How I Learned to Love Art

It was the 1960s, and Los Angeles was falling for pop art. An aspiring painter recalls his awakening.
  1. The windowless room is dark except for static sputtering on a video monitor. Beside the monitor, on one of the stackable chairs, sits Jim, a gaunt young man who stares at his knees and pounds them again and again with his fists. His assault is as unrelenting as the static. That must be the point, I think, but my conviction quickly fades. I shift in my seat and look around to see if anybody appears to understand what’s happening. Postures of contemplation emerge from the gloom: chins propped on hands, jaws grinding gum. Several students lean forward, mesmerized by the granulated light and the steady thwacks of impact.

    The year is 1973, and our instructor, the conceptual artist John Baldessari, stands in a corner. Six foot seven, with shaggy white hair and beard, he wears an expression that is, as always, inscrutable, his hands buried in the pockets of his jeans. He knows that the aesthetic value of any object or activity cannot be measured hastily; the history of the avant-garde is t...

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