Philip Guston and the Complexity of Simplicity
John Baldessari’s comments and analysis on Philip Guston's Stationary Figure in season 1 of the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s series The Artist Project raises certain, and often deeply philosophical, questions such as
what make an art piece interesting and how artistic practice and life or death can often be intertwined among others. These musings by Balderssari in the MET video series open up interesting research avenues and I was
eager to further explore the connections and deeper meanings in not just Guston’s piece but also that of his own with regard to some of the themes introduced.
There were many concepts touched on by Baldessari in his analysis and interpretation of the chosen piece of artwork but the real reason why I settled on using this particular recording and the works involved is primarily down to the gipping affection and passion the review demonstrated. Whilst others were done in a more conversative or respectful, with some even verging on reverence, tone I found myself drawn to Baldessari’s enthusiasm and, in particular, his somewhat jovial deconstruction of the use of simplicity in art as an expression. As a tool, I believe it is often over-looked and underused as a tool of communication in an art form.
My goal in this essay, therefore, is to further examine how a more simplistic approach in a work of art can help to heighten its overall impact. To achieve this, a brief analysis of the above artists will be undertaken with particular attention being paid to the Stationary Figure and how it can be linked thematically and stylistically to the work of John Baldessari as well as using it as a model to prove the effectiveness of such a technique.
Philip Guston evolved an unseen and later considerably influential brand of cartoon-based realism in his career as a move to be more able to better paint the world as he saw it, “His was a continuous journey towards
the most unflinching expression of the self.” (Krauss, N) Using rough, uneven brush strokes and his works appearing crudely or even childishly completed, he drew ire from some in the art world for many reasons. Some
accused him of jumping on the ‘pop art’ bandwagon but his seemingly protesting style caught the attention of some, most notably John Baldessari.
Known mostly for his use of print, John Baldessari is a conceptual artist renowned for his different take on the medium of visual display, working with styles from painting to photography slides. It was when he first read a criticism on conceptual art that he altered his approach and methods. …