Wonderfully Offbeat Assignments That Artist John Baldessari Gave to His Art Students (1970)

baldessari assignment

In 1970, when con­cep­tu­al artist John Baldessari was teach­ing stu­dio art at the exper­i­men­tal CalArts cam­pus near Valen­cia, CA, the assign­ments he hand­ed out to his class were art in them­selves. Humor­ous, con­found­ing, some­times very spe­cif­ic but often like zen koans, the assign­ments must have come as a shock, espe­cial­ly to those stu­dents with a more tra­di­tion­al sense of what con­sti­tutes art.

They prob­a­bly didn’t know that Baldessari was ques­tion­ing art itself and in the mid­dle of a cri­sis. That year he had tak­en all his pre­vi­ous paint­ed work from 1953 — 1966 and cre­mat­ed it at a San Diego mor­tu­ary. He turned from paint­ing to pho­tog­ra­phy. And he expect­ed his stu­dents to rethink every­thing they thought they knew.

baldessari assignment 2

Look­ing back at his class assign­ments, which you can see here, here, and here, it’s like see­ing the seeds of ideas that were to be turned into whole careers by the likes of Cindy Sher­man, Wayne White, Komar & Melamid, and oth­ers.

Here’s a selec­tion of favorites:

  1. One per­son copies or makes up ran­dom cap­tions. Anoth­er per­son takes pho­tos. Match pho­tos to cap­tions.
  2. Defen­es­trate objects. Pho­to them in mid-air.
  3. Pho­to­graph backs of things, under­neaths of things, extreme fore­short­en­ings, unchar­ac­ter­is­tic views. Or trace them.
  4. Repaired or patched art. Recy­cled. Find some­thing bro­ken and dis­card­ed. Per­haps in a thrift store. Mend it.
  5. Imi­tate Baldessari in actions and speech.
  6. Pun­ish­ment: Write “I will not make any more art” / “I will not make any more bor­ing art” / “I will make good art” (or some­thing sim­i­lar) 1000 times on wall. (Appar­ent­ly, Baldessari pun­ished him­self.)

Some of these assign­ments are inten­tion­al­ly sil­ly. Some could pro­duce good work. But all are meant to wake the artist up to the pos­si­bil­i­ties of the form.

via Austin Kleon/CCA Wat­tis Insti­tute for Con­tem­po­rary Art

Relat­ed Con­tent:

John Baldessari’s “I Will Not Make Any More Bor­ing Art”: A 1971 Con­cep­tu­al Art Piece/DIY Art Course

A Brief His­to­ry of John Baldessari, Nar­rat­ed by Tom Waits

Watch Chris Bur­den Get Shot for the Sake of Art (1971)

Metrop­o­lis II: Chris Burden’s Amaz­ing, Fre­net­ic Mini-City

Ted Mills is a free­lance writer on the arts who cur­rent­ly hosts the artist inter­view-based FunkZone Pod­cast. You can also fol­low him on Twit­ter at @tedmills, read his oth­er arts writ­ing at tedmills.com and/or watch his films here.

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