'Fine Art' and Feminism

Hopeless, painted by Roy Lichtenstein in the year 1963, and Untitled Film Still #35 by Cindy Sherman in 1979 contain many similarities and differences in reaction to the place of women in modern culture.

Roy Lichtenstein, a contributor to the movement of Pop-Art, created many large-scale replicas of easily recognizable cartoon images from his time. Hopeless, perhaps one of his most famous works, portrays a blonde woman laying on her side and crying, with a thought bubble placed above her head stating: “That’s the way -- it should have begun! But it’s hopeless!” Lichtenstein's particular use of the comic-book style exemplifies his wish to elevate every-day items from american culture to a level of ‘fine-art.’ He used flat, shadow-less comic book imagery to express heightened emotion and passion, unusual to original forms of western art and it’s typical dramatic expression through exaggerated shading, called tenebrism or chiaroscuro. Aside from his materialistic choices, Lichtenstein particularly chose imagery from romantically themed comic books, portraying women as nothing more than tormented heroines of the stories, yet able to express their deepest emotions and sentiments through flattened depictions and single sentences.

Cindy Sherman, contributor to the Feminist art movement in modern America, utilized costume and photography to portray women’s roles/expectations within society as well as the prevalence of the ‘male-gaze.’ As a female artist, Sherman used her platform to re-establish a woman’s role in the history of art. Previously, women in western art were used to attract the ‘male-gaze,’ rarely given narrative roles in images but rather a place of objectification. In Untitled Film Still #35, Sherman portrays herself as an upset housewife, using wigs, costume, and set design to create a realistic environment for her photograph. Her goal was to make her images appear as stills taken from films, but unfamiliar ones, allowing her viewers to read into the message and create their own narrative of the single image. Unlike previous portrayals of women in western art, Sherman’s subjects are all prominent characters within stories, far more than simply a pretty face.

Hopeless and Untitled Film Still #35 are similar in that their subject matter surrounds female leads and their depictions challenge the expected and familiar forms of fine art. Lichtenstein challenged these expectations more through material choices, while Sherman worked on breaking expectations of typical subject matter. Their greatest similarity lies in their use of selectional narrative, however - taking small pieces from greater stories and allowing their audience to discover and imagine the rest of the surrounding context. Every individual is bound to interpret each piece differently, creating their own story for the character at hand.