Production still from the series Art in the Twenty-First Century, Season 5, Episode: Systems. © Art21, Inc. 2009.

Guest blogger Jonathan Munar, Manager of Digital Media and Strategy at Art21, writes about John Baldessari, recipient of of our 2011 Alumni Achievement Award.

“I don’t do anything, I just sit in my chair all day.” That is the response that John Baldessari gave to Art21 Executive Director Susan Sollins when she invited him to join the roster of artists for the fifth season of the Art21-produced PBS series, Art in the Twenty-First Century. Sollins’s response was, “Okay, you do that. Sit in your chair and we’ll film.”  “And it worked out just splendidly,” recalls Sollins.

Baldessari’s career as an artist began upon receiving the Scholastic Award as a high school student in National City, California. “My art teacher encouraged me to enter [the National Scholastic Art Awards]. …I put in a photograph, and I won. That’s where it all began,” says Baldessari in a 2009 interview with Tate Etc. The artist has come a long way since then, having his work featured in more than 200 solo exhibitions and in over 1000 group exhibitions throughout the world, receiving several honorary doctorates, and becoming one of the most influential artists–conceptual or otherwise–of the past century.

John Baldessari: Recycling Images, 2010. From the Art21-produced online series, Exclusive.

“Art making is about making a choice,” says Baldessari in his Art in the Twenty-First Century segment. Working mostly with photographic imagery, painting, and language, Baldessari’s work plays with convention and expectation. “I try to confuse people,” said the artist in a 2009 interview with Art21. Words and images are treated as equal forms of communication, creating visual juxtapositions that challenge meaning. By altering appropriated images—placing dots over faces, replacing details with solid colors, or removing entire figures from scenes altogether—Baldessari’s work reflects a fascination with omission that commands the viewer to focus on specific details.

Baldessari also spent much of his career as a teacher, earning a teaching credential as a means to support himself after receiving an art degree. His artistic and pedagogical endeavors went hand in hand, with each informing the other and allowing him to develop new methods and approaches for each practice. Baldessari often states that students should learn about art from artists as a way to demystify both art and the art making process.

At a November 2010 talk at The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, Baldessari remarked, “I don’t think any artist does anything new.  Art comes from art.” Influence, appreciation and understanding, then, are what fuels an artist’s growth. Originality, technical skill, and personal voice—the criteria for The Scholastic Art & Writing Awards—come from how one interprets that influence. Baldessari, once encouraged by his own teachers to develop as an artist, inspires new generations of artists both as an artist and as a teacher.

Watch the full episode. See more ART:21.

Segment from the series Art in the Twenty-First Century, Season 5, Episode: Systems, 2009.

About our Guest Blogger:

Jonathan Munar is the Manager of Digital Media and Strategy at Art21, a non-profit contemporary art organization most recognized for producing the Peabody award-winning PBS series, Art in the Twenty-First Century.  At Art21, Jonathan manages the organization’s Web, digital media, and social media initiatives.  He is also the editor of the “Art 2.1” column on the Art21 Blog. Before joining Art21 in 2008, Jonathan was the Website Technology Manager at The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.

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