I am Making Art

John Baldessari American

Not on view

In 1970 the California artist John Baldessari erased his own training as a painter in a single spectacular gesture: by burning all of his canvases from 1953 to 1966 at a San Diego crematorium, baking the ashes into cookies, and displaying them at the Museum of Modern Art as part of its landmark exhibition Information. Freed from the formal preoccupations and traditions of painting, Baldessari instead turned to a range of new media and creative approaches, from video to hybrid text and photo-based works.

The artist produced this witty video the following year. In it, Baldessari—a towering figure at six feet seven—walks in front of the lens, his legs cropped off at the bottom of the frame. With deadpan irreverence, he enacts a series of unaffected gestures to the camera, repeating in a monotone voice the same phrase each time he strikes a pose: "I am making art." These wry actions not only satirize performance art, which was then on the rise, but also underscore the modernist notion that any act can be considered an artwork.

Such a belief was central to the Conceptual art movement of the late-1960s and 1970s, which privileged ideas, language, and actions over the production of physical artworks. Baldessari’s work, deployed with characteristic humor, became synonymous with Conceptualism, even after the movement became more associated with "dematerialization," that is, with documents, ideas, language, and processes rather than material objects.

Though I Am Making Art now appears simple and delightfully low-fidelity, it was produced on equipment that was then state-of-the-art: a Sony Portapak recording system, introduced in 1967. This affordable and portable consumer device quickly became a favorite tool for artists to produce works in the new medium of video. Baldessari borrowed a unit from the California Institute of the Arts, where he was then a faculty member. Indeed aside from the artist’s significance to the nascent field of video art, Baldessari was also a legendary teacher through his courses at CalArts (1970–88) and at UCLA’s Department of Art (1996–2005), where he influenced generations of art students.

I am Making Art, John Baldessari (American, National City, California 1931–2020 Los Angeles), Single-channel digital video, transferred from video tape, black-and-white, sound, 18 min., 40 sec.

Due to rights restrictions, this image cannot be enlarged, viewed at full screen, or downloaded.

Open Access

As part of the Met's Open Access policy, you can freely copy, modify and distribute this image, even for commercial purposes.


Public domain data for this object can also be accessed using the Met's Open Access API.