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On eve of LACMA survey, John Baldessari talks about his history teaching--and past students flash back too

June 19, 2010 |  9:00 am

JB-Cal Arts- rolling a tire copy When "Pure Beauty," John Baldessari's retrospective, opens at the L.A. County Museum of Art on June 27, expect to see several generations of artists on hand for the opening-week events.

For as long as he has been making art in Los Angeles, Baldessari has also been, in a less tangible way, making artists: offering suggestions, encouragement and above all conversation to students eager to follow in his footsteps by living a life of art.

Follow they have, with their own gallery shows, museum shows, teaching gigs and some commercial successes that have at times even surpassed their teacher's.

Jack Goldstein, James Welling, Barbara Bloom, David Salle, Matt Mullican, Mike Kelley, Tony Oursler, Liz Larner and Meg Cranston are just a few who studied with him at CalArts in the 1970s and '80s. Liz Craft, Mungo Thomson, Karl Haendel, Nathan Mabry, Skylar Haskard, Analia Saban and Elliott Hundley studied with him at UCLA, where he was on faculty until 2007. 

But Baldessari, a conceptual artist with a droll sense of humility, is the last to take credit for any of their accomplishments. “You never really know where students get their nourishment,” he says.

Nor does he glamorize his decision to teach. “I taught because I needed the money — it wasn't a vocational choice,” he says. “I was just trying to make it enjoyable for myself, trying to make it as much like art as possible. Maybe that's why it worked.”

Click here for my Arts & Books story about the artist-teacher. And here for accounts by James Welling, Tony Oursler, Meg Cranston, Elliott Hundley and Analia Saban of the teacher they shared.

You can also read online an "assignment" sheet Baldessari prepared in 1970 for his now-famous post-studio course at CalArts, "just in case anyone needed the structure."

-- Jori Finkel

A 1972 photograph of a CalArts field trip for project called "Rolling: Tire." From left to right: Dede Bazyk, John Baldessari, Suzanne Kuffler, Matt Mullican and David Trout.

Photograph by James Welling, courtesy Baldessari Studio.

Comments () | Archives (6)

Perhaps you could write an accompanying article about how the other teachers who helped these people become the artists they are feel about Baldessari constantly being credited with their success? Maybe Baldessari should mention his fellow teachers and stop taking all the credit he is accorded by the press just because he is the famous old man?
And why do these artists allow themselves to constantly be overshadowed by their teacher? Will Meg Cranston or Liz Larner always be known as a "student of Baldessari?"

John is being praised because he is a great teacher. I'm not sure exactly where RMills's argument resides, but many people don't understand that not all good artists are good teachers. Many teachers in art school don't want to teach and are really only there for the security, but for John it was part of his creative practice and vocation. He was extremely generous as a teacher and was available to all students. So he isn't taking credit for other people's work- credit is rightfully being given to him.

Also, among my peers, I don't know a single person who begrudges being known as a student of Baldessari.

Can you read? No one said the students begrudge blah blah. Point was that the other TEACHERS who taught all those same artists don't get the credit. It's given to one person (and if you have gone to school - you remember that you were taught by several people - were you not?) and I am sure his fellow teachers deserve a little of the credit that neither this paper or the artist himself accord them.

I think the problem with your argument is agency.

John is not "taking" credit, credit is being given to him.

Artists generally actively "allow" themselves to be overshadowed by their teachers- others assign them the titles of "student of Baldessari".

So back to my points: John deserves the credit because he is a good teacher. For many artists he, alone, was their defining teacher. There are multiple generations of students who are proud to claim him as their teacher.

This is an article about JB, that's why it is focused on him.

Why are you grinding an ax? Did his campaign against boring art annoy you? Or is it something else?

RMills, can you read, too? Did you miss the line, quote: But Baldessari, a conceptual artist with a droll sense of humility, is the last to take credit for any of their accomplishments. “You never really know where students get their nourishment,” he says.

The problem I have is that the photo of JB's assignment is so low res it is unreadable. I would have loved to learn more about his technique.

Few great artists have ever graduated from any art school, the few who did took years to get the pablum out of their system. And the self absorbed irrelevant academic trash that passes for art that is truly absurdist comedy for the rich like this effete and emasculated pseudo literary filth has lost any veneer of legitamacy it may ahve ever ahd in the economic implosion created by its patrons.

art collegia delenda est
fine art colleges must be destroyed
Save the Watts/Rodia towers, tar down the rotten Ivories.


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