John Baldessari-not-ssari

From the beginning A Brief History of John Baldessari is nothing short of captivating. It begins by identifying several areas of his workplace; his pencil, desk, chair, etc. I believe Tom Waits started the film in this way so that this iconic figure could be brought down to size to make him more accessible to the average viewer. Prior to watching this short I had never heard of John Baldessari. The intro was very clever in that it showed relatively mundane and ordinary aspects of John’s life before even introducing him. Beginning in this way grabs your attention from the get-go because it is not ordinary. An ordinary piece may just start right off with the narrators voice and a picture of John.

It is interesting to note that the narrator uses an ethos appeal do portray himself as someone worthy of respect that should be listened to. He states that John chose him to narrate this piece, and then seemingly interacts with the video by saying “Thanks John”. From there Tom delves right into what makes John Baldessari, John Baldessari. He uses large print throughout the piece to compliment and emphasize much of what he is speaking about. He uses different colors and textures for the text, and words tend to only be on the screen for a short period of time. The fast paced and familiar nature of the music also adds to the organized chaos that was this film. As a result, the viewer is rendered unable to disengage.

The video is so fast paced that getting bored during the time when only Baldessari is speaking is not even an issue. In fact, it provides a brief lull for your brain to slow down and process some of what you’ve just learned. Just about everything the narrator says in this piece is accompanied by some sort of visual representation, be it text, pictures, or both. In a film such as this there isn’t enough time to allow the audience to paint a mental picture, so this style keeps everything clear and moving. The way the film is set up is very interesting to me. Rather than listing all his accomplishments and painting Baldessari as this unapproachable, highly intellectual figure, the film speaks about his beard, then some of his accolades, then back to the ordinary – his coffee machine.

The narrator said that in 1970 John burned all of his paintings between 1953 and 1966. Word choice is important here because Baldessari goes on to clarify that it was in a crematorium, so his work was cremated. This signifies the death of his former artistic self. He still has the ashes stored in a book in his library. His new mantra: “I Will Not Make Any More Boring Art”.

I believe the music, paired with the quickly fleeting images show that John is extremely creative and sporadic in his work, and may also mimic how he rose to popularity. The film conveys the message that the paintings with dots over the faces are what immediately thrust him into iconic status. The music stops, Tom speaks, and then a fast paced song begins when his “most identifiable” work are spoken of.

I think the film did well at conveying a sense of who John Baldessari is as a person, and as an artist. As mentioned above, this short makes an otherwise inaccessible figure, accessible. How can we use and adapt some of the tactics from this film to make our classmate accessible and easy to identify with in our video portraits? How can we utilize our own creativity, our dot over the face, to create work that is both memorable and relavant?

Sidenote: Tom Waits’ speech patterns for presenting information remind me of the ‘Most Interesting Man in the World’ Dos Equis commercials.



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