Summary of Robert Rauschenberg
In the early 1950s, Robert Rauschenberg roiled the art world by subverting contemporary notions of painting by incorporating found, everyday imagery and objects into his art works. One of the key Neo-Dadaists, along with Cy Twombly and Jasper Johns, his experimental assemblages of painting and sculpture expanded the traditional boundaries of art and questioned the status of the artist as original genius, hallmarks of later postmodern movements.
Although many considered Rauschenberg the enfant terrible of the art world for his irreverent attitude toward fine art, he was deeply respected and admired by his predecessors. Despite this admiration, he disagreed with many of their convictions and even (literally) erased their precedent to move forward into new aesthetic territory that not only encompassed multiple mediums but also reiterated and updated the earlier Dadaist inquiries into the nature and definition of acceptable art, opening the pathways even wider for experiments in Performance, Conceptual, and Installation Art that followed.
- Rauschenberg updated Marcel Duchamp's notion of the readymade, reinjecting humor and popular culture into art. To create his assemblages, which he termed "combines," Rauschenberg appropriated photographs and urban detritus and combined them with painting. Initially these hung on the wall like traditional painting, but eventually he moved them to the floor, where they behaved more like sculpture and presaged Installation Art.
- In taking up a Dadaist attitude that questioned the definition of a work of art and the role of the artist, Rauschenberg effectively rebelled against contemporary tastes that favored Abstract Expressionist painting. Instead of imbuing gestural brushstrokes with the existential, or authentic, mark of the artist that pointed to the artist's inner world, Rauschenberg embraced an exploration of contemporary culture that emphasized the notion of a self that is socially constructed - produced by the media, advertisements, consumer goods, and popular ideas that one consumes.
- In many cases, Rauschenberg allowed chance to determine the placement and combination of the found images and objects in his artwork. By reducing the role of artistic intention in arranging a composition, Rauschenberg disavowed the more traditional role of the artist as singular genius and creator of wholly original works of art.
- Because of Rauschenberg's use of chance, he insisted, like many artists who came before and after him, that his combines had no predetermined, or fixed, meaning, thus allowing viewers to create narratives and meanings through their own free association with the imagery. In many ways, Rauschenberg invited, and even emboldened, the viewer to take a more active role in the artistic process by generating new interpretations, an attitude later embraced by many postwar artists.
- Some art historians have pushed back on Rauschenberg's downplaying of intended meaning in order to point to ways in which the artist's homosexuality informed the images and objects he chose in his early combines, creating a sort of coded language. They also point to his collaborative approach to art-making as a signal of a burgeoning gay identity that relied on community to stave off the isolation and pathologizing imposed by the Cold War policing of homosexuality.
Biography of Robert Rauschenberg
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.