Friday, August 19, 2011

John Baldesari - Why Do We Make Art?

This week I listened to an interview on CBC that Eleanor Wachtel  On The Arts had with John Baldesari.

I heard it some time back and then again yesterday, then the repeat program late last night. Tonight I downloaded the podcast and listened even closer again.  Listening several times to this interview, I really began to get a feel for who this artist and man is. I think I am either a slow listener or a slow learner, and yes a little OCD!

John Baldesari had been invited to exhibit his work at NSCAD  back in 1971, the year before I became a student there, at the beginning of my art education, so unfortunately I missed him. 

He had the students write on the gallery walls "I will not make any more boring art".  He said he'd written this statement down in one of his journals, because he'd felt guilty about making boring art. Upon the completion of the work in the NSCAD gallery , he was rather shocked to see the whole gallery filled with writing on all the walls, with his statement from students who also were seemingly  making boring art. It was not what he was anticipating and it was a real awakening to him.

Truthfully, I did not know anything about him until I returned to University as a mature student, to complete my BFA at Mount Allison. Gratefully, I have now come to find out about John Baldessari and appreciate what a likeable, compelling person and artist he is. Genuine, honest a humble man, he has keen wit, great creative integrity, energy  and an insightful mind. Being a teacher for much of his career, he obviously must have been a great one.

He  really confirmed for me what I have believed about why it is many creative people make art. Firstly it's fun! He mentioned this more than once.

Spiritual nourishment he said, is what art gives to people and he had been given a gift and he really didn't know why, but he needed to the best artist he can be in order to  re-enchant people's vision as if they were seeing things in the world for the very first time, because human beings should not take things for granted. Indirectly art can change people's view he stated.

Considering he's upbringing, I think I would be correct in saying that art for him is a spiritual experience and as an artist he wants to help others and make the world a better place. It is a very simple message, and one that reflects I think, his sense of being an artist , as being his vocation.  His love for language, communication, words, reading, learning and knowledge were very evident having three libraries in his home.

Definitely the intellectual,but tempered by humble roots that he's not forgotten. Speaking of his father in a loving way, referring to him as a working man, and a "peasant" from the old country. He  attributed much of his creative sensibility to his mother who had a interest in reading and art.

Today as I was going through these bits and pieces of paper I am always collecting after writing down people's names, I want to find out about, artists, musicians, interesting people, places, things, books and words of wisdom I come across, I thought this quote was  a very fitting summation of what I have learned about John Baldesarri and the impression he  has made upon me. He often thinks of himself as a frustrated writer, who almost became a social worker and who unfortunately has been dubbed a conceptual artist he says.

"Knowledge is a beautiful thing, but the using of knowledge in a good way is what makes for wisdom.  Learning how to use knowledge in a sacred manner, that's wisdom to me.  And to me, that's what a true Elder is." Sun Bear, CHIPPEWA

John Baldesarri is not only a great artist, he is learned, knowledgeable and wise elder.


Betsy Grant said...

I agree with his statement about art providing spiritual nourishment. This is key - both for the artist (of all kinds) and the viewer/listener. Thanks for sharing this.

Unknown said...

Thank you Betsy,

Yes I always thought this, but you know it is often seen as a romantic sentimental notion by some. I am grateful I am not of that opinion. Thank you for the comment as always.