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The Influence of John Baldessari

As the world continues to mourn John Baldessari, we take a look at some of his influence on today's popular culture.

Baldessari was a revolutionary spirt in the art world; transforming the subgenre of conceptual art by begging the question "what exactly is art?", then utilizing his own work to subtlety and calmly reply "Wrong!". To him, art was made to illicit excitement, to challenge the viewer, to mean as much off the canvas as it meant on it, and when a body of work did not do that for John, he cast fire to it.


John was widely adorned as an educator, teaching at the California Institute of the Arts and University of California, Los Angeles, and molding the minds of acclaimed artists Martha Rosler and David Salle, but his influence stretched far beyond his pupils.


The Simpsons

On episode 631 of The Simpsons, Baldessari appears as himself in an exhibit, and while the scene is ripe with commentary on the work of the artist, it is actually in the opening credits that Baldessari's influence is felt.

John Baldessari’s appearance in episode 13 of season 29 of The Simpsons, “3 Scenes Plus a Tag from a Marriage” (Courtesy The Simpsons ™ and © 2017 TCFFC, all rights reserved, via WikiSimpsons)


One of Baldessari's most celebrated works, I Will Not Make Any More Boring Art (1971), featured the aforementioned sentence written repeatedly on lined paper. The phrase that marked a turning point in his career combined his signature whit and scholarliness and could be said to be progenitor to the continued work of Simpsons fan-favorite Bart Simpson.


Barbara Kruger

Supreme influencer (there's a pun here somewhere) Barbara Kruger is highly successful conceptual artist that juxtaposes photos, traditionally black and white, with text. These works highlight feminism, femininity, and consumerism, and have garnered widespread acclaim, not solely for her message, but also for her aesthetic of white and red typography. Kruger cites Baldessari, as an influence, which can be viewed in her manipulation of imagery and its juxtaposition with text (Baldessari often added text or dots to images to appropriate them).

Left to right: Baldessari’s “Beach Scene/Nuns/Nurse (With Choices),” from 1991, five color photographs with acrylic paint. Credit...The Estate of John Baldessari and Marian Goodman Gallery/ Kruger's, Untitled (No), from the Untitled Portfolio, 1985, photo-offset lithograph and screen-print on paper. Credit...Smithsonian American Art Museum/ Baldessari's "Double Bill: ...And Duchamp", 2012 Varnished inkjet print on canvas with acrylic and oil paint. Credit...Marian Goodman Gallery

Cindy Sherman

Cindy Sherman is an artist known for elaborate portrayals of different people in a series of disguised self-photographs. Like Baldessari, she is known for subverting the norms of photographic imagery by challenging what is widely accepted as a proper subject or composition.

Cindy Sherman Untitled #447, 2005.


So Now What?

Even after his passing, John Baldessari continues to influence art aficionados and artists alike. Baldessari said he was interested in what is getting us to stop and look, as opposed to simply consuming images passively. He seemed to always have words of wisdom and advice for his contemporaries and therefore it only seems right to remind you of his influential words for young artists (highlighted in A Brief History of John Baldessari: filmed and directed by Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman):

Young Artists Should Know Three things:

1. Talent is cheap

2. You have to be possessed which you can’t will

3. Being at the right place at the right time


So in his spirit get out there, explore new work and personal favorites, meet new people, tear something up, maintain relationships and eventually you'll be in the right place at the right time.


Additional images sourced from Baldessari Estate and Philips| video courtesy of Supermarche

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