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JOHN BALDESSARI

Filling a Canvas With Ideas

Crossroads: Looking at 1996 and beyond with influential figures in the worlds of art and entertainment.

December 30, 1996|CHRISTOPHER KNIGHT | TIMES ART CRITIC

The NEA has become a joke. We might as well call a spade a spade and say [the nation] doesn't support art, so let's not have this lip service that we do. Let's make it very clear that we don't support art and see if anything starts up again. I think the chances for art are better if we start out stating clearly what we believe--which is that we don't believe in supporting the arts. Then we'll see if there's any grass-roots movement toward getting it going again.

And if there's no public clamor then it's true: The business of America is business.

Q: What other primary issues face art today?

A: Is there a reason for doing art other than money? Which is an issue that didn't exist before the 1980s. Now it lingers--like some kind of stain that won't vanish.

Prior to the '80s, it was assumed you did it because you wanted to do it. When you see paintings getting smaller and smaller and a lot of gallery tchotchkes around, is that because people really want to do them? I'm not so sure.

Or, is it just because, listen, I've got to pay my rent? [Artist and Newsweek art critic] Peter Plagens had this idea that the NEA should pay some artists not to do art.

Q: Like paying farmers not to grow certain crops. . . .

A: On the other hand, I don't think it's as bad as in the '80s, when being an artist was just a little less than being a rock 'n' roll star, so you picked up a brush and paint rather than a guitar. Thank God that's gone.

Maybe I am talking about moral purposes. I'd like to feel when I looked at work that it came out of a real sense of need. That's something you just feel--a kind of urgency that it had to be done.

CROSSROADS

Through Saturday, the daily Calendar section will continue its series of interviews conducted by Times critics. The series follows Sunday Calendar's comprehensive look at 1996.

TODAY

ART: John Baldessari.

TUESDAY

MOVIES: Joe Roth.

WEDNESDAY

THEATER: Larry Gelbart.

THURSDAY

DANCE: Sali Ann Kriegsman.

JAN. 3

TELEVISION: Dick Wolf.

JAN. 4

ARCHITECTURE: Richard Meier.

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