Collection 1940s–1970s

John Baldessari. What Is Painting. 1966-68 441

Acrylic on canvas, 67 3/4 x 56 3/4" (172.1 x 144.1 cm). Gift of Donald L. Bryant, Jr. © 2019 John Baldessari

Artist, John Baldessari: I'm John Baldessari. In the mid-1960s I was able to really dig into what I thought art might be, not what somebody else would think art would be

And I thought, "Well, I wonder what would happen if you just gave the public what they know," which would be, let's say, words and photographic images. You know, they'd probably had a camera, and they probably read books, magazines, and newspapers, so I said, "I'll just do text pieces, or I'll do text and photo pieces" that doesn't look like Abstract Expressionism, it looks like something in their lives. But I would put it on canvas, and that would be a signal that it would be art.
What comes afterwards is not your traditional kind of painting. And the piece is not actually physically done by me. Somebody built the stretcher bars, stretched the canvas, primed it. The text is painted by a professional sign painter. And the text was not written by me, but it's an appropriated text that I found.

I've always been attracted to anyone that can blatantly say what art is. I just like that kind of audacity, or ignorance, one or the other. I think the wonderful irony about this piece is that it's text. But in fact it is a painting, because it's done with paint on canvas. So I'm really being very slyly ironic here in saying, "Well, this is what painting is."

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