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Artists Robert Rauschenberg
Robert Rauschenberg Photo

Robert Rauschenberg

American Collagist, Painter, and Graphic Artist

Movements and Styles: Neo-Dada, Performance Art, Digital Art, Modern Sculpture

Born: October 22, 1925 - Port Arthur, Texas

Died: May 12, 2008 - Captiva Island, Florida

Robert Rauschenberg Timeline

Quotes

"I really feel sorry for people who think things like soap dishes or mirrors or Coke bottles are ugly because they're surrounded by things like that all day long, and it must make them miserable."
Robert Rauschenberg
"I usually work in a direction until I know how to do it, then I stop. At the time that I am bored or understand - I use those words interchangeably - another appetite has formed. A lot of people try to think up ideas. I'm not one. I'd rather accept the irresistible possibilities of what I can't ignore."
Robert Rauschenberg
"There is no reason not to consider the world as one gigantic painting."
Robert Rauschenberg
"There was a whole language that I could never make function for myself in relationship to painting and that was attitudes like tortured, struggle, pain."
Robert Rauschenberg
"I did a twenty foot print and John Cage is involved in that because he was the only person I knew in New York who had a car and who would be willing to do this."
Robert Rauschenberg

"Painting relates to both art and life. Neither can be made."

Robert Rauschenberg Signature

Synopsis

Considered by many to be one of the most influential American artists due to his radical blending of materials and methods, Robert Rauschenberg was a crucial figure in the transition from Abstract Expressionism to later modern movements. One of the key Neo-Dada movement artists, his experimental approach expanded the traditional boundaries of art, opening up avenues of exploration for future artists. Although Rauschenberg was the enfant terrible of the art world in the 1950s, he was deeply respected and admired by his predecessors. Despite this admiration, he disagreed with many of their convictions and literally erased their precedent to move forward into new aesthetic territory that reiterated the earlier Dada inquiry into the definition of art.

Key Ideas

Engaged in questioning the definition of a work of art and the role of the artist, Rauschenberg shifted from a conceptual outlook where the authentic mark of the brushstroke described the artist's inner world towards a reflection on the contemporary world, where an interaction with popular media and mass-produced goods reflected a unique artistic vision.
Rauschenberg merged the realms of kitsch and fine art, employing both traditional media and found objects within his "combines" by inserting appropriated photographs and urban detritus amidst standard wall paintings.
Rauschenberg believed that painting related to "both art and life. Neither can be made." Following from this belief, he created artworks that move between these realms in constant dialogue with the viewers and the surrounding world, as well as with art history.
Preferring to leave the interpretation of the works to his viewers, Rauschenberg allowed chance to determine the placement and combination of the different found images and objects in his artwork such that there were no predetermined arrangements or meanings embedded within the works.

Biography

Robert Rauschenberg Photo

Childhood

Robert Rauschenberg was born Milton Ernest Rauschenberg in the small refinery town of Port Arthur, Texas. His father, Ernest, was a strict and serious man who worked for the Gulf State Utilities power company. His mother, Dora, was a devout Christian and a frugal woman. She made the family's clothes from scraps, a practice that embarrassed her son, but possibly influenced his later work with assemblages and collage. Rauschenberg drew frequently and copied images from comics, but his talent as a draughtsman went largely unappreciated, except by his younger sister Janet. Until he was 13, he planned to become a minister - a career of high standing in his conservative community. However, Rauschenberg discovered that his church called dancing a sin, and, as a skilled dancer himself, was dissuaded from a career in the ministry. He asked for and received a store-bought shirt for his high school graduation present, the very first in his young life.

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Robert Rauschenberg Biography Continues

Important Art by Robert Rauschenberg

The below artworks are the most important by Robert Rauschenberg - that both overview the major creative periods, and highlight the greatest achievements by the artist.

White Paintings (1951)
Artwork Images

White Paintings (1951)

Artwork description & Analysis: Originally viewed as a scandalous swindle, Rauschenberg's White Paintings were an early codification of the artistic ideals that dominated his entire oeuvre. The White Paintings currently exist in five different permutations of multi-paneled canvases, which Rauschenberg intentionally left free of any mark of the artist's hand. By removing any gesture, the works could be, and were, re-fabricated by his friends and assistants, including fellow artists from Cy Twombly to Brice Marden. This removal of an authorial mark presaged both the mechanical appearance of Andy Warhol's silkscreened works and the slick surfaces of Ad Reinhardt's Abstract Paintings (1952-67), while also hearkening back to earlier modernist works like the monochromatic paintings of Russian Constructivist Alexander Rodchenko. The seemingly blank canvases, evenly coated in white house paint, serve as a backdrop that activates as viewers approach, coming alive with their shadows while also reflecting the light and sounds of the room they occupy. Thus, Rauschenberg succinctly allowed the "subject matter" of the White Paintings to shift with each new audience and new setting, and illustrated his interest in aleatory, or chance, processes in art, while also questioning the role of the artist in determining the meaning, or subject, of a work of art.

The White Paintings were initially exhibited in the dining hall of Black Mountain College in the summer of 1952 as a backdrop for The Event (Cage's Theatre Piece no. 1) - a multimedia performance combining poetry reading, dance, music determined by aleatory processes. During the performance, four panels of the White Paintings were suspended from the ceiling in the form of a cross with films and slides projected on them. While Charles Olsen and M. C. Richards read their poetry, Merce Cunningham danced through the audience, David Tudor played Cage's music on the piano, John Cage lectured on Meister Eckhart and Zen, and Rauschenberg himself played wax cylinders of old Edith Piaf records on an old Edison horn recorder.

Latex paint on canvas - SFMOMA

Erased de Kooning Drawing (1953)
Artwork Images

Erased de Kooning Drawing (1953)

Artwork description & Analysis: In the early 1950s, Rauschenberg explored the boundaries and the definition of art, following from the radical modernist precedent set by Marcel Duchamp's earlier Dada readymades. In this "drawing," he set out to discover if erasure, or the removal of a mark, constituted a work of art. He realized in order for the piece to succeed, he required an already notable work of art. Willem de Kooning was an established, leading figure in the New York art world when the young Rauschenberg asked him for a drawing that he could erase. De Kooning eventually acquiesced to Rauschenberg's request, albeit reluctantly. He intentionally made Rauschenberg's act of erasure difficult by deliberately choosing a heavily marked drawing filled with charcoal and pencil. Rauschenberg needed two months, and dozens of erasers, to complete the herculean task of erasing the drawing; even after he finished, traces of De Kooning's work were still present. Through the erasure of De Kooning's drawing, Rauschenberg acknowledged his admiration for his predecessor, but also signaled a movement away from Abstract Expressionism. He framed the erased drawing within a simple, gilded frame, with a mat bearing an inscription typed by Jasper Johns that identified the significance of the seemingly empty paper. The absent drawing is presented as an art object, designating the act of erasure as belonging to the realm of fine art - a typically Neo-Dada act of questioning the definition and import of the art object.

Traces of drawing media on paper with label and gilded frame

Automobile Tire Print (1953)
Artwork Images

Automobile Tire Print (1953)

Artwork description & Analysis: Another collaboration between Rauschenberg and John Cage, this print redefined the medium for the 20th century in a fatalistically Neo-Dada fashion. Rauschenberg glued together 20 sheets of typewriter paper into a continuous scroll, and laid them out on an empty Fulton Street road in front of his studio. He poured black house paint in a pool in front of the rear tire of his Model A Ford, and directed Cage to drive over the 23 feet of paper, with the front tire embossing the scroll and the rear imprinting the paper with a continuous black tire tread mark. While this work is categorized as a print, it is the artifact from a collaborative performance that explored process printing, the artist's mark, and serial imagery. While it was his idea and direction that initiated the creation of the print, Cage acted as the printer and press. In the creation of this work, Rauschenberg effectively shifted the term "action painting" from the Abstract Expressionist active creation of the artist's mark with their own hands to the action of driving a car, part of his continued interest in the obfuscation of traditional notions of the artist and work of art.

Ink on twenty sheets of paper glued together, mounted on fabric - SFMOMA

More Robert Rauschenberg Artwork and Analysis:



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Influences and Connections

Influences on Artist
Artists, Friends, Movements
Influenced by Artist
Artists, Friends, Movements
Robert Rauschenberg
Interactive chart with Robert Rauschenberg's main influences, and the people and ideas that the artist influenced in turn.
View Influences Chart

Artists

Marcel DuchampMarcel Duchamp
Kurt SchwittersKurt Schwitters
Joseph CornellJoseph Cornell
Clyfford StillClyfford Still

Personal Contacts

John CageJohn Cage
Jasper JohnsJasper Johns
Merce CunninghamMerce Cunningham
Cy TwomblyCy Twombly

Movements

DadaDada
Abstract ExpressionismAbstract Expressionism
SurrealismSurrealism

Influences on Artist
Robert Rauschenberg
Robert Rauschenberg
Years Worked: 1947 - 2008
Influenced by Artist

Artists

Andy WarholAndy Warhol
Roy LichtensteinRoy Lichtenstein
Allan KaprowAllan Kaprow

Personal Contacts

Jasper JohnsJasper Johns
Robert HughesRobert Hughes
Leo SteinbergLeo Steinberg
Leo CastelliLeo Castelli

Movements

HappeningsHappenings
Neo-DadaNeo-Dada
Pop ArtPop Art
Conceptual ArtConceptual Art

Useful Resources on Robert Rauschenberg

Videos

Books

Websites

Articles

Audio

More

The books and articles below constitute a bibliography of the sources used in the writing of this page. These also suggest some accessible resources for further research, especially ones that can be found and purchased via the internet.

biography

Off the Wall: A Portrait of Robert Rauschenberg Recomended resource

By Calvin Tomkins

Random Order: Robert Rauschenberg and the Neo-Avant-Garde Recomended resource

By Branden W. Joseph

Rauschenberg

By Mary Lynn Kotz

More Interesting Books about Robert Rauschenberg
SFMOMA: Robert Rauschenberg Project

Research project by the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art

PBS American Masters - Teaching Lesson

Complete lesson plan for a class on Rauschenberg

Transmuting Forms, Click by Click Recomended resource

By Philip Gefter
The New York Times
October 17, 2013

Robert Rauschenberg, American Artist, Dies at 82 Recomended resource

By Michael Kimmelman
The New York Times
May 14, 2008

Rauschenberg's Epic Vision

By John Richardson
Vanity Fair
September 1997

Art in Review

By Roberta Smith
The New York Times
February 10, 1995

Elegy for Robert Rauschenberg Recomended resource

Created from footage filmed by Art21 at The Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles during the 2006 exhibition of "Robert Rauschenberg: Combines".

Robert Rauschenberg on Erased de Kooning Recomended resource

Inside New York's Art World: Robert Rauschenberg and Leo Castelli, 1977 Recomended resource

Clip from Painters Painting Recomended resource

More Interesting Videos with Robert Rauschenberg
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Cite this page

Content compiled and written by Julia Brucker

Edited and published by The Art Story Contributors

" Artist Overview and Analysis". [Internet]. . TheArtStory.org
Content compiled and written by Julia Brucker
Edited and published by The Art Story Contributors
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