THEMATIC: Describing and Making Art

"Hanging Man (With Sunglasses)," 1984. Black-and-white photographs, 61 1/2 x 47 1/2 inches. © John Baldessari. Courtesy the artist.

Art can be made in many ways, with diverse tools, materials, and motivations. In his photomontages, sculptures, and installations, John Baldessari explores how art is defined and understood. In his interview, Baldessari describes how he transforms found images, texts, and ideas into works of art. Watch the artist's segment, and use the following questions to discuss the methods and systems that he uses to create his work.

Compare Baldessari's ideas about defining art to the approaches of other artists, including: Jennifer Allora and Guillermo Calzadilla, Doris Salcedo, Janine Antoni, and Do-Ho Suh.

SEGMENT: John Baldessari in "Systems"

Before Viewing
What are the qualities or characteristics that define something as art, versus something that is not art? How and why are these definitions established?

While Viewing
Baldessari is interested in the things that people don't call art, and he wonders what he can do to change their minds. Take note of how Baldessari transforms things that are not considered art (such as found images, ideas, and texts) into art.

After Viewing
What do you think Baldessari means when he describes his system for making art as a corral around his idea? How does Baldessari's work and working process reflect constraint as well as artistic freedom?

Baldessari talks about text and image as interchangeable forms of language, and he describes the process of making his photomontages as building a poem, not from words but with images. Create a poem out of images and an image out of words, based on a single theme, word, or idea.