself apart from other cubists, such as Gleizes,
Metzinger, and Delauney, who had organized themselves into a
"movement" (one of Picasso's "negative models"). The minor Cubists

who exhibited together were playing to the expectations of a

marketplace for generic coherence, what Baxandall calls "a
discussible class" (56). Being part of such a discussible class was

meant to help those who exhibited in the salons. But being an

individual talent better served Picasso with his chosen exhibitors:

the dealers. The dealers offered Picasso a context in which certain

expectations about art, such as "the good Artist has a new and

individual voice" (57), shaped the production and the reception of his


The art market of 1909-10 offered many choices to Picasso.
The new element in this market was the rise of the dealers. By

opting for the dealers instead of the salons, Picasso selected parts of

his Brief from within the larger troc. Baxandall explains why Picasso

and the minor Cubists went in different directions:

. it is not that the minor Cubists formed a group and Picasso
acted an individualist role because these were the clever lines
to take in the sub-market, Salons or dealers', they happened to
find themselves in. Rather, it is that they went to those sub-
markets because they were the appropriate sectors for people
with a certain view both of the good artist and of themselves:
that is where one would fit. They accepted structural elements
in Briefs which, however, then surely confirmed their view.
Reciprocity rules. (56)

Artists, in other words, tend to look for segments of the
marketplace where others share their assumptions about what

constitutes good art, assumptions about the role of the artist, and so

on. Prior to the dealer's emergence within the art-world, the

dominant institutional route open to painters was the salon. The

dealers provided the institutional context in which Picasso's work

made sense.

Let us begin to examine Sherman's Untitled Film Stills in terms
of Baxandall's inferential criticism, comparing our account of

Sherman to Baxandall's account of Picasso. Amongst her various

series of photographs, the Untitled Film Stills stand apart. Like many

of her later works, Sherman's third series, Centerfolds or Horizontals,
was commissioned by an institutional entity, in this case the

magazine Artforum. The Charge thus came from the magazine, but
was intentionally vague--we might reconstruct it as "Make
interesting images for our magazine!" For the Centerfolds or
Horizontals series, Sherman developed her Brief from the physical
constraints imposed upon her by the magazine's format; the
magazine was horizontal and the editors had asked for a two-page
layout. Inspired by these conditions, Sherman "produced a series of

works that refer to the photo spreads in pornographic magazines"

(Cruz, 6).

Large enough to be life-size, each image is in color, with
Sherman as a different young woman or teenage girl looking
off to the side with a vacant or pensive look. The figure fills
the frame, cropped and in close-up, in a technique that she has
continued to use often. . The vantage point of the viewer,
who looks down on these women, reinforces their
vulnerability, as does their mostly disheveled look. (6)

The magazine's editor was not happy with Sherman's work.
She rejected Sherman's images, criticizing them for reaffirming sexist

stereotypes. Artforum's editor, Ingrid Sischy, said that the images
Sherman submitted, "might be misunderstood" (Krauss, 89). Cruz
writes, "The controversy underscores the power of the frameworks
created by the media and the risks of appropriating those strategies
for purposes of critique" (6). The images in this series have become
famous nonetheless, and are iconic of Sherman's work as a whole.

One of them graces the cover of the book in which Cruz's article

appears. The negative criticism of the Centerfolds or Horizontals
series prompted Sherman to follow it with a different series, Pink
Robes. In this series, Sherman avoids the horizontal format that
implied vulnerability in the previous series. She continued to work
with pornography as her theme, but this time her images were
vertical, the perspective was straight-on rather than from above, and
her appearance was less sexy (she exaggerates a bleary, disheveled
look) ; "Sherman thinks of these images as depictions of the porno
models during breaks between posing for nude shots" (7). Sherman
found both positive and negative models for her Pink Robes series in
her earlier work; the terms of her Brief shifted in response to her
experience with Artforum. Despite Sherman's reworking of her ideas
in the Pink Robes series, Artforum rejected this series also (Krauss,
89). Critic Amelia Jones suggests another reason why Artforum
rejected these series; Sherman's images suggest that "Artforum [is] a
'pimp' prostituting art (here the female body) as commodity" (41).

Sherman's first series, the Untitled Film Stills, was not
commissioned by an institution and was only exhibited as an entire
series well after its completion. Sherman formulated her own Charge
for this series. Therefore, Sherman's Untitled Film Stills are closer, in
terms of the Charge, to Picasso's cubist paintings (Picasso formulated
his own Charge), and less like Baker's Forth Bridge (the Charge was
formulated by the North British Railway Company). The examination
of Sherman's Charge and Brief for the Untitled Film Stills requires
much more discussion, which I provide in the next chapter.


The Prospects for an Inferential Treatment of the Postmodern

The strategy explored in this chapter and the next is to turn a

reading practice derived from hermeneutics--Baxandall's inferential

criticism--into a writing practice guided by heuretics. The test case
for this strategy is Cindy Sherman's Untitled Film Stills. Sherman

herself adapted a reading practice, a feminist reading of Hollywood

and the French New Wave, into a writing practice, (writing with the
star image), represented by the Untitled Film Stills. Sherman's
writing practice fulfilled two objectives; first, it established new

strategies of representation within avant-garde art, drawing upon

strands of conceptual art, performance art, and pop art. Second,
Sherman's work established new possibilities for a "vernacular"

visual language; ordinary people can use Sherman's strategies to

write cinematic images for their own purposes.

Can we apply Baxandall's inferential method to Cindy Sherman,
a postmodern avant-garde artist? Baxandall's inferential criticism

worked well with modernist avant-garde art, represented by
Picasso's invention of Cubism. But several indicators suggest that
inferential criticism will not work as well with postmodern avant-

garde art. Baxandall insists on a "problem-statement/problem-
solution" model for understanding Picasso's invention of Cubism.
This approach assumes that Picasso's paintings are, in some way,
"solutions" to problems that Picasso was addressing. Does

postmodern art pose solutions to problems? According to Henry M.
Sayre's The Object of Performance: The American Avant-Garde Since

1970, postmodern art is characterized by "undecidability," which he
defines as "the condition of conflict or contradiction which presents
no possible 'solution' or resolution" (xiii). It seems unlikely that we
can understand Sherman's work in terms of "problem-solution" if we
characterize it as lacking any "possible solution or resolution."

The lack of a clearly defined "object" in much postmodern art
poses another difficulty for inferential criticism. Postmodern art,

according to Sayre, "self-consciously denies its own intrinsic unity
and autonomy"(xiii), and some manifestations of it, particularly
conceptual and performance art, are "antiformalist, experience-
oriented forms" (2). Baxandall began his study of Picasso with an

examination of a particular formalist object, the Portrait of
Kahnweiler; but what is the "object" in Sherman's Untitled Film
Stills? Is it individual photographs? The entire series of
photographs? Particular relations between photographs? Sherman's
performance (her poses and gestures) which the photographs
document? The audience's experience of the photographs? Each of
these possible "objects" of study seems worthy to me. Yet if we don't
choose one of these objects, we will not be able to ground our
discussions. In other words, we need evidence, but where do we
begin to look and where do we set limits?

We need to adapt the kind of inferential criticism Baxandall

used to examine Picasso to allow us to examine postmodern art. This
adaptation of inferential criticism is found in the work of James
Peterson, a cognitivist film critic who examines the history of avant-
garde cinema in terms of problem-solving.

James Peterson's Inferential Treatment of the Avant-Garde

Peterson solves the problem (how do we make sense of the
postmodern avant-garde by inferential criticism?) by showing

postmodern art's relevance to a community of art-viewers. In other
words, while Baxandall emphasizes the role of the artist, Peterson
emphasizes the role of the audience. By examining art at this level
of generality (the level of the community), we can address some of
the problems I listed above. In his discussion of Andy Warhol's
films such as Empire, a continuous eight hour shot of the Empire

State Building, Peterson asks, "how can one meaningfully relate such
films to the concerns of the community that views them?" (D, 72)
Relevance links the audience to the film. Peterson, like Baxandall,

seeks to understand a work of art neither as an autonomous object
nor as the personal expression of a particular genius, but as a series

of relationships: of viewer to object, of maker to culture, of object to
problem, and so on. These relationships exist in reciprocal relation to
one another; in other words, we cannot understand any one element
without placing it into a contextual relationship with the others.
Each pair of elements can be understood in terms of problem-
solving; for instance, in the relation of viewer to object, Peterson

treats the viewer's activities, such as perception and cognition, as

problem-solving activities.
In "Is a Cognitive Approach to the Avant-Garde Cinema
Perverse?" Peterson writes that we can "usefully consider avant-

garde film viewing as a kind of problem solving, which cognitive
theories can help explain" (109). According to Peterson,

. one main strain of cognitive work on perception suggests
that all perception may properly be seen as a kind of problem
solving. For example, Irwin Rock's The Logic of Perception
argues that thought-like, cognitive processes underlie virtually
all visual perception, though most often we're not consciously
aware of it. Rock's conclusion . is that visual perception is a
series of thought-like steps through which the perceptual
system "explains" the array of light and color before it as a
comprehensible scene. (110)

How is it, Peterson asks, that viewers initially face difficulty
comprehending avant-garde films but learn to make sense of them

as they gain perceptual experience? He theorizes that viewers

acquire knowledge when solving the perceptual problems posed by
the film: "Specifically, experienced viewers have acquired both

procedural knowledge, what we might call knowing how, and

declarative knowledge, what we might call knowing that." (110)
Procedural knowledge is a set of heuristics, or rules of thumb, that

allow viewers to make meaningful patterns from what they see.

Declarative knowledge is the awareness a viewer has of the context
in which the artist worked. Peterson lists three heuristic strategies

for understanding avant-garde films:

1. "look for bits of narrative, but be prepared for digressions in
which graphic patterns in the images become more prominent than

the activities of the characters" (111).
2. "pay more attention to the elements over which the filmmaker

has most control" (111).
3. "try to relate the images and sounds of a given film to the

distinctive concerns of the filmmaker" (111).
In Peterson's model, declarative knowledge overlaps with

procedural knowledge. Put another way, knowing the filmmaker's
concerns helps the viewer understand how and why the film was put

together and thus how to perceive and comprehend the film. For
example, Peterson argues that a viewer watching Stan Brakhage's
Thigh Line Lyre Triangular, a scratched and painted film about the

birth of Brakhage's child, would benefit from knowing that

"Brakhage believes that the naive vision of the infant is a worthy

model for the artist, who ought to escape conventional ways of

seeing" (111). In this instance, the viewer uses the third strategy
listed above, relating the images and sounds of the film to the

distinctive concerns of the filmmaker, to understand how and why
Brakhage made the film. Peterson's model makes the viewer's

activities overlap with the maker's. The viewer understands the
maker's concerns by reconstructing a purpose or intention in the
work. In this sense, our use of Peterson's model can profit from
Baxandall's insights about how to reconstruct intentionality.

Can Peterson's strategies for understanding avant-garde films
help us understand how to perceive Sherman's Untitled Film Stills? I

believe these strategies can bring us toward our goal if we alter

them somewhat to account for Sherman's use of photographic media

(and its references to cinema). Here then are my variations on

Peterson's strategies:
1. Where Peterson suggests we "look for bits of narrative, but be

prepared for digressions in which graphic patterns in the images

become more prominent than the activities of the characters," I
propose: Match Sherman's images to film images with which you are
familiar, but be prepared for differences. In Untitled Film Still #43,

Sherman poses in front of a landscape in Monument Valley, the
setting for many of John Ford's westerns. But this image, like many

others in Sherman's series, seems more like an amateur's
reconstruction of a film style rather than an instance of direct

citation from a particular film.
2. Where Peterson suggests we "pay more attention to the elements

over which the filmmaker has most control," I suggest: Look for
elements over which Sherman (as photographer and performer) has

control: acting, sets, poses, props, costume, lighting, and framing. The
setting for Untitled Film Still #43 is so famous that it looks like a

backdrop; Sherman is barefoot, wearing a wig that's obviously a wig

and a white slip (similar to those worn by barroom women in

Westerns); her slip reveals tan lines over her shoulder; the pose is
highly stylized; Sherman sits on a tree branch, one leg propped up on
a branch, one touching the ground, one hand propping her against
the tree branch, the other holding her slip down between her legs,
her right shoulder thrust forward, her chin thrust upwards. She
looks toward a place beyond the frame of the image, as though she's
noticed something or someone and is preparing to leap from the tree.

This pose, suggesting the woman's vulnerability, draws upon cliches

of women in Westerns, in particular the cliche that women are

threatened (by Indian abduction).
3. Where Peterson suggests we "try to relate the images and sounds

of a given film to the distinctive concerns of the filmmaker," I

propose: Look at the historical context in which Sherman was

working in order to speculate about her concerns, then relate the

features of her images to those concerns. Sherman has left no

comprehensive account of her purpose for producing the Untitled

Film Stills (they are, after all, untitled). But we can infer her

purposes from her work, her historical context, and the critical
commentary of others. Laura Mulvey, in Fetishism and Curiosity,

places Sherman's Untitled Film Stills within the historical context of

feminism in the 1970s. During this period, feminist artists and
theorists explored how representations of femininity in the mass
media contributed to the oppression of women. Some feminist

artists, including Cindy Sherman, began to see new strategies of

representation in mass media images of women. Amelia Jones, in
her essay "Tracing the Subject with Cindy Sherman," describes a shift

in feminist artists' approaches: ". . as the 1970s and 1980s

progressed, artists began to explore femininity as not only the sign of
oppression but as an indication of the performativity of sexuality

and gender . (38). Sherman's decision to perform femininity in
multiple guises and highlight their artifice addressed her concerns
about the inscription of the female body in popular representation

and provided a strategy for working with and against cliches of
femininity. Mulvey regards Sherman's Untitled Film Stills in

Brechtian terms, calling the works, "a re-representation, a making

strange" (67). Sherman's audience would have understood this "re-

representation" strategy as a novel idea for an evolving feminist

Peterson's strategies (and my variations on them) belong to an
inferential method. An inferential method differs from an
interpretive method over questions of procedural knowledge. In the

interpretive model, procedural knowledge means knowing how to

read codes. Roland Barthes' S/Z is a classic case of the interpretative

method. In S/Z, Barthes treats Balzac's novella Sarrazine as a

network of codes, including the Hermeneutic, Proairetic, Semic,

Referential and Symbolic codes. Barthes shows how each 'lexia,' a

minimal signifying unit, in Balzac's novella functions as bearer of one

or more of these codes; the Hermeneutic code conveys information

about enigma or mystery, the Proairetic code covers the generic
action sequence (the "seduction," the "murder"), the Semic code

conveys stereotypes ("femininity," "foreignness"), the Referential
code indicates other bodies of knowledge ("biology," "history"), while
the Symbolic code "uses the structure of myth to organize the other

codes . (Ulmer, 107). The code-based interpretive approach is

particularly useful, Peterson argues, when the work under

consideration is highly conventional, or rule-based, such as
Hollywood films or realist novels. The trouble with the interpretive
approach for comprehending avant-garde films is that, "signification
is possible only to the extent that the 'readers' have already learned
those codes. . The avant-garde cinema puts a high premium on

novelty, and viewers can't always count on interpreting a novel
element of a film by using a code they already know." (112)

Sherman's Untitled Film Stills, at first glance, seem quite

conventional. They portray highly coded feminine character types

within highly coded cinematic compositions. In Untitled Film Still
#43, the Monument Valley setting belongs (perhaps exclusively) to

the Western genre, one of the most heavily-coded of film genres. If
we imagine that this still belongs to a narrative drawn from John

Ford Westerns, we can make sense of the image by reference to our

stock codes of John Ford films; we know that the narrative universe

of Ford films contains threats and violence. In The Searchers, for

example, a Comanche tribe led by Chief Scar murders Ethan
Edwards's (John Wayne's) family, leaving alive his niece Debbie

(Natalie Wood), whom they abduct. In Sherman's Untitled Film Still
#43, there is no visible threat, yet the woman appears to perceive

one. She is vulnerable because she is in a wide open space, in broad

daylight, sitting on a lonely tree, wearing a white dress that can be

seen from a distance.
In The Searchers, lone females are highly vulnerable; Debbie

escapes from the house where her parents and siblings are under

attack and she hides in the graveyard alone. She crouches behind a
tombstone and then a man's shadow passes over her; the shadow
indicates the presence of Scar, the Comanche chief. Later, when she

escapes Scar's encampment to meet Martin Pauley (Jeffrey Hunter)
and Ethan, Ethan tries to kill her because she's "become" Comanche.
If Martin hadn't blocked her with his body, Ethan would have shot
her. Like Debbie in The Searchers, Sherman is alone and threatened.

Why then isn't an interpretive approach satisfactory for

understanding Untitled Film Still #43? The trouble begins when we
examine the inconsistencies of the character's dress and pose and the

unusual angle and composition of the photograph. What do we make
of Sherman's masquerade (the wig, the visible tan lines), the fact
that we know she's dressed up for the part? What do we make of

the impression that the character's look of apprehension is "staged,"
"posed," "put on"?

Let us also consider the issue of the photograph's composition.
Whose perspective does the photo represent? It could belong to

either another character or to an "idealized" (non-character

identified) point of view. If it belongs to another character, is this

character friendly (like Martin Pauley in The Searchers) or

threatening (like Scar or Ethan Edwards)? Does the perspective

represent a masculine point of view or a feminine or neither? what

does point of view tell us about the woman's situation? Can it tell us
what happened before this photo was taken? How did the woman

end up in Monument Valley on a tree branch in her underwear? Did

she make a hasty escape from her home when she was half-dressed
(or half-undressed)? What happens next? Do Indians swoop down

and abduct her? Does her lover return to rescue her? Does the
viewer (if the point of view here represents a character's viewpoint)

help her or threaten her or simply watch? I think these types of
questions are limiting insofar as they only address the image within
a filmic context. If Peterson is correct in believing that knowing the
artist's concerns helps us understand a particular work, then we
have to place Sherman's work not in a film context but in an art

context. Sherman appropriated filmic tropes for her images but she
was more immediately concerned about art than about

entertainment. Knowing the codes of Hollywood Westerns will not

help us understand how Sherman's Untitled Film Stills, and Untitled
Film Still #43 in particular, function within an art context.

Rather than limit ourselves to a code-based interpretive model,
let us test the inferential model Peterson offers. Whereas the code-

based interpretive model begins with the assumption that
"communication is possible because messages are encoded and

decoded according to a system of conventions shared by the users of

the code," the inferential model "suggests that communication can

take place without codes when, rather than encoding a message, the
'speaker' provides evidence that allows the 'listener' to infer the

speaker's intended message" (112). Peterson provides the following

example; imagine a situation where "you are visiting Lyndon Johnson

in his hospital room after his gall bladder surgery--

You ask him how he is feeling. A good code-based response
would be if he said "I feel great." You and he share the code
(English), and you decode his meaning from his words.
Imagine now an inference-based response to your question;
instead of saying anything, he hikes up his hospital gown to
reveal an enormous, coarsely-stitched incision. Again, you get
the idea, although rather than decoding his meaning from his
words, you infer it from the evidence presented." (113)

The strength of the inferential model presented by Peterson is
its flexibility; the meaning of a particular piece of evidence depends

upon its context, rather than upon an arbitrary, rule-based system of

codes. Furthermore, the inferential model presented here "doesn't

preclude the operation of a coded communication.

The code model may be able to explain how we get from the
physical manifestation of a sentence--the sounds in the air or
the on the page--to the linguistically encoded meaning of that
sentence. But any given sentence might mean a potentially
infinite number of things, depending on the context in which it
is uttered. Imagine that Lyndon Johnson had said "I feel great"
while he was lifting his hospital gown. In that context, we
would have to infer that the sentence was meant ironically,
and that its full explanation would be more aptly paraphrased
as "I feel rotten and that's a stupid question." Thus, the
inferential model considers decoding the linguistic meaning of
the sentence only the first step in comprehension. That
encoded meaning is just one piece of the evidence from which
we must infer the full meaning of the utterance. (113)

Peterson is careful not to define inferential reasoning as an
algorithmic operation. When watching a film, for instance, viewers
employ different types of heuristics. Since the perceptual and

conceptual problems viewers face in making sense of films are

typically "ill-formed" (they rarely have clear-cut "solutions"),
viewers employ at-hand strategies, rather than formal rules of logic,

for establishing coherence.

Let us examine one of Peterson's case studies in order to get a
sense of what his method implies. Peterson examines Ernie Gehr's
film Eureka (1979) in order to posit Gehr's intentions as evinced by
the film. Peterson's description of Eureka follows:

Gehr made his film from a turn-of-the-century film shot from
the front of a trolley as it traversed San Francisco's Market
Street. Gehr has step-printed the original so that the original 3
1/2-minute film is now 30 minutes long. In optically printing

the film, Gehr has also increased the contrast of the images and
accentuated subtle variations in exposure among the frames.
The final product is apparently simple: an old film, in slow
motion and slightly flickering. Eureka is not a film that
obviously calls for a cognitive analysis. It doesn't demand a
great deal of problem-solving effort in order to understand its
overall structure. (113)

Peterson argues that if we were to restrict our search for
messages to the content of this film--the people, vehicles, and

buildings of Eureka, California in 1903--it might bear meaning to a
very small audience, probably the Eureka Historical Society. The

slowed-down action would help this audience identify details of turn

of the century clothing and architecture. Gehr did not, however,
present his film to the Eureka Historical Society. Instead, he

presented it to the Collective for Living Cinema in New York City on

January 13, 1979. Peterson reconstructs Gehr's intentions by

hypothesizing how Eureka might be relevant to the concerns of the

avant-garde film community in New York in the late 1970s. He

points out that structuralism and minimalism were losing influence
within this community as well as within the art world in general.

How would this avant-garde film audience have understood

Gehr's intended message? Peterson cites a review of Eureka's
premier by critic Jim Hoberman to support his contention that the

avant-garde film audience used two art-world strategies to interpret
Gehr's intended message. The first of these strategies, derived from
John Cage, is what Peterson calls an "art process" strategy:

According to this strategy as applied to film, the viewer
attends to the projected images only provisionally; the viewer

uses these images to reconstruct the steps the filmmaker took
to produce them, and these procedures are the point of the
film. Thus, Eureka's internal structure is exceedingly simple,
and we shift our attention to Gehr's intervention: the optical
printing. We interpret Gehr's willingness to leave the original
film substantially intact as a gesture that demonstrates his
willingness to accept chance and coincidence in his work. And
this openness to the aleatory stands in sharp contrast to other,
overly controlled and contrived acts of film creation. From this
perspective, it is precisely his willingness not to interfere with
the original footage that is his most important gesture. In this
way, Gehr's presentation of apparently irrelevant footage is
ultimately made relevant to the concerns of the avant-garde
film community. (114)

The second strategy, derived from Clement Greenberg's
modernism, requires seeing a work like Eureka "as a kind of self-
analysis, in which . [the] medium is pared down to its essence"
(114). By paring down cinema, Gehr brings the basic features of the
medium into consciousness. Hobermans argues, therefore, that
Eureka is about "how the flatness of the screen undercuts the
apparent depth in the image" (115). The filmmaker creates a tension

between two basic elements of cinema, surface and depth, by making
the viewer conscious of "every scratch, scar, or defect on the original
emulsion," and "the parallel trolley-tracks converging towards
infinity" (115), which draws the eye into the frame. The avant-

garde film audience would understand the relevance of this tension
between surface and depth as being related to their own
commitment to the modernist project.
I do not want to imply that the inferential readings of Gehr's
film presented here are the best ones or only ones that can be made.
I cite them here because they demonstrate a strategy by which we

can reconstruct a sense of a film's relevance to a particular
community. Although it is not a common method of reading, I much

prefer Darryl Palmer's approach to Eureka. Palmer's research into

Eureka can be found in a chapter by Robert Ray entitled "Fetishism

as Research Strategy" from The Avant-Garde Finds Andy Hardy. In

this chapter, Ray argues that we might begin an alternative research

strategy by isolating an apparently insignificant detail from a film.

This strategy is derived from the Surrealists' insights into

photography. Surrealists believed that photography, by featuring
fragments taken out of context, supported a form of reasoning based

on "drift" or "association." Following this insight, Palmer produces an
experimental text based on fragmentary details taken from Eureka:
"a pair of long, very thin legs walking across a street crowded with

trolleys, automobiles, horses, and pedestrians" (118). The filmmaker

has not done anything to draw attention to these details, but Palmer
selects them (perversely) and invests them with significance.

Palmer writes that the resulting K shape of the man's body in this
image reminds him of the body of Ignatz Mouse, a character from

Krazy Kat, a once popular comic strip. Here is the remainder of

Palmer's text:

A personal favorite of William Randolf Hearst, Krazy Kat began
appearing in Hearst Syndicate newspapers around 1910. While
the strip was never a popular success, Hearst, taking a personal
interest, enlarged it in 1913 to a full-page Sunday feature.
Certain potentially ominous parallels exist between this
ordered format change and Citizen Kane's promotion of Susan
Alexander. Interestingly, in both "Kane" and "Krazy Kat," a "k"
has been substituted for the more correct or familiar "c."
Further, Citizen Kane's opening, in which the letter "K" on
Xanadu's gate figures prominently, involves a series of tracking

shots moving in on the lighted window of Kane's bedroom. In
terms of camera movement, Eureka, (again the appearance of
the percussive "k") consists of one long tracking shot into the
trolley station, where the bright light of the clock provides a
possible goal -- one resembling the light in Kane's bedroom
window, whose extinction signals his death. In Eureka, the
clock face disappears as the trolley enters the station's dark
archway: light gives way to darkness as the movie reaches the
terminal, the end of the line, the film's death.

In my notes, I notice that I accidentally refer to my shadowy
pedestrian as "Legs Diamond," thereby triggering another set of
Kane's diamond stickpin, in the shape of the letter "K."
Diamonds, a precious stone, are mined like the gold at the
origin of both Kane's fortune and California's settlement
(Eureka was a mining town).
-- The discovery of gold provided the 18k "carrot" for Manifest
Destiny, a persistent movement in one direction imitated by
Eureka's sustained, unvarying tracking shot.
-- We now associate Manifest Destiny with the genocide
committed against the Native Americans who sought to impede
it. I discover that Eureka, California, was the site of several
Indian uprisings between 1853 and 1865. (118-9)

This peculiar text is equal parts inference and invention. As
mentioned earlier, Palmer isolated details from the film and treated

those details as significant, whether or not the original filmmaker, or

the "actor" (the walking man), or Gehr intended them to be
understood as significant. Furthermore, Palmer invested that detail

with significance by inferring additional information from the

evidence: the legs resemble the letter K. Palmer employed
associative strategies, such as a pun on the word "carrot," as
opportunities for further research, leading him to the discovery that
Eureka, California was both a mining town and the scene of Indian
uprisings. By using these methods, Palmer found a history at once

obscured and suggested by details he isolated in the film.
Additionally, and very importantly for my purposes, Palmer made

use of Eureka as an opportunity for his own invention, his own
heuretic practices. These practices simulate properties of
photography (fragmentation and association) in writing.

Let us examine Sherman's Untitled Film Still #43 again with
Peterson's inferential model in mind. If we place the photograph
beside some of the other Untitled Film Stills, we perceive many roles
Sherman plays throughout the series of images. What links them is
their artifice. Each image shows Sherman posed and made up to be a
character. Sherman draws attention to the artificiality of these

character constructions; her wigs don't fit right, her poses seem
affected. As Peter Schjeldahl puts it, . she is acting an actress

acting a part." (11)
If we think of Sherman's Untitled Film Stills as representing

parts of a fictive narrative, we imagine Sherman's women as
characters, and we imagine their actions before and after the
moment represented by the still. Kaja Silverman takes a different
approach. In her analysis of Untitled Film Still #43, Silverman does
not see a moment in a narrative drawn from a Western, but rather

she sees an image of a character in reverie, imagining herself in a
Western, a "white woman kidnapped by Indians" fantasy, a la John
Ford. Sherman's character's look points "to the origin of the pose in a
prior textual instance" (219). For Silverman, Untitled Film Still #4 is
a representation of a representation.
While I agree with Silverman that the still may be read as a
fantasy of a Western rather than as a Western, I take a much

different approach to reading this image. If we think of Sherman's
stills as objects of performance, the pictures are not about narratives

(or even fantasies of narratives) but about making a picture. We

think not of the character's action but of Sherman's; the images

become evidence of Sherman's performance. We can thus think of
Sherman's performance in terms of two related processes, the

physical and conceptual processes of making these images. The
physical process includes Sherman getting dressed, setting up the

camera, posing, and taking the picture. After she takes the picture,

Sherman changes clothes again and breaks down the camera setup,

develops the negatives, makes the prints and mounts them, and so
on. Sherman's conceptual processes include her decisions to choose

particular costumes, props, and poses. We could extend our line of

thinking to infer the conceptual processes Sherman went through to

plan the whole series. From the information we gather from the

Untitled Film Stills themselves and from Sherman's historical context,
we can imagine the "before" as Sherman's decision to make a series

called Untitled Film Stills with herself playing the various characters
and the "after" as the effect these images had on the art world and

beyond. By understanding the stills in this manner, we can begin to
read the intentiveness of this series as the ways in which Sherman's

work became relevant (and we know that it did) to the avant-garde

art community.
Henry Sayre provides another clue about how Sherman's work
functions within the avant-garde art community. In his discussion of

the photographs of Nicholas Nixon, a photographer whose complex

appropriations of the family snapshot mirrors Sherman's complex

appropriations of Hollywood, Sayre writes:

In many ways the first question his work raises is just what
these pictures are doing in the Museum of Modern Art and
Artforum at all. Part of the answer, of course, is that in the
context of the museum and the art magazine (as opposed to the
mantelpiece) we are forced to approach them differently. The
ploy is as old as Duchamp's urinal, and Nixon is by no means
the only contemporary photographer to exploit it. These works
of art immediately call into question what we might call the
official "taste apparatus" at work in our culture. Nixon's Brown
sisters and Duchamp's urinal equally undermine the canons of
"high" art by revealing the aesthetic power of the vernacular.
At the same time they reveal just how powerful our taste-
making institutions have become by revealing that it is quite
possibly their appearance in the art context alone that makes
them art. (38)

Sayre's discussion illustrates the ways in which avant-garde
performance-oriented art forms explore the uncertainty of the
object. The switch from the vernacular to the museum context puts
our expectations about the status of objects on display. The work of
the avant-garde challenges our concepts of what things are
"supposed" to look like and what they're "supposed" to mean.

Baxandall argued that we find evidence of intentiveness in the

rationality of the institution. My investigation of Sherman's Untitled
Film Stills, therefore, examines Sherman's work within the avant-
garde art world context of the late 1970s. This context provided a
set of problems and resources for Sherman that were substantially
different from those found in the entertainment world. Sherman
selected many of her problems and resources from the world of art,
in particular the world of avant-garde art, though she redefined

many of them. Let us examine briefly the resources the avant-garde
art world made available to Sherman. In the avant-garde mode,
according to Henry M. Sayre's The Object of Performance, the artist

1. opposes assumptions about what counts as art.
2. orients his or her work towards performance art forms.
3. works with "contingency, multiplicity, and polyvocality" (xii).

4. uses mediums that are undecidable and interdisciplinary.
5. makes art that "denies its own autonomy, it implicates the

audience in its workings" (xiv).
The 1960s and 1970s saw the development of conceptual and
performance art, which Sayre calls "contemporary art's most
antiformalist, experience-oriented forms" (2). Conceptual and
performance artists relied upon photography as one of their key
modes of presentation. The art "object" became more or less
dispensable, while the photograph took the place of the missing
object (in museums and art books) as a "document" of the
performance. By the 1970s, the emphasis of avant-garde art had

shifted "from the textual or plastic to the experiential" (5).
Sherman's art was part of the conceptualist art of this period. It is

important to clear up some common misunderstandings about

conceptual art. Sayre writes:

Harold Szeeman, one of Europe's most sensitive critics of
conceptual art, understood as early as in his 1969 survey at
the Berne Kunsthalle, entitled When Attitudes Become Form,
that the term "conceptualism' was a misnomer that tended to
render the very material products of conceptual practice
insignificant, when in fact the concept's apparently inevitable
material manifestation was part of its interest. (15)

In her essay on Cindy Sherman, Amada Cruz notes that
Sherman became acquainted with conceptual art while she attended

the State University College at Buffalo, New York. She writes,
"[Sherman] credits her . photography teacher with introducing her

to conceptual art, which had a liberating effect on her" (1).

Sherman's Untitled Film Stills are, in part, conceptual art
"performances" about the experience of being dislocated from one's

"image." [For more discussion of this sense of dislocation from one's

image, see chapter four.] The audience experienced this dislocation

as it identified her characters' various "types" throughout the

complete series. Since each type is played by Sherman, none of them

is essentially Sherman. As Judith Williamson wrote soon after

Sherman's work became famous, the audience confronts its own

stereotypes when viewing these photographs:

I find the recognition of this process, that the 'woman' is
constructed in the image, very liberating . the viewer is
forced into complicity with the way these 'women' are
constructed: you recognize the styles, the 'films', the 'stars', and
at that moment when you recognize the picture, your reading
is the picture. In a way, 'it' is innocent: you are guilty, you
supply the femininity simply through social and cultural
knowledge. As one reviewer says, 'she shows us that, in a
sense, we've bought the goods.' The stereotypes and
assumptions necessary to 'get' each picture are found in our
own heads. Yet, at the risk of being attacked as essentialistt', I
really do think the complicity of viewing is different for
women and men. For women, I feel it shows us that we
needn't buy the goods, or at least, we needn't buy them as
being our 'true selves'. (103)

According to Williamson, viewers recognize in Sherman's
performance of various identities that their own performances of

identity dislocates self from image; viewers are thus free to apply

the lessons of this experience as desired.

Although I have argued that it is impossible to understand

Sherman's Untitled Film Stills without placing them in the context of

the avant-garde art world, it is also impossible to make sense of

them without noting how Sherman borrows elements of Hollywood,

advertising and a vernacular (i.e., popular) form of "acting out" the


Film Stills as Writing

In the previous chapter I argued that there were two

applications for a cognitivist inferential method; hermeneutics and

heuretics. The hermeneutic approach to Sherman requires that we
reconstruct intentiveness in her work by looking for signs of its

relevance to her community. In other words, Sherman's work had

particular effects because it mattered (and still does) in particular
ways to the avant-garde art community. The heuretic approach to

Sherman, by contrast, requires that we construct intentiveness in

Sherman's work by finding relevance to our concerns as humanities

educators. Sherman's work matters to me because it shows me how

to write in the "electronic." My concern is writing, broadly defined;

I'm interested in teaching students how to become "literate" in all

modes of communication (oral, alphabetic, and electronic) and
therefore I construct intentiveness in Sherman's work that is

relevant to my interests.

Sherman's Untitled Film Stills are most relevant to me as a
type of "writing." Sherman's key move in this direction is her

understanding of the star system as a rhetoric; she tries out the
"look" of Hollywood star images for herself in order to produce
effects within the art world. She simulates Hollywood, but not for
entertainment purposes. We normally think of "writing" as a form of
alphabetic discourse, but to understand how Sherman's Untitled Film

Stills function as "writing," we need to understand how the Untitled
Film Stills series functions as an interface that mediates between

users and an information technology. Gregory Ulmer writes, "Writing
as a technology is a memory machine, with each apparatus finding
different means to collect, store, and retrieve information outside of
any one individual mind (in rituals, habits, libraries, or databases)"
(16). Literate forms of "interface design," such as the treatise,
textbook, and novel, are appropriate for print technology but not

necessarily for electronic media. For example, does knowing how to
make a syllogism help us construct a persuasive case using

Our invention process for electronic media benefits from the
history of alphabetic practices; . all the devices of the book
apparatus, which are codified in the treatise (and enforced in
practice from the five-part essay through the doctoral dissertation to
the book that secures tenure), were themselves invented as the
'interface' for print technology" (Ulmer, 18). Sherman's Untitled Film
Stills represent the invention of new interface design practices for an
electronic apparatus. My goal is to place Sherman's invention in
context, as part of the history of the invention of writing practices.

Ulmer reminds us that interface design is as important as the

technology itself:

Another name for "rhetoric" . is "interface"; the whole
problem of interface design--giving an ordinary user access to
the power of the machine (communication between a user and
the tool)--is a fundamental difficulty for the new apparatus.

My goal is to learn how Sherman learned to write with the
rhetoric of images so I can do the same within education. Sherman's

development of her writing was largely intuitive. In other words,
she wasn't necessarily aware that what she doing was inventing a
form of writing; we have no statements from Sherman indicating
that she believed she was inventing a type of writing. Her invention

of a photographic writing probably followed from some very simple
instructions--"Simulate cinema in a photograph"--which became
more elaborate in the performance process: what does this
simulation entail? For our purposes, research and writing within the
humanities, we might ask: how is a look different from a book?

Sherman's photographs can be called "writing" because they
take a fundamental feature of the new recording apparatus, the
recording of bodies, and uses it to convey information. What kind of
information do recorded bodies communicate? Gender, race,
nationality, age, class, "type" and the array of behaviors associated
with each. The details of clothing, facial features, poses and gestures
convey the information necessary for identifying the various identity
categories. The Hollywood star system represents a catalog of
cultural identity categories. It presents an array of human behaviors

and looks, each guaranteed "authenticity" by the materiality of the

bodies they record.
Alphabetic literacy communicates without bodies; it has a
variety of rhetoric for achieving different effects, including praise,

condemnation, persuasion, etc. What are the rhetoric for writing

with bodies and what effects are possible with these rhetoric? The

humanities has not led the way in this investigation. Rather, this
investigation has been led by entertainment and art. Artists (both

avant-garde and popular) use recorded bodies as the memes of this
new rhetoric. [For a discussion of memes, see chapter five.]

When we treat Sherman's work as a demonstration of rhetoric

or poetics, our situation is analogous to that of students in Plato's

academy studying a speech by Socrates. Their questions would have

been: How did he embarrass his opponents like that? or persuade

that crowd? or praise a speech? These are some of the things we

expect rhetoric to do and yet they were new in Socrates' time.

Socrates was the only person capable of doing these things, at first.
We know now, from the work of theorists such as Eric Havelock (see

The Muse Learns to Write, page 5), that Socrates was really "writing"

even though he never wrote anything down; he was exploring the
modes of an alphabetic culture. What are the modes of an electronic

culture and how do we train students to be both literate in it and

critical of it?

The Photographic Message

If it is still hard to imagine Sherman's photographs as a type of
writing, consider Barthes' essays on photography in Image--Music--

Text. In "The Photographic Message," Barthes describes photography

as a paradox involving a message without a code and a message with

a code;

The photographic paradox can . be seen as the co-existence
of two messages, the one without a code (the photographic
analogue), the other with a code (the 'art', or the treatment, or
the 'writing', or the rhetoric, of the photograph); structurally,
the paradox is clearly not the collusion of a denoted message
and a connoted message . it is that here the connoted (or
coded) message develops on the basis of a message without a
code. This structural paradox coincides with an ethical
paradox: when one wants to be 'neutral', 'objective', one strives
to copy reality meticulously, as though the analogical were a
factor of resistance against the investment of values (such at
least is the definition of aesthetic 'realism'); how then can the
photograph be at once 'objective' and 'invested', natural and
cultural? (19-20)

We shall focus on photography's coded messages for the

moment, since we need to understand how Sherman produced
certain connotative effects in her work. Barthes' strategy for reading

the connotative procedures of the photographic message is to
separate them into types. These types are: trick effects, poses,

objects, photogenia, aestheticism and syntax. Sherman's Untitled
Film Stills avoid the first connotation procedure, trick effects, but

partake of all of the others. Trick effects is the manipulation of the
image after the shot is taken, which includes adding or subtracting

figures from an image, moving figures closer together or farther

apart, and so on.

Sherman's photographs are a type of writing which explores

the potential of the photograph for transmitting complex messages.
The "message" we find in the Untitled Film Stills is a conflict

between denotation and connotation that undermines the power of

the denotative (the thing before us) to naturalize and authenticate

the connotations. In the next chapter, I explain more fully how

Sherman's images can be understood as rhetoric, but here I merely

indicate how Sherman employs photographic procedures to achieve

particular connotative effects.

In his writing on the "pose," Barthes discusses a photograph of
President Kennedy: "a half-length profile shot, eyes looking upward,

hands joined together." Barthes reads the message of this
photograph as "youthfulness, spirituality, purity." He writes:

The photograph clearly only signifies because of the existence
of a store of stereotyped attitudes which form ready-made
elements of signification (eyes raised heavenwards, hands
clasped). A 'historical grammar' of iconographic connotation
ought thus to look for its material in painting, theater,
associations of ideas, stock metaphors, etc., that is to say,
precisely in 'culture'. (22)

The connotative messages of the Kennedy image are
"naturalized" because the photographic denotation "guarantees the

authenticity" of the scene. Sherman's work, by contrast, illustrates
the artificiality of the pose's signifying structure. Her poses draw on

the familiar store of connotations, but in such a way that we become
aware of them as codes. In still #37, we see Sherman leaning against

a mantel with a cigarette in her right hand. Above the mantel is a

landscape painting depicting water, boulders, trees and mountains.

Kaja Silverman calls this image "Nature Girl." She writes, "the
painting depicts the landscape of the woman's desire--the frame into
which she seeks to project herself through the studied 'naturalness'
of her pose and costume" (218). Sherman's pose, according to
Silverman, connotes reverie and we associate this reverie with the

character's dream of being someplace else, the most immediate
elsewhere being the "natural place" depicted in the painting. But it is
not really nature being signified in this image; the character's pose

and the mise-en-scene are reminiscent of a Douglas Sirk film. In
other words, Sherman has stylized the scene by making it conform to
very visible filmic codes.

Let us examine another photographic connotation procedure.
In Barthes' discussion of "objects," he writes,

The interest lies in the fact that the objects are accepted
inducers of associations of ideas (book-case = intellectual) or, in
a more obscure way, are veritable symbols . Such objects
constitute excellent elements of signification: on the one hand
they are discontinuous and complete in themselves, a physical
qualification for a sign, while on the other they refer to clear,
familiar signifieds. They are thus the elements of a veritable
lexicon, stable to a degree which allows them to be readily
constituted into syntax. Here, for example, is a 'composition' of
objects: a window opening onto vineyards and tiled roofs; in
front of the window a photographic album, a magnifying glass,
a vase of flowers. Consequently, we are in the country, south
of the Loire (vines and tiles), in a bourgeois house (flowers on
the table) whose owner, advanced in years (the magnifying
glass), is reliving his memories (the photograph album)--
Francois Mauriac in Malager (photo in Paris-Match) The
connotation somehow 'emerges' from all these signifying units
which are nevertheless 'captured' as though the scene were

immediate and spontaneous, that is to say, without
signification. (23)

Let us examine how Sherman employs a "lexicon" of objects to

produce particular connotative effects. In Sherman's Untitled Film

Still #3, the various props in the image counteract the character's
"wished-for photographic exchange" (209). "In this image," Silverman


a woman stands to the right, facing a sink with a dishrack, a
bottle of ivory dishwashing liquid, an almost empty juice
bottle, and an opened Morton's salt container. She wears a
frilly apron and a sexy T-shirt. She looks seductively, with
moistened lips, over her left shoulder at an unseen figure,
presumably male. Because she leans with her left hand on the
counter, her shoulder is provocatively elevated, and her
breasts sharply defined. Here, the woman offers herself to be
"photographed" as "vamp," as sexual tease, but the mundane
objects in her immediate vicinity contradict this self-definition,
and proclaim her instead to be a "Hausfrau." (209-10)

The cropping, which includes the "Hausfrau" props as well as
the vamping woman, reminds us that "the camera/gaze does not

always apprehend us from the vantage point to which we direct our
self-imaging" (210). Here, the connotations associated with the

props (Hausfrau) undercut the connotations offered by the woman's
pose (vamp).
In his section on photogenia, Barthes writes, "In photogenia the
connoted message is the image itself, 'embellished' (which is to say in

general sublimated) by techniques of lighting, exposure and printing"
(24). Sherman employs techniques of lighting and exposure to

signify different film styles, subjugating the image to the style of this

or that director. In Untitled Film Still #2, for instance, Sherman

adopts the direct lighting and grainy black and white style of
Hitchcock's Psycho. We see a woman in the bathroom, framed by the

doorway. She is wearing a towel and gazing at her face in the
mirror. The connotations produced by the photogenia correlate to

those in the horror film. It is not just the pose and "costume" and

framing, but also the lighting and the graininess that tell us the
woman may be threatened by some evil force. Here the denotation

is utterly domestic while the style belongs to a different realm--the

horror film.

Aestheticism, according to Barthes, occurs when photography
employs "painting, composition or visual substance . so as to

signify itself as 'art' . or to impose a generally more subtle and
complex signified than would be possible with other connotation

procedures" (24). In Sherman's Untitled Film Stills, aestheticism
overlaps with photogenia. Sherman frequently employs both
strategies to create connotations of a particular directors' style. In

Untitled Film Still #37, which I discussed above, the framing and

composition of the scene and Sherman's pose connote the style of

Douglas Sirk.
In Barthes' description of the last connotative effect, "syntax,"
he writes:

several photographs come together to form a sequence (this is
commonly the case in illustrated magazines); the signifier of
connotation is then no longer to be found at the level of any
one of the fragments of the sequence but at that--what the

linguists would call the suprasegmental level--of the
concatenation. (24)

Barthes provides an example of syntax in a sequence depicting
a hunter pointing his rifle in different directions "to the great peril of

the keepers who run away or fling themselves to the ground" (25).

The effect of this series is comedy, which is to be found not in any

one image but in all of them together. We know that Sherman
produced her photographs as a series rather than as individual

works, and furthermore, that many of the images depict the same
"character," as some critics have pointed out. Rosalind Krauss

identifies a group of three images, Untitled Film Stills # 21, #22 and

#23, that show Sherman wearing the "same costume, a dark, tailored

suit with a white collar and a small, straw cloche pulled over a mop
of short blond curls. But everything else changes from one still to

the next" (28).

. in the first, #21, the register is close-up taken at a low
angle; in the second, #22, a long-shot posits the character
amidst a complication of architectural detail and the cross-fire
of sun and shadow; in the last, #23, the figure is framed in a
medium-shot at the far right side of the image against the
darkened emptiness of an undefined city street and flattened
by the use of a wide angle lens. And with each reframing and
each new depth-of-field and each new condition of luminosity,
"the character" transmogrifies, moving from type to type and
from movie to movie. From #21 and the Hitchcock heroine to
#23 and the hardened, film noirdame, there is no "acting"
involved. Almost every single bit of the character, which is to
say of the three different characters, is a function only of work
on the signifier; the various things that make up a
photographic style. (28)

Sherman's sequence reminds us of the famous experiments in

cinematic language conducted by Lev Kuleshov. Ronald Levaco, in

his introduction to Kuleshov on Film, describes these experiments as


Having found a long take in close-up of Mozhukhin's
expressionlessly neutral face, Kuleshov intercut it with various
shots, the exact content of which he himself forgot in later
years--shots, according to Pudovkin, of a bowl of steaming
soup, a woman in a coffin, and a child playing with a toy bear-
and projected these to an audience which marveled at the
sensitivities of the actor's range. (8)

The audience for the Kuleshov experiment believed Mazhukhin
was expressing hunger, sadness, and joy respectively in these three

sequences, although the actor had the same (expressionless)

expression in each one. Kuleshov's experiment demonstrates the

power of context, in this case the sequence, to shape connotations.

Sherman's experiment with sequence is more radical indeed, since it

is not just the emotion which shifts from one image to the next

depending upon the character's surroundings and the framing of the

shot, but the character herself shifts. Sherman employs the
sequence to explore identity and its contingent status.

Judith Willamson, an early champion of Sherman's Untitled Film

Stills, writes

We are constantly forced to recognize a visual style (often you
could name the director) simultaneously with type of
femininity. The two cannot be pulled apart. The image
suggests there is a particular kind of femininity in the woman
we see, whereas in fact the femininity is in the image itself, it
is the image. (102)

Williamson argues that Sherman' sequence, in which she
portrays multiple characters all played by the same person, shows
how a character's identity depends upon visual style for meaning.

The sequence effectively undermines the "authenticity" of the
character in each shot; it thus robs each photographic image of its
power to "naturalize" and "authenticate" its connotations of


Image and (Missing) Text: The Publicity Still

Cindy Sherman's Untitled Film Stills create connotations
through absence as well as through presence; the individual stills
imply a missing narrative, the photographs document and then

substitute for an absent "performance," and the title, Untitled Film
Stills, suggests titles that are not there. We can make sense of these

absences if we remember that Sherman's art provokes viewers to fill
in the missing information with their knowledge of institutional

sources. Sherman's Untitled Film Stills exist at the intersection of
photography, cinema, high art, pop culture, advertising and

feminism. Critics have often noted the relationship of the Untitled
Film Stills to the movies, but few have talked about their
relationship to advertising and publicity. If we think of Sherman's
photographs as untitled promotional stills from films that do not
exist (rather than as film frames), we can see her work as an
appropriation from and comment on Hollywood's publicity machine.

Although more study of publicity images needs to be done, we

can hypothesize that publicity shots are designed to be evocative.
They establish a mystery (and big mysteries in our society are

femininity and sex) that the film supposedly solves. You pay your

money for the movie and you get an answer/meaning for the
questions posed by the publicity still. What if, instead of being film

frames (a single image from the strip of film) from non-existent

films, which is how most critics have treated these works, they

simulate publicity stills sans text (hence Untitled Film Stills) from

non-existent films?
Why did Sherman title her series Untitled Film Stills? The title

suggests that we should imagine titles for the individual stills, just as
the stills themselves suggest that we should imagine the missing

narratives from which each image "originated." What is the
difference between film stills and film frames? A film frame is a
single image isolated from within a film while a film still is typically

produced by a photographer with a still camera who works

independently of the director of photographer, who is in charge of

the movie camera. There are two kinds of film stills: production

stills and publicity stills. A production still is made while the film is
in production; a still photographer photographs the action much as

the movie camera does, but necessarily from a different angle. The
purposes of production stills are multifold; they are used
1) to keep a record of the production,
2) to help maintain continuity during the production by capturing

details of costume, lighting, blocking, and so on,
3) and they are sometimes used for the purposes of publicity.

Publicity stills may be taken during a production or they may be

taken at a separate photo shoot, sometimes utilizing a different mise-

en-scene. The purpose of a publicity still is to provide the film with

an identity as a "consumable commodity" that appeals to a range of


The Hollywood movie industry creates publicity for films in

order to appeal to the largest possible audience. Like the films

themselves, publicity images for the films present a paradox; they

are at once "legible" (restricted to a definable set of meanings) and
"open." Publicity stills must be legible at a denotative level;

audiences must be able to answer questions about the film by

reference to the still, such as: who is the actor? Certain connotative
questions must also be answerable by reference to the still; what

character type is the actor portraying? What genre or genres is the
film? What is the visual "style" of the film? What is the "mood" of the

film? But other connotative questions are much more open. What
Richard Maltby says about Hollywood narratives can also apply to its

publicity as well:

Edward Branigan has offered a general explanation of
Hollywood's "excessive obviousness": rather than appearing
ambiguous or encouraging multiple interpretations, Hollywood
narrative is chameleonlike, "adaptable, resilient, and
accommodating. It will try to be what the spectator believes it
to be." (438)

Hollywood's' legibility results from a congruence of
recognizable stars, familiar genres, character stereotypes and so on.

Hollywood's "openness" is a result of what Parker Tyler calls its "will

to make indiscriminate numbers of people indiscriminately happy"


Successful publicity does not always depend upon the promise

of an attractive story. As Maltby writes,

A movie's "consumable identity," the promotional values by
which it is identified as a commodity, may distract the viewer
into selecting some aspect of the movie other than its story to
entertain us: performance, mise-en-scene, star biography, or
the conspicuous display of budget and technical wizardry. In
the process the movie's producers must surrender a significant
amount of control over the meaning of a text. (436)

Publicity stills may offer a variety of attractions in order to

entice the viewer. The publicity still is a topic that needs much
research; in order to study publicity, we could, as a research project,

make a publicity still for a film that does not exist. We could make

one without text and one with text (using computers and scanners to
add text to their images) in order to understand the function of the

text accompanying publicity images. The purpose of this research
project would be to study Hollywood's publicity machine, the
intersection of cinema and advertising. Sherman's stills seem

congruent with such a project. The focus of this project would be the
broader apparatus of entertainment as commodity system rather

than simply a study of Hollywood cinema as a collection of film
artifacts. We could study questions such as; does the text imposed
on publicity stills/ads pin meaning down or add further mystery?

Publicity Stills Project:

Step One: Select one of Cindy Sherman's Untitled Film Stills and

construct an ad for a nonexistent film based upon that image.
The film needs a title, at least, and possibly a "hook line." Other

information, including director, co-stars, etc., may be superimposed

on the image as well.
The goal is to make use of cues provided by the still, reference an

existing style or form of filmmaking (one that audiences might

recognize) and one that entices without telling too much (you want to

get people in the theater by promising more information in the film).

Step two: construct your own publicity image from scratch, making

an original photograph and adding text.

Cindy Sherman is not mimicking Hollywood exactly; her work is not

purely public, but exists at the intersection of the private

(constructing and deconstructing identity), entertainment (using pop
tropes) and art. With this in mind, try the following project:

Using Kaja Silverman's essay as a "poetics," make a film still that
establishes a "productive distance from the mirror." (For an account

of Silverman's essay, see chapter 5.)

What effect does writing, superimposed on the image, have

upon the decipherment of the publicity still? Barthes' essay, "The
Photographic Message," describes the effects of writing (captions,
headlines, etc.) upon the press photograph. The text accompanying
the photograph, he argues, "loads the image, burdening it with a

culture, a moral, an imagination" (26). Barthes finds that the
accompanying text has three possible relationships to the image. In

the first, the text has the function of making the image's connotations
explicit, "the text most often simply amplifying a set of connotations

already given in the photograph" (27). In the second, "the text
produces (invents) an entirely new signified which is retroactively
projected into the image, so much so as to appear denoted there"
(27). In the third, "the text can even contradict the image so as to
produce a compensatory connotation."

An analysis by Gerbner (The Social Anatomy of the Romance
True Confession Cover-girl) demonstrated that in certain
romance magazines the verbal message of the headlines,
gloomy and anguished, on the cover always accompanied the
image of a radiant cover-girl; here the two messages enter into
a compromise, the connotation having a regulatory function,
preserving the irrational movement of projection-
identification. (27)

The text accompanying press photos commonly has an
"anchoring" effect which prevents the meaning of the images from

"drifting." What happens to the meaning of a press photograph when
we take away the text and the photograph stands alone? We would
likely face uncertainty about the meaning of the image. This
experiment was in fact tested in 1973 by John Szarkowski at the
Museum of Modern Art in an exhibit entitled "From the Picture
Press" in which press photographs were displayed without their
accompanying texts. As Sayre writes, "The point was to demonstrate
what Szarkowski called the essential 'narrative poverty' of the
image" (44). Sherman's Untitled Film Stills play with the status of
photography's "uncertainty." We could imagine, for example, a text
which would identify the genre, the style, the narrative, and the

character in each of Sherman's images. Such a text would select from
a number of connotative possibilities made available by the image
and by so doing would limit the possible meanings of the image.

Sherman, however, does not use language to limit the possible

meanings of the image; she preserves a sense of uncertainty about
the photographic object. This uncertainty is not total, since
Sherman's images, like many press photographs, also employ an
alternative form of "anchoring." This alternative form of anchoring
Barthes has called "'cognitive' connotation," (29) a form of cultural
knowledge which depends upon stereotypes such as "Arabness" and

"Italianicity." Barthes writes:

Faced with such and such a township, I know that this is a
North African country because on the left I can see a sign in
Arabic script, in the center a man wearing a gandoura, and so
on. Here the reading closely depends on my culture, on my
knowledge of the world, and it is probable that a good press
photograph (and they are all good, being selected) makes ready
play with the supposed knowledge of its readers, those prints
being chosen which comprise the greatest possible quantity of
information of this kind in such a way as to render the reading
fully satisfying. If one photographs Agadir in ruins, it is better
to have a few signs of 'Arabness' at one's disposal, even though
'Arabness' has nothing to do with the disaster itself;
connotation drawn from knowledge is always a reassuring
force--man likes signs and likes them clear. (29)

Sherman's images are, in many ways, like ads and press
photos. Her characters represent different types of '--icity':
Italianicity, Hitchcockicity, etc. One productive game to play on these
images, based on the projects I outlined above, would be to design an
ad for an imaginary film, of which Sherman's image is a publicity

shot. The ad would present the image along with an accompanying

text. How would you anchor the meaning of each photograph? One
way to begin would be to refer to the cognitive connotation, or the "-

-icity," present in the image. The audience needs a selling point and

familiarity (with a set of codes) provides one form of access into the
world of the ad and the movie. But also in advertising (particularly

movie advertising) it is rare to give the whole game away. The ad

works through suggestion and the audience does part of the work.

Sherman's Charge and Brief

What was Sherman's Charge? In other words, what problem or

problems was Sherman trying to address? In the last chapter, I

discussed how Baxandall characterized Picasso's Charge: "the

painter's role has been to make marks on a plane surface in such a
way that their visual interest is directed to an end" which he

shortens to "intentional visual interest" (43). This definition is vague

enough for Baxandall to claim that the painter's Charge is

"featureless" while "Character begins with the Brief" (44). The

painter's Brief, he writes, is "largely . a critical relation to previous
painting" (72). Was Sherman's Charge something like "intentional

visual interest"? Was her Charge "featureless"?

Sherman's Charge was not primarily to make visually
interesting images, though they are certainly that. The "visual
interest" Charge may apply to most formalist artists' work, but less
so to Sherman's antiformalist work. We can even characterize
Sherman's negative model (the slot filled by Impressionism in

Picasso's Brief) as the history of formalist art. Sayre regards

formalism as but one of modernism's two sides. The other side, in

which Sherman works, Sayre calls "an opening to the world at large"
(8). Sayre writes

Modernism has always had an "other" side. One can read
cubism, for instance, as a formalist project--an attempt to
establish the autonomy of the painterly surface, to free it from
a slavish relation to the world--or, in collage, as something
altogether antagonistic to the formalist project, as an opening
to the world of things, an admission into the heretofore "pure"
world of painting of local and topical "events" (the symbolic
force, after all, of the newspaper headline in a cubist canvas).
For Clement Greenberg, the "excitement" in the painting of
Picasso, Bracque, Mondrian, and so on "seems to lie most of all
in its pure preoccupation with the invention and arrangement
of spaces, surfaces, shapes, colors, etc., to the exclusion of
whatever else is not implicated in these factors." On the other
hand, as William Seitz put it in the catalogue to his ground-
breaking and visionary exhibition of 1961 The Art of
Assemblage, the introduction of collage materials into the
canvas "violated the separateness of the work of art and
threatened to obliterate the aesthetic distance between it and
the spectator. . It must be conceded that by the introduction
of a bit of oil cloth and a length of rope [in Picasso's Still Life
With Chair Caning], the sacrosanctness of the oil medium
suffered a blow that was as deadly as it was deft." These two
versions of cubism--the "pure preoccupation" with form and an
opening to the world at large--are not necessarily mutually
exclusive. They represent, in fact, the dialectical poles between
which cubism, as a style, always moved. . .

. the second, antiformalist modernism has always found
itself in an oppositional position. It has stood against the purist
modernism championed by the likes of Greenberg, Fried, and
Rose, and it has, over the last several decades, become
associated with postmodernism proper. . [it] is essentially
theatrical . In his catalogue for an exhibition of
contemporary sculpture . Howard Fox has put it this way:
"Theatricality may be considered that propensity in the visual

arts for a work to reveal itself within the mind of the beholder
as something other than what it is known empirically to be.
This is precisely antithetical to the Modern ideal of the wholly
manifest, self-sufficient object; and theatricality may be the
single most pervasive property of post-Modern art." (8-9)

Sayre's description of "second modernism" indicates that the
concern of artists working in this mode is not limited to the object
itself, but opens "to the world at large." Much of this "second
modernist" art, including Sherman's art, addresses the emerging
electronic apparatus, the system of relations between technologies,
institutions (such as entertainment), and social subjects in which our

understanding of the world takes shape. Sherman's critics rightly
interpret political concerns in her work. In Sherman's Brief, we find

numerous materials that indicate a set of problems relating to

writing with media images. We could state Sherman's Charge as

something like "to write with media representations in such a way
that we become aware of the effects of this apparatus upon our
understanding of the world." We find evidence for this view not in

any explicit statements made by Sherman but in an examination of
her materials (part of her Brief) and of her culture (her troc).

In Baxandall's terminology, the Brief indicates the specific local
conditions, the situation, that the historical agent found herself in.
This includes a set of primary and secondary problems (see chapter
2), as well as the material and conceptual resources for addressing
those problems. Let us turn now to the resources of Sherman's Brief.

Sherman's Resources

The following is a simplified list of Sherman's resources.
1. Medium: Photography and performance art, but more particularly

the cliches of femininity and their corresponding embodiments in

images, which includes the use of poses, costumes, and settings from

within entertainment.

2. Positive and negative models:

positive models: Duchamp's readymades, Warhol's pop art,

conceptual art
exotic positive model: entertainment

negative models: formalist art.

3. Aesthetic: amateur, pop, promotion, Brecht.

In Baxandall's case study of Picasso, he argues that Picasso's
medium is not so much paints and canvas as it is forms and colors.

In other words, the artist's medium is not merely a set of physical
materials, but is also a set of practices and ideas. Sherman's

resources of medium are therefore not so much photographs as they

are elements of a photographic and cinematic "language": genre

codes, poses, costumes, star identities and the like. Baxandall's point

is a valuable one. Humanities educators sometimes mis-identify the

focus for an electronic pedagogy; they teach the technology (such as
HTML) as the medium instead of the principles by which people can

learn to write in electronic media (or any media). But technologies

change while principles of composition may be transferable to any

number of media. Mastery over a particular medium is not a

prerequisite for successful communication in that medium. Cindy

Sherman is a case in point. She failed her first course in
photography "because of her difficulties with the technological

aspects of making a print . (Cruz, 1). Sherman's studies of the
principles of conceptual art, however, allowed her to conceive of the
series which would make her famous, the Untitled Film Stills.
Technical knowledge was something she could learn as she
"developed" her work, or she could have asked for technical help if
she had needed it. The principles of conceptual art were general

enough to permit Sherman to compose work in any media.
Sherman's invention of the "film still" genre within avant-
garde art, like Picasso's invention of cubism, was not a spontaneous
event. Sherman developed the idea over time by posing and solving

practical problems (of the "second order" sort that Baxandall
mentions). In 1975, while Sherman was still in school, she produced

a project that presaged her Untitled Film Stills, which she produced

in 1977. In the 1975 series, composed of five photographs, Sherman
experimented with many of the elements she would continue to use
in the 1977 series. Cruz describes the first series of photographs:

Sherman attempted to alter her face with makeup and hats,
taking on different personas such as a clown in Untitled A and
a little girl in Untitled D. Her fascination with self-
transformation extended to her frequent trips to thrift stores,
where she purchased vintage clothes and accessories, which
suggested particular characters to her: "So it just grew and
grew until I was buying and collecting more and more of these
things, and suddenly the characters came together just because
I had so much of the detritus from them." (2)

Sherman's collection of "detritus" and her recognition of the

performative potential implicit in this material was part of the
"problem set" that Sherman chose in her work. Like Duchamp's

readymades, the power of Sherman's work lies in her exploration of

the vernacular for use within a poetics of the avant-garde. Both

Duchamp and Sherman make use of the "found object": in Duchamp's

case, these were the products of industrialism, such as the urinal, the

shovel, and the bicycle wheel. In Sherman's case, these were not

only the artifacts she found in thrift stores, but the "found personas"

made by popular culture, the "detritus" of an industrial production

system within entertainment.

Let us examine Sherman's positive and negative models more
closely. Baxandall points out that Picasso had positive and negative

models. His negative models (what he reacted against) were Matisse

and the Impressionists whose paintings addressed problems posed

by the fleeting qualities of perception. Picasso, by contrast, chose to

work on problems related to form and thus he turned to Cezanne as

his primary positive model. In addition, he had an exotic positive

model, African sculpture, which he remotivated according to his

needs. Sherman's positive model is avant-pop art in general and
Andy Warhol's art in particular. Her negative model is the history of

formalist art. Her exotic positive model (exotic since it is outside the
art world) is entertainment, particularly Hollywood and advertising.
Entertainment had been the negative model for the avant-garde

until Warhol. Warhol and Sherman, adopting entertainment as an

exotic positive model, remotivated entertainment practices for their

own purposes.

Sherman, like Warhol, identified entertainment as a site of the
new apparatus, where an integrated system of technology,

institutional practices, and new subject formations had emerged.
Warhol and Sherman, unlike most of the avant-garde artists of the
first half of the century, did not oppose entertainment. They used it
in order to explore its features and implications. This does not mean
that their work exists unproblematically within entertainment. In

fact, their work is quite different from the products of
entertainment. Whereas Hollywood seeks to exploit the star system
for its mediation between the new electronic technologies and
everyday practices of ordinary people, Warhol and Sherman ask,
"how can you use the star system as an element of a poetics?" and
"What does it mean to live in a society that uses the star system as a

means of organizing subject formation?"
Sherman's aesthetic, which Baxandall defines as a statement
articulating the problems to which her work is a solution, would be
analogous to Kahnweiler's statement about Picasso. The aesthetic of
her work is outlined by her many critics, including Mulvey and
Silverman, whom I discuss in chapters 4 and 5. But many elements
of Sherman's aesthetic, however, were established by Andy Warhol.

Warhol and the Aesthetics of Appropriation

. despite Warhol's reputation and his "star quality," he was
more a scripteur than he was a creator, conducting a "vast and
uninterrupted dialogue" with the texts of mass culture. Part of
the difficulty of Warhol's work, in fact, has always been the
degree to which, in his "pop" idiom, the vernacular and the
mediated are undecidably confused. (Sayre, 30)

Warhol's creations were never entirely his own. By borrowing
images from entertainment and mass media, he made his art a

reflection of the society around him. "Throughout his career, he

consistently undermined the 'authenticity' of all events, all images. .
His Campbell's Soup Cans not only suggested the commodity status

of art but also denied Warhol's prestige as creator--they remained as
much Campbell's as Warhol's" (31). Sherman's work shares two
important qualities with Warhol's work. Sherman's uses her choice

of medium, photography (one of Warhol's favorite media), to
undermine the "authenticity" of events, since a photograph can be
mechanically reproduced indefinitely and can mean different things
in different contexts. Sherman's context, the entire Untitled Film
Stills series, undermines the authenticity of "femininity" in each
image by showing so many versions of it, all dramatized by her. And
Sherman's Untitled Film Stills, like much of Warhol's work, seem co-

authored; they are as much the product of Hollywood and the
collective imagination as they are Sherman's creations.

Warhol, according to Sandra Stitch, treated images as "flattened
facades, surface-oriented images that give no hint of what is inside
or even that there is an inside" (Sayre, 31). This use of surface made
Warhol unpopular among leftist critics, who, according to Sayre, "act
as if it were possible, today, to disengage social life from commodity

society" (33).

. taken as a deconstruction of the art object's commodity
status, Warhol's work willingly submits to the danger all
deconstructive discourse must face. If deconstruction means to

expose the weaknesses of whatever "system" or discourse one
engages, to point out its strategic ellipses, and to undermine its
authority, then there is also a certain methodological necessity
for preserving--even in abeyance, sous rature, in Derrida's
phrase--what is denounced, so that sometimes deconstruction
seems to affirm what it sets out to deny. It could even be
argued, as Paul de Man points out, that it is this undecidability,
this "logical tension that prevents . [the] closure" of
postmodern art. (33)

Sherman, like Warhol, was frequently criticized for employing

the modes of mass culture without creating sufficient distance for
the production of a critique (see my discussion of Mulvey's critique
in the chapter 4). I face the same risks in appropriating Sherman's

strategies for use within the humanities. My response to critics who
would argue that Sherman's approach does not establish sufficient

critical engagement is that while there is a risk of such work
affirming the stereotypes inherent within popular culture, there is
also the hope that students and educators employing these methods
will learn to become literate within these modes and that this
literacy will support critical thinking. By employing writing
strategies analogous to Sherman's, we not only learn the means by
which Hollywood and other entertainment and marketing

institutions create the stereotypes around us, we can learn too the
means by which these stereotypes are written "in" us and the means
by which they define us to others. Rhetoric in the new media, like
rhetoric in alphabetic literacy, is a defense against manipulation and
propaganda; if we understand how media images "pull our strings"
by referencing codes of character types, style, and so on, we will be

able to resist them more effectively.

One strategy Sherman employs for the apparent purpose of
introducing distance into her work, thus permitting room for
critique, is to perform identity as a masquerade. The masquerade

tradition, like the "appropriation of the vernacular" tradition, has
been active in art from Duchamp, through Warhol, to the feminist
artists of the 1960s and 70s. Masquerade is a means of "doubling"

the codes of identity by exaggerating them, making them seem

"fake." Amelia Jones writes:

Masquerade becomes increasingly common and then, toward
the end of this century, a nearly dominant mode of self-
production (since the 1960s, this explodes into popular culture
as well). From the aesthetic (Oscar Wilde at the turn of the
century), to the cross-gendered characters of the surrealists'
extended drama (with "Barbette", a transvestite acrobat, the
better known Duchampian Rrose S61avy, and Claude Cahun as
interesting examples of how cabaret met avant-garde through
eroticized and simulated feminine/masculine bodies), to--in
the post 1960 period--the explosion of flamboyant self-
displays with Yayoi Kusama's obsessive self-imaging as exotic
(Japanese/female) pinup, Urs Luithi's bizarre self-performances
as both self and other, Andy Warhol's perversely swish self-
performance as the antithesis of Jackson Pollock's virile but
veiled modernist body: the performance of the intersection of
gender and sexual orientation has played a major, if
suppressed, role in transforming modernism (with its fantasy
of a coherent Cartesian subject) into a postmodernism enacted
by dissolved, nonnormative subjects marked in their
particularities. Sherman, like Barbette, dissolves herself into
exaggerated and so apparently fake femininity. (37)

Sherman's creative process, the combination of Charge, Brief
and troc in her development of the Untitled Film Stills series,
demonstrates institutional creativity; she drew resources and
feedback from the avant-garde culture of which she was a part. This

institutional creativity provided Sherman with a framework in which

her work made sense to a selective audience. It also enabled her to

make her own original contributions to avant-garde art; she added
"problems" that avant-garde art was willing to address. For example,

one could say that her work asks: what is "glamour?" In her Untitled

Film Stills, her characters play at glamour without ever fully
achieving it. She creates a disparity between the "ideal" (the

attainment of glamour) and the actuality of her characters (their

imperfections, their falseness, the seams of their disguises, their
"cheapness"). Is glamour related to conspicuous consumption? Does

cinema put consumption on display? Is Sherman demonstrating the

impossibility of achieving glamour? Are her characters unable to

consume enough or consume properly? Is feminine vulnerability an

element of glamour? I discuss particular examples from the Untitled

Film Stills in the next chapter that address these questions.

By using Sherman as a model for academic "writing," I am not
calling for the replacement of alphabetic literacy in school. Rather, I

am arguing that the practices of alphabetic literacy need to be
supplemented with those of electronic literacy. My appropriation of

Sherman's "writing" for education brings cultural studies together
with composition and rhetoric, asking what it means to "write"

within the modes we commonly keep apart in our cultural studies



This dissertation addresses a problem: How do we design

computerized writing practices for the humanities? As I argued in
the introduction, this problem involves more than simply adapting to
a shift in technology; we are undergoing an apparatus shift from an

alphabetic culture to an electronic culture. Apparatus theory posits

that changes in the technologies of representation and in the

structure of institutions produce changes in the representation and

understanding of ourselves as "selves." Different portrayals of self

produce different persuasive effects; in Aristotle's Rhetoric, the

portrayal of self is one's ethos. In the tradition of alphabetic literacy,

ethos is known as the problem of "voice," an acknowledgment of the

writer's simulated performance of a spoken "role" for a particular
occasion. The elements of ethos change as we move from alphabetic

writing to hypertextual writing with images; in the latter, the self is

no longer understood solely as a "voice" but is understood also as a



The movie star is on the cutting edge of changing portrayals of
the self. A relatively recent phenomenon, stars combine a variety of

representational strategies in order to produce charisma. Hollywood
has capitalized on the charisma of stars in order to persuade, using

stars' charisma to stimulate consumption, define and promote
particular gender roles (such as moving women into the factories
during WWII and then back into the domestic sphere after the war),
and promote "hardness" during times of conflict (the images of
"fitness" during the cold war). Which strategies of representation

produce charisma?
Richard Dyer, in his book Stars, draws on Weber's theory of
'charisma' to discuss ways in which movie stars function

ideologically. Weber theorized that persuasion, when not achieved
by force, functions through three different types of appeals: to

"tradition (doing what we've always done), bureaucracy (doing
things according to agreed but alterable, supposedly rational rules),
and charisma (doing things because the leader suggests it)." (30)
Stars, as charismatic figures, do not have the same persuasive
abilities as charismatic political leaders--Dyer argues that the
expressed political beliefs of John Wayne and Jane Fonda were
irrelevant or insignificant in the field of politics--but their influence
over the representations of people, their "privileged position in the
definition of social roles and types" (8), has influenced how people
expect themselves and others to behave in day-to-day situations.

Thus stars can be studied for the ways in which they persuade
through their representations of identity, of social roles and of types.

Charismatic figures, according to Weber's theory, embody a
relatively stable constellation of opposing binary terms. Dyer
discusses Marilyn Monroe as a notable charismatic figure.

[Monroe's] image has to be situated in the flux of ideas about
morality and sexuality that characterized the 50s in America
and can here be indicated by such instances as the spread of
Freudian ideas in post-war America (registered particularly in
the Hollywood melodrama), the Kinsey report, Betty Friedan's
The Feminine Mystique, rebel stars such as Marion Brando,
James Dean and Elvis Presley, the relaxation of cinema
censorship in the face of competition from television, etc. (In
turn, these instances need to be situated in relation to other
levels of the social formation, e.g. actual social and sexual
relations, the relative economic situations of men and women,
etc.) Monroe's combination of sexuality and innocence is part
of that flux, but one can also see her 'charisma' as being
apparent condensation of all that within her. Thus she seemed
to 'be' the very tensions that ran through the ideological life of
50s America. You could see this as heroically living out the
tensions or painfully exposing them. (31)

Marilyn Monroe's stardom can be considered representative of
changing notions of the self, of the ways in which we understand
selfhood to be constructed in terms of conflicting identity and roles.
Movie stars represent a unique opportunity to study changing
notions of the "self." But we should not confuse stars with ordinary
actors or "picture personalities." Paul McDonald, in his supplemental
chapter to Stars, presents Richard DeCordova's distinction between
the "Star" and the "Picture Personality." McDonald explains this
difference as follows:

The picture personality was named as someone who worked in
film and was only known for that work. A 'star' discourse
emerged as commentary extended to the off-screen life of film
performers. If the discourse on acting and the picture
personality constructed knowledge about the professional life
of screen actors, from 1913 the star discourse made known the
private lives of film actors. As a general point about star
studies, overuse of the term 'star' to describe any well-known
film actor obscures how with most popular film performers,
knowledge is limited to the on-screen 'personality'. (178)

Dyer argues that, in many cases, stars' "offscreen personalities"
were at least as important as their on-screen personalities in shaping

our perceptions of their meanings. Offscreen personalities must be
understood as constructed personalities, just as we understand the
characters stars play in films to be constructed. "What was only

sometimes glimpsed and seldom brought out by Hollywood or the
stars was that . personality was itself a construction known and

expressed through films, stories, publicity, etc." (20). How have stars
changed our notions of personality? According to Elizabeth Burns,
people have long understood personality by means of the metaphor
"life is theater." But the notion of "life-as-theater" has changed from
"a view of life directed by God, Providence or some less

anthropomorphic spiritual force," to:

a growing awareness of the way in which people compose their
own characters, contribute to situations, and design settings. .
the commonplace analogy is of the world itself as a place
where people, like actors, play parts, in an action which is felt
obscurely to be designed by "social forces" or the natural
drives of individual men. (11)

The result of this more recent notion, according to Dyer, is that
we have developed two distinct concepts of "self."

On the one hand, we can believe in the 'existence of a knowable
and constant self, which is theoretically distinct from the social
roles we have to play and the ways we have of presenting our
'personality' to others. On the other hand, as Burns stresses,
there is increasing anxiety about the validity of this
autonomous, separate identity--we may only be our
'performance', the way in which we take on the various socially
defined modes of behavior that our culture makes available.

The phenomenon of stars playing characters in Hollywood
cinema dramatizes the tensions between notions of self and
performance. This tension becomes embodied through the elision of
the star image with the role. Dyer argues that there are three
possible relations between the two: selective use, perfect fit and
problematic fit. These relations between star image and role reflect
varying degrees of tension between them. Selective use occurs when

films "bring out certain features of the star's image and ignore
others" (127). Dyer cites Robert Redford as an example of a star

whose image has been selectively fitted to various films. In Butch
Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, he is glamorously lit in order to bring
out the romantic/erotic elements of his star image for his role as the

Sundance Kid. In All the President's Men, he is lit in standard 'high-
key' lighting in order to bring out the serious/political elements of
his star image for his role as Bob Woodward. Each filmmaker tries to
suppress the supplemental elements of Redford's star image,

elements which the audience may choose to privilege over those

articulated through the role.
The perfect fit occurs when "all the aspects of a star's image fit
with all the traits of a character" (129). Dyer cites John Wayne's
roles in Westerns where "his relaxed, masculine, Westerner/leader

qualities" perfectly fit the roles he's given. The problematic fit

occurs when "there is a clash between two complex sign-clusters, the

star as image and the character as otherwise constructed" (130). The
common term for this occurrence is miscasting. Dyer's example of a

problematic fit is Marilyn Monroe as Lorelei in Gentlemen Prefer


Everything about Anita Loos' character . constructs Lorelei
as a cynical gold-digger, who fully understands how to use her
sex to trap rich men and is motivated above all by cupidity.
Her dialogue as written is self-aware and witty, signaling (to us
and to herself) amusement at what she is doing even while she
is playing the fausse-naive. The weight of the Monroe image
on the other hand is innocence. She is certainly aware of her
sexuality, but she is guiltless about it and it is moreover
presented primarily in terms of narcissism--i.e. sexuality for
herself rather than for men. At this stage in her image's
development, her motivations were taken to be 'spiritual',
either in the magic, 'little-girl' aspirations to be a movie star or
in the 'pretentious' interests in Acting and Art.

There is thus quite a massive disjunction between Monroe-as-
image and Lorelei-as-character. They only touch at three
points: the extraordinary impact of their physicality, a certain
infantile manner and a habit of uttering witticisms. Yet even
these points need to be qualified. Lorelei is quite definitely in
control of her physicality whereas Monroe (at this stage in her
image) was equally clearly not; Lorelei pretended to be
infantile, Monroe was by and large taken to be so; Lorelei's wit
expresses an intelligent but cynical appraisal of the situation,
whereas Monroe's remarks to the press (known as

Monroeisms) were regarded far more, at this point, as wisdom
on a par with that of 'out of the mouths of babes and sucklings'
(i.e. wise by chance rather than by design). As a result of this
disjunction . the character of Monroe-as-Lorelei becomes
contradictory to the point of incoherence. This is not a
question of Lorelei/Monroe being one thing one moment and
another the next, but of her simultaneously being polar
opposites. (130)

Hollywood generally employs the perfect fit ("typecasting") or
selective use (adapting the star to fit the part). In Hollywood,
"miscasting" is generally considered a mistake. Since I am arguing

that we can use images to produce rhetorical effects, it suits my
purposes to interpret Cindy Sherman's Untitled Film Stills as
exploring the potential of miscasting as a form of self-representation.
Sherman's use of miscasting produces rhetorical effects, to persuade
people that social roles for women, as defined by the movies, are

undesirable. Kaja Silverman (I discuss her work on Sherman in the
chapter 5) notes how Sherman's characters look uncomfortable in
their roles. These images of characters uncomfortable in their roles
dramatize the tensions between "identity" and "role" that Dyer and

deCordova theorize in their discussion of movie stars.
Sherman's solution to the identity/role problem as articulated
by Dyer and others is to dramatize the problem. Sherman, through
her Untitled Film Stills, exposes the function of star charisma by
performing it; her strategy of miscasting heightens the ideological
contradictions already inside the identity/role binary. I am
interested in how Sherman's performance of the problem, as
articulated by Dyer, contrasts with the critic's explication of the
problem. In the next chapter, I examine critical works by Judith