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John Baldessari, I Will Not Make Any More Boring Art

John Baldessari, I Will Not Make Any More Boring Art, 1971, lithograph, 22-7/16 x 30-1/16 inches (The Museum of Modern Art), images © John Baldessari, courtesy of the artist Speakers: Dr. Beth Harris & Dr. Steven Zucker. Created by Beth Harris and Steven Zucker.

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Video transcript

(lively piano music) Voiceover: "I will not make any more boring art." Voiceover: "I will not make any more boring art." Voiceover: This is repeated, over and over again, down the length of a sheet of paper, and originally down the length of a wall, in column after column. Voiceover: Clearly, this is like a schoolroom punishment. "I will remember to do my homework," written over, and over, and over again. Voiceover: We're talking about a work of art that was made by an artist whose name is John Baldessari. that was made in 1971, first in the Nova Scotia College of Art & Design. Voiceover: This is basically a form we already know. We know it as a schoolroom punishment. How is it transformed into art? Voiceover: Well, I think that the idea that it was in a gallery, that context was really important to the artist. He actually has spoken about how he takes his word images and makes them on canvas to give them that frame of reference. Yeah, this is different than if it was on a blackboard in a school. Voiceover: Let's think about the words for a second, because it's not, "I will not speak out in class." It's, "I will not make any more boring art." It's self-punishing. He's looking at his career and saying, "I made some bad art, and in the future, "I'm not going to make any more bad art." Voiceover: He had apparently originally written the sentence in his own private notebook. That was the genesis of this. I think it's important to understand this within the broader context of his early career. Baldessari had been taught, I think like so many art students, to create, in a kind of abstract expression, a style. Voiceover: We're talking here about Mark Rothko, about Jackson Pollock, artists who were making what I think of as very serious art in the 1950s. Voiceover: Well, what this artist did, was in 1970, to gather up all of the canvases that he owned of his own work. These were abstractions. There were landscapes. Then, together with some friends, and some art students of his, he brought them to a crematorium, and he had them burned like we burn bodies. Then, he took the ashes, and he put them in an urn. This was a way of creating, I think, a really [stark erupture] in his career between this older style and his mature, much more conceptually oriented work. Voiceover: There is a way in which art was painting still, even in the 1960s. To make art, you paint it. In "I will not make any more boring art," is labeling that as boring, and saying "I'm going to do something different going forward." Voiceover: But, even using the word "boring" is hilarious and off limits. Voiceover: It's true (laughs) Voiceover: Because in the serious nomenclature of the art world, you don't use words like "boring." There's a kind of directness and a kind of humor that's incorporated in this deep irony. Voiceover: You can see that as an artist the real challenge would be, what is interesting art? What does it mean to make art that's sincere, and engaging, and clever, and new? Voiceover: It was also about the qualities of new conceptual art. If you think about, for instance, the work that people, like Sol Lewitt, there's a kind of cool clarity, which is also at the same time boring, although you're not allowed to say that. So, there's something wonderfully ironic, but also irreverent about this. (lively piano music)