When Baldessari was first getting started, CalArts wasn’t much of a name yet, and it was kind of a hippie school without grades or a curriculum or much structure — Baldessari started teaching there before he became “one of the top conceptual artists in the world.” Here’s a video of him talking about his time teaching there, including recollecting “a class on joint-rolling.” Here are some of the assignments from his list:
1 - Imitate Baldessari in actions and speech.
10 - Create art from our procedures of learning. How does an infant learn?
16 - Given: $1. What art can you do for that amount?
17 - Cooking art. Invent recipes. They are organizations of parts, aren’t they?
23 - What are the minute differences in things that are supposed to be the same?
31 - Steal the trash from Pres. Corrigan’s wastebasket and make a collage of it.
43 - Forgeries. Ea. in class tries to forge my signature on a check by looking at an original. Or forgeries of forgeries of forgeries, etc.
46 - One person copies or makes up random captions. Another person takes photos. Match photos to captions.
68 - Make up a list by looking at art books, talking to artists on things to avoid in making art. Do them. Ask yourself if results are good or bad art.
85 - Describe the visual verbally and the verbal visually.
99 - Art that requires the rental of a Service rather than an Object.
For anyone not wired to contemporary art, John Baldessari is a 58-year-old artist who grew up in the anonymous grubbiness of National City with expectations of going no further in life than teaching high school and making a bit of a local reputation as an artist. He pursued both dreams and wound up a figure of international reputation. Teaching—at CalArts instead of Chula Vista High—he evolved into a kind of guru. His influence, both direct and oblique, is downright astonishing. You can see his fingerprints on virtually every member of the younger generation who continues to dominate the high-risk lane of today’s art from Cindy Sherman to Robert Longo.
We think of artists as making their mark by adding something, something original. Baldessari has functioned by subtraction. Subtraction is not original in contemporary art; it comes from abstract Minimalism.