Pioneer of conceptual art John Baldessari talks about his desire to follow his instincts and break with convention.

Huck’s Fiftieth Special collects lessons learned and creative advice from fifty of the most inspiring people we know. Each day we’ll be sharing a new excerpt from the magazine. Today, pioneer of conceptual art John Baldessari talks about his desire to follow his instincts and break with convention.

#41 – John Baldessari

John Baldessari wasn’t exactly a traditionalist before he made the artistic move that would define his creative life. He was working with abstract expressionism in the 60s and 70s, a hangover from art school, and he considered his job as a public school art teacher in his home town of National City, California to last until he retired.

But he felt stifled and inhibited by his form, feeling increasingly as though painting in and of itself was tiresome. He knew that he could push his limits, maybe even the limits of artistic expression, but he knew that his next move couldn’t be tentative. That step turned out to be one of artistic self-immolation. With The Cremation Project, Baldessari burnt all the paintings he had made between 1953 and 1966 and baked the resulting ashes into cookies.

“I was a painter at the time and I just decided I was on the wrong path. I had to do something very decisive and dramatic that would show myself and my friends that I was on the wrong path and I was not going to paint any longer… I had a feeling that there was more to art than painting; I felt like it could be something else. And I was interested in exploring that.”

Has his pursuit of artistic newness been satisfying, then? Has his exploration been worthwhile on a personal level?

“It’s necessary. It’s like me asking you, ‘Do you think that eating food is necessary or routine?'”

This is just a short excerpt from Huck’s Fiftieth Special, a collection of fifty personal stories from fifty inspiring lives. 

Grab a copy now to read all fifty stories in full. Subscribe to make sure you don’t miss another issue.