Wednesday, May 23, 2012

A Brief History of John Baldessari

John Baldessari is a famous artist.  He taught at Cal Arts while I was a student there in the seventies.  Of course I never met him.  Nor do I even remember seeing his works back then ... although I must have, of course.  He is now respected, super successful and much honored - so the works I can't remember must have been pretty damn good.

A couple days ago I encountered an LA Times webpage entitled Tom Waits talks up artist John Baldessari in six-minute video.  As I happened to have six extra minutes at that moment, I watched it.   Fun stuff. Here's the YouTube link:  A Brief History of John Baldessari .

Waits was apparently chosen because Baldessari likes his voice (and also possibly because the two came from the same hometown.)  More than the voice, it's Waits' dry, wry delivery style that contributes so much.  The video itself is a high energy assemblage: the artist as a talking head in his studio, pictures of the artist, his artworks, his stuff, places he's been and lots of moving text and graphic effects.

One quick bit of text (30 seconds in) says that Baldessari has been called "the Godfather of Conceptual Art" but with a telling, sophomoric, hysterical extra on-screen letter F which is conspicuously crossed out.  Guy humor.  Blink and you'll miss it.

(Go ahead, search Google for the phrase "Godfather of Conceptual Fart" to find out if anyone ever really said that about John Baldessari.)

The people who produced this video, no one I've heard of, are credited on the YouTube page.

directed by Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman (

edited by Max Joseph (

written by Gabriel Nussbaum (

cinematography by Magdalena Gorka ( and Henry Joost

produced by Mandy Yaeger & Erin Wright

These people are really the reason I enjoyed it so much.  The bouncy pacing, witty writing and irreverant attitude combine to be lots more interesting than John Baldessari's art or Tom Waits' voice.   Rossini and Bizet don't hurt either.  I especially like a great new cadential chord in William Tell (at 1'50").

There's also an apparent reason for the Clint Eastwood reference: this video was produced for a LACMA gala where Baldessari and Eastwood were both feted by rich and famous people, possibly ones with short attention spans.

Later in the film we learn that "John Baldessari believes that every young artist should know three things":

  1. Talent is cheap.
  2. You have to be possessed which you can't will.
  3. Being at the right place at the right time.
That sounds to me like damn good advice, although not great grammar.  All three points ring true in my ears today.  In fact, I wish I had heard that advice as a young composer, like, you know, back when I was studying at Cal Arts.

Of course, maybe I did hear it.  And I just can't remember now.

A recent MM post about another LACMA art project: Floating Rocks.

If you prefer your art in the streets rather than in the museums by artists who don't allow their picture to be taken, here are two MM posts: Street Art Now and Then and Banksy Speaks.

Conceptual Fart Tags: . . . . . . . . .


Pasadena Adjacent said...

a certain repeated phrase in the film "this JB's ____" has been already co-opted by a Honda commercial. Fasted co-option I've witnessed.

I recently stepped foot on Cal Arts for the first time (two visits)

Pasadena Adjacent said...

....and then I went here

did you guys explore this area? maybe it was still an commercially active place

another thing - cut and paste this. It's an mp3 file for the audio version of "Bloggers" word verification. I may use it to score an up coming wee video

David Ocker said...

Elizabeth - I never explored west of the 5 when I was at CalArts. There was a restaurant (TIPS), a gas station and the highway patrol station. I'd never heard of Mentryville before.

The long audio capcha is weird. Did you have to list ALL the words? Users of Chrome (and maybe other browsers) can highlight the long link, right click it and select "Go To"

Pasadena Adjacent said...

I've heard that about CalArts. Funny place. Really kept you kids down on the farm.

I really need to get into the habit of rereading comments. I have a new MAC with this horrid spell check device. Not just an underline thing like my past MAC, but a feature that actually changes the word. I sound like an illiterate.

Fasted co-op (wrong)
fastest co-op (right)

Blogger went through kind of changes a short while back. Anyone who signs p for my Wordpress blog has it translated through google. Thus the carefulness I place upon look and template format is "gone with the wind"

I usually just do the letter format for word verification. The aural version is just do weird