John Baldessari, An Artist is Not Merely the Slavish Announcer, 1966–68
NARRATOR: The text at the bottom of this canvas came from an art book that proclaimed the superiority of painting to photography. The artist, John Baldessari.
JOHN BALDESSARI: And it kind of bothered me that photography had one history and, and art had another history or, or more specifically painting. And to me it was all kind of the same. It was just different materials, photographic materials versus paint and canvas. And so I think that, it was that argument I was addressing.
NARRATOR: The photo in this piece is of an anonymous parking lot in San Diego, with a tree randomly dividing the picture in half.
JOHN BALDESSARI: I was. . .trying to counter that I just would go around taking snapshots and trying to, to really violate rules of photography. And I thought, Well, what would be more violative of a photograph than just having this post come down in the middle of it, just splitting the image left and right? Some of them are just driving around in my VW bus and holding the camera out the window and shooting without even looking through the viewfinder. Basically I was just trying to avoid the conventional ideas of art.
NARRATOR: Towards this end, Baldessari was trying to downplay the role of the artist, both in his non-choice of photographic subject matter and his mechanical, impersonal approach to painting this work. He hired a professional sign painter and had him print the featureless script on the canvas rather than paint it. Baldessari coated the canvas with emulsion—the chemical mixture used to make photo paper light sensitive—using a photographic process to develop a painting. By doing so, Baldessari ironically challenges the authority of the reproduced text, and its insistence that photography is somehow a less artistic and more mechanical medium than painting.
John Baldessari (b. 1931), An Artist is Not Merely the Slavish Announcer, 1966-68. Photographic emulsion, varnish, and gesso on canvas, 59 1/8 × 45 × 7/8 in. (150.2 × 114.3 × 2.2 cm). Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; Purchase, with funds from the Painting and Sculpture Committee and gift of an anonymous donor 92.21 © John Baldessari