In July of 1970, disillusioned with the state of painting in the 1960s, John Baldessari burned many of his early landscapes and abstractions. By then he had abandoned the painterly conventions he found alienating and was making canvases using photographs and texts. Works like I Will Not Make Any More Boring Art, his first print, demonstrate his thinking at the time and his developing interest in Conceptual art. Created at Nova Scotia College of Art and Design in conjunction with an unconventional exhibition, it depicts a sentence that Baldessari instructed students to write on the gallery walls "like punishment." He was not present at the "exhibition," nor at the workshop where the print was made. He simply sent a handwritten page to be reproduced and made a videotape of himself writing the sentence.
Such activities were typical of this school's experimental program in the 1970s. Its lithography workshop, in particular, served to broaden the scope of printmaking by inviting artists like Baldessari, Vito Acconci, Dennis Oppenheim, and others to explore its potential for Conceptual art projects.
Baldessari has gone on to make about ninety prints, primarily in his signature photo-collage style. An example of his collages, made from stills of old B-movies superimposed with geometric shapes, is seen here in an illustration for a special edition of Tristram Shandy. This spread is part of an accordion-folded volume of his illustrations commissioned by Andrew Hoyem of The Arion Press. When Hoyem learned of Baldessari's interest in Laurence Sterne's novel of 1760, he invited him to participate in a new publication that matches Sterne's disregard for plot and punctuation with the artist's own disjointed imagery. The project also includes a volume of the complete text with all its eccentricities intact, and another containing a critical essay.
Publication excerpt from an essay by Raimond Livasgani, in Deborah Wye, Artists and Prints: Masterworks from The Museum of Modern Art, New York: The Museum of Modern Art, 2004, p. 188.
The print is based on an installation created at Nova Scotia College of Art and Design, but not by John Baldessari’s hand. “As there wasn’t enough money for me to travel to Nova Scotia, I proposed that the students voluntarily write ‘I Will Not Make Any More Boring Art’ on the walls of the gallery, like punishment. To my surprise they covered the walls.” Those same students made this print, but Baldessari wasn’t at the workshop when the print was made. In both cases, Baldessari gave scant instructions to the students from thousands of miles away, and he was not present to supervise, raising questions of authorship and the role of the artist.
Baldessari points out that language has made-up rules that we all agree to follow. Conventional notions of art may be as ingrained, passed down, and unquestioned as rules of language, but artists like Baldessari aimed to show that they are equally arbitrary, and open to interpretation. Baldesssari described his conceptual works as “what I thought art should be, not what somebody else would think art would be. You know, received wisdom, what you would get in school. And so a lot of my work was about questioning this received wisdom.”