CAN Exercise 3.1 Francesca Woodman (1958-1981)

Born in Denver, Colorado in 1958 Francesca Woodman was the second child of the American “artists” Betty and George Woodman. To gain a better understanding of the life of Francesca, I watched the film ‘The Woodmans’ (The Woodmans, 2010). Through interviews with family and friends, the film chronicles Francesca’s life through until her death, aged 22.

I got a sense of how things might be when two minutes into the film her mother, talking about her father says

I couldn’t live with somebody who didn’t give making art the importance that I give it. I just would hate them.

(The Woodmans, 2010)

Her father didn’t improve my view of her chances when reflecting on their relationship, he says

One of the chapters of my life is the loss of a person to whom I was greatly devoted, but I was greatly devoted to that person because of characteristics that made her in some respect a fragile and vulnerable person….

And if as a child she had been primarily interested in the peer girls, and what people are going to wear to the high school prom I would not have found it so interesting or been so attached to her.

(The Woodmans, 2010)

No pressure Francesca…

Bright suggests that Woodman’s self-portraits allude to a troubled state of mind and reminds us that she committed suicide at 22. Let’s separate the issues of her practice and her death.

Woodman’s work divides into five periods; Early Works, Providence, Italy, Mac Dowell Colony and New York. Images from each period are as follows:

Early works
Providence, Rhode Island
Mac Dowell Colony
New York

Do these images allude to a troubled state of mind?

Yes, they are all self-portraits. Yes, some of them may appear dark and self-obsessed. But Woodman’s upbringing meant she was expected to make art. She regularly needed a subject and decided to use herself. As Woodman said

It’s a matter of convenience, I’m always available’

(Woodman, 2019)

Her interests included Surrealism, the representation of the female body and the relationship between body and space. Based on these interests, some of her photographs could be seen as alluding to a troubled mind, but I prefer to imagine that she was a young woman with a compulsion to explore her art with limited resources. As Cindy Sherman said

She… made art out of nothing: empty rooms with peeling wallpaper and just her figure.

(Sherman, 2019)

Bright seems to imply that the earlier photographs foretold her death. I disagree. The period immediately before her death was difficult for her; she had finished college, was unemployed, was living alone in New York and had broken up with her boyfriend. The transition from art student to a professional artist is a massive problem for many young artists. I feel as though she lacked a support system, and things became too much for her at that time.

Or, as her father so ignorantly put it, perhaps she just had a ‘crappy’ day (The Woodmans, 2010).


Sherman, C. (2019). Five things to know: Francesca Woodman. [online] Tate. Available at: [Accessed 24 Nov. 2019].

The Woodmans. (2010). [film] Directed by c. Willis. America: Kino Lorber.

Woodman, F. (2019). Five things to know: Francesca Woodman. [online] Tate. Available at: [Accessed 24 Nov. 2019].

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