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Cindy Sherman Responds

The following is a response to Maura Reilly’s article “Taking the Measure of Sexism: Facts, Figures, and Fixes” about the current statistics of Women in the Art World. Our coverage begins with our Editor’s Letter.

Cindy Sherman, Untitled #550, 2010/2012. COURTESY THE ARTIST AND METRO PICTURES, NEW YORK

Cindy Sherman, Untitled #550, 2010/2012.


Born in 1954, lives in New York City and Sag Harbor, New York

While I agree that there have been great strides in making things better, we still have a ways to go before there’s real parity. I am well aware that my prices aren’t anywhere near those of my male counterparts, and while it annoys the hell out of me, I also think, How can I complain when I’m still doing so well? I was brought up to be self-sacrificing and more concerned with others than myself. I’ve never been super-competitive. Even in the hyped-up ’80s, when I felt I was getting at least equal the praise of my male peers, my work sold for a fraction of their prices. But there was also the issue of photography versus painting, so my work would naturally be cheaper.

And then there’s the theory that that is why so many women artists of my generation worked in photography, precisely because it didn’t compete with painting.

I felt that my female artist friends and I were always supportive of one another, perhaps because we felt like underdogs, but there was also always a sense of having one another’s back. I don’t think that the guys back then had a similar support structure. Maybe for them it was always just about money and fame, and men are more aggressive toward those ends.

I’ve always sensed that women artists have to prove themselves exceptional in order to get their foot in the door, to be considered for something, whereas many, many mediocre men artists easily get by. Years ago, I remember someone complaining about the number of mediocre women artists who were getting attention and I had to point out that it was only balancing out the proportion to mediocre men, who we take for granted.

The one part of Maura’s essay that hit home to me was in the “What Can Be Done” section, when she quotes Cixous’s statement that women need to become speaking subjects rather than silent objects. I’ve been asked many times to be interviewed for important radio or television programs, not to mention lectures, but I’ve always declined because I don’t enjoy talking about my work and being in the spotlight (and have only agreed as a sort of quid pro quo PR for a major exhibition). About a year ago I was asked to do a major TV interview and was torn between a sense of duty and a lack of desire. As a woman artist, it’s important to have a presence, to inspire other young women, and to discuss the disparity in the art world, but personally I did not want to do it, perhaps as a relic of my upbringing. It’s not shyness; I just didn’t want to be bothered.

I am hopeful that as time goes on and more households encourage both daughters and sons to assert themselves, we’ll stop seeing men as being the pushy ones, hogging the attention, while women stand complacently in the shadows. Both examples need to be revised.

A version of this story originally appeared in the June 2015 issue of ARTnews on page 56.

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