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The Art of Robert Rauschenberg

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    The Art of Robert Rauschenberg

                Artists create pieces of art in accordance to how they perceive the world. They incorporate their media, techniques and styles with their ideas in order to convey a message or messages to their viewers. Every time they make an artwork, they strongly grasp with them an intention on how they want their work to be seen, to be interpreted and to be given meanings. Every object of art that they produce bears a specific purpose and goal of the artist: what does he or she want to say with his or her spectators? Robert Rauschenberg, an American contemporary artist whose artistic goal is to break the seriousness in the painters’ psyche of his time through abstract expressionism, have created bodies of masterpieces that demonstrate his creative intention with his art.

                Robert Rauschenberg has marked an extensive impact on visual culture during the late twentieth century. His works of art have been the fundamental influence of various developments of post-war American art and have given enormous blueprints for artistic discoveries and innovations for younger generation artists. He depicts radical approaches in his artistic practice which produce works that are sensational and experimental eluding definition and categorization (“Robert Rauschenberg 1967-1978”).

    Born on October 22, 1925 at Port Arthur, Texas, USA, Robert Rauschenberg has imagined himself then as a minister and later as a pharmacist. It was only in 1947, while in US Marines, when he discovered his skills in drawing and his enthusiasm in the artistic delineation of everyday objects and people. After he left Marine, he studied art in Paris; however, he rapidly became disinterested with the European art realm. After less than a year, he transferred to North Carolina where the most imaginative artists and thinkers teach at Black Mountain College. It was during this time when Rauschenberg began an artistic revolution but he later on moved to New York because North Carolina began to seem small. In New York, between the chaos and excitement, he realized his full potential and extent on what he could convey to painting (“Robert Rauschenberg”). Nevertheless, prior to that, it was in 1947-1948 when he studied at Kansas City Art Institute where he took various subjects which include art history, sculpture and music. He has also made window displays and film sets and has designed photographic studios (“Pop Art in the U.S. and Europe: Robert Rauschenberg-American, 1925-2008”).

    Moreover, in the early 1950s in New York, he has attended Art Students League and has associated with the Abstract Expressionist artists, the prevailing style then, where he met Jasper Johns with whom he formed a bridge amidst Abstract Expressionism and Pop Art (Doyle). Early in his artistic career, he made a controversy within the art scene with a sequence of “artistic pranks” such as an infamous erasure of a Wilhelm de Kooning drawing. That rebellious act has obtained him an instant position of enfant terrible. However, in spite of his “prankster” status and reputation, he was highly self-disciplined, decided and determined to summon himself. It was in 1951 when he completed a series of white paintings which were pursued and followed by a series of black paintings (“Robert Rauschenberg 1967-1978”).

    He crafted white and black monochromatic paintings and sculptures wherein objects were found on the streets of New York, paintings comprised of collage elements and conceptual works such as Erased de Kooning Drawing (“Robert Rauschenberg: Current Scenarios”). He worked outside the confines and adopted methods that sought to join up and reunite art with everyday life, an ideology that was absolutely opposed to the core principles and beliefs of Abstract Expressionism (“Robert Rauschenberg 1967-1978”).

    Rauschenberg was primarily a visual artist who at first crafted two-dimensional images but later on pursued his way and made pieces which he pertained “combines” or “assemblages” (“Robert Rauschenberg”). It was because of his ascetic exercises in entire minimalism that enabled him to create combines, huge, rich-textured and colored collage assemblages (“Art Encyclopedia: Robert Rauschenberg”). They were pieces rendering two-dimensional images but also contained three-dimensional and collage element and composed of “found” and painted objects. He also utilized found objects because of economic rationales. In one of his works entitled Bed, he partially painted a quilt, put a pillow at the top and hanged it on a wall (“Robert Rauschenberg”).

     One the other hand, one of his renowned assemblages entitled Monogram (1959), was delineated with a stuffed goat with an automobile tire around its middle, placed on a wide, flat pedestal with painted surface. Furthermore, he also made two-dimensional figures bearing unexplored materials such as flattened cardboard boxes because they were inexpensive (Doyle). The notion of mixing and combining objects and images has lingered at the essence and core of his works (“Robert Rauschenberg”).

                In 1958, he held an exhibition in New York that propelled him to fame. His paintings have soon entered the collections of very huge museums in America and abroad. However, he was not fulfilled and satisfied with his painting career, thus in 1963 he explored with the Merce Cunningham Dance Theater as an active participant. And in 1964, he achieved his first prize at the Venice Biennale (“Art Encyclopedia: Robert Rauschenberg”).

    Rauschenberg strongly held with him his interest in pop culture however his rejection of the angst and seriousness of Abstract Expressionist artists made him look for and explore for a new approach of painting. He found his identity in employing materials that were traditionally outside of the artist’s reach. There came a time when he would cover a canvas with house paint or put ink on the wheel of the car and then run it over a paper to produce a drawing while exemplifying firmness and concern for formal painting (“Robert Rauschenberg”).

    His Works, Media and Continuous Innovation of Techniques and Styles

    Rauschenberg never stopped experimenting and finding new styles and techniques. And it usually went on with time. When Pop Art emerged in 1960s, Rauschenberg broke away with his three-dimensional combines and started to work in two-dimensions, utilizing magazine photographs of current events to make silk-screen prints. He would transfer prints of famous figures such as John F. Kennedy and baseball games to a canvas and then overlap and partly cover it with painted brushstrokes (“Robert Rauschenberg”).  In late 1960s, he devoted himself on producing and developing silk-screen prints and lithographs. It was demonstrated in his Current (1970), a mammoth silk-screen prints set which was politically inspired. Since then, he furthered his innovation and exploration of image transfer techniques (“Robert Rauschenberg: Current Scenarios”).

    He began to set aside traditional aesthetic value with respect to subject matter thus became responsible for opening the connection between new art and the previous generation of abstract expressionist as well as the more far-flung roots of the contemporary movement. Despite the alterations in his style, his objects of art constantly reveal an involvement in an idea by which he developed and enriched. His combines depended on the tension amidst freely manipulated oil paint, nearly close to the expressionist manner and style of de Kooning and real objects, which were customarily a variety of “found” materials. His works delineated brilliantly and vibrantly colored and thickly applied painted surfaces which excite the visual senses of the viewers. They divulged the magnificent style of Pablo Picasso, a source by which his style can be hauled from. However, his art pieces with either scraps of paper, fragments of cloth, wood or metal, applied flatly or in a rectangular manner, were attached to canvases in order to make them appear as a three-dimensional object (Solomon).

                Rauschenberg has worked in a variety and massive range of styles wherein he incorporated innovative techniques. It was demonstrated in his artistic developments wherein his works then portrayed minimalist style, often utilizing a single color in his painting, that later on progressed to the discovery of “combine painting,” employing real objects as photographs and “found” objects attached on the surface of the paintings (“Art Icons: Robert Rauschenberg”).

                From mid sixties throughout the seventies, he continued and maintained the experimentation in prints by printing to aluminum, clothes, moving plexiglass disks and other surfaces. He also summoned the point of view of the artists as auteur or filmmakers by gathering engineers to aid in the production of technology-based designed pieces in order to incorporate the spectators as active participant of the work. He also made performance pieces focused around chance: to watch dancers on roller skates, to hear the sound of a gong each time a tennis ball was hit or to observe an art which exchange superior ambitions for a sense of liveliness and enthusiasm while maintaining meaning (“Robert Rauschenberg”).

                On the other hand, all through eighties and nineties, he still continued his experimentation. But this time his concentration was more focused on collage and new ways to transfer photographs (“Robert Rauschenberg”). Furthermore, his sense of design or composition was so strong that allowed the placement of the geometric forms appeared monumental—“an ironic juxtaposition with cardboard boxes.” His most reproduced images revealed his trademark style wherein he combined images with popular and contemporary culture in an interesting and unexpected manner and in an unusual media. And one of those crafted representation was made in 1963—a piece that was comprised of an image of President John F. Kennedy with his finger pointing in his attributed way (Doyle).

    He also utilized other suggestive, abstract fragments and figures. It was a manifestation of reflective Pop art and also Abstract Expressionism, at the same time because there were sweeping and gestural painted elements. His works were clear illustrations of combined geometric figures and “painterly” photographic images (Doyle). One of his works entitled Horsefeathers Thirteen, was one of the examples delineating the artist’s intrinsic talent in creating compositions with detailed sophistication. It was comprised of mass media action figures namely running races, rowing, and horse-riding, juxtaposed with more general subjects that mixed the natural environment with the manufactured milieu. In the mentioned piece, Rauschenberg has triumphantly invested in it an instantaneous sense of movement and suspense. There was no hierarchy of figures because the path of visual discovery was trusted to the spectator’s choice despite the presence of directional arrow (“Robert Rauschenberg 1967-1978”). Probably, he was also the first artist to explore and search the possibilities of integrating a sound with a painting. The three radios then in Broadcast when tuned create a collage sound that was exactly parallel to the visual circumstance maneuvering in the painting per se (Solomon).

    Rauschenberg’s works of art through 1950s and 1960s presented a theme of street culture and urban environment because it was during that period when he stayed and lived in New York and constantly walked the streets so he could collect the “surprises” that New York has given and left for him. Those found objects were then integrated in his works (“Robert Rauschenberg 1967-1978”). Moreover some of his works depicted political messages. Take for example the case with the Kennedy image, it reflected idealism and optimism of the period because his work illustrated a symbolic of loss (Doyle).

    Furthermore, for him, work was a never-ending project because he was a man who perceived and saw art as a “means to function thoroughly and passionately in a world that he has a lot more to it than paint” (qtd. Johnston). He was a fundamental artist of his time because what he pioneered has taken a routine and commonplace today (Johnston).

    His Intentions and Purposes of his Works

                Robert Rauschenberg is one of the legendary artists in the world and has been triumphant. His efficiency, productivity, chance-taking, experimentation, and his quality of art, which he crafted for decades, are still going and flourishing. His works demonstrate freedom and his approach to visual arts is very much suitable and appropriate in the turn of century. His pieces mirror the way “reality” is presented before his spectators—with speed, information-explosion, synchronized events and imagery, and multi-tasking (Doyle).

    In his White Paintings, he exemplifies a positive force that is created through “transparency” to the earthly and environmental factors. The work seeks to escape from representation wherein Rauschenberg endeavors not a productive involvement and intervention into culture but an affirmation of difference attributed and characterized to the natural realm (Joseph and Rauschenberg 80-81). On the other hand, his Black Paintings craft a mark of his “materialized color’s” first appearance. The differences in tone and hue characterize the variety in the physical properties of the materials and their interactions. It is the attribution that signifies a move from visual appearance to artistic intention (Joseph and Rauschenberg 81).

    Rauschenberg’s objects of art from 1960s to 1970s have relied much in the American visual culture but through the 1970s, he explores international viewpoints. His works in 1960s reflect repetitive mass media imagery and in 1970, they mirror his continuous experimentation with new materials and a focus on natural fibers such as mud, rope (“Robert Rauschenberg 1967-1978”). Critics have referred those works as a bridge between Abstract Expressionism and Pop art. However, he answered it concerning with the difference in his attitude as compared to the Abstract Expressionists with regards to his perception of nature. In which he stated in an interview conducted by Dorothy Seckler (1965):

    “I think one of the main differences in my attitude and that of some of the abstract expressionists was based on the fact that my natural point of view was never cultivated, that the creative process somehow has to include adjusting realistically to the situation…. . I just don’t find it a very interesting motivation to work with the idea that things are difficult, or that I won’t accept the fact that things are easy. I think with affluence, which was very foreign to me during the period we’re talking about, there are new complications” (Rauschenberg).

                Furthermore, it supplements as to why Rauschenberg perceives world and nature as the way he does. It gives an implication that before he paints, he considers a lot of things like people who bestows him encouragement which is in fact not painters but musicians namely Morton Feldman, John Cage and Earl Brown, and dancers of the group. For him, abstract expressionism really puts him off because his focus is more concentrated on the opposite direction: finding ways where the image and materials and the interpretation and meanings of the painting can be an illustration of unbiased documentation of his observations (Rauschenberg).

                With regards to Rauschenberg’s incessant innovation and discovery of styles and techniques has something to do with the movements and transferring of place that he does. He states, “Every time I’ve moved, my work has changed radically. And I think that if it didn’t change radically naturally, then I’d do something about it and I’d force it to change… And whereas my work was never a protest of what was going on, it was only the expression of my own involvement, it always had the possibility of being some other way” (Rauschenberg). That gives a proposition of his materials and styles. Basically, his environment and status in society are the main reasons why he employ such “found” materials, commonly comprised of papers, metals, etc. whereas if he lives in a high-class environment, his work would probably incorporate gold chandeliers, etc. (Rauschenberg).

    Analysis and Conclusion: Rauschenberg as a Modern and Contemporary Artist

                Robert Rauschenberg, an American pop and contemporary artist who have been renowned due to his rebellious figures, has created collage-style art pieces that are made of junks that people have dumped out in the street. Those objects have been referred as “combines,” due to the fact that they are mixtures of “found” materials incorporated in a canvas. His goal and objective in creating works of art is to connect the gap between art and life wherein he reveals it through his continuous experimentation and discovery of styles. He never gets sick and tired with the notion of change because for him, it opens new discoveries which later on influence and affect the younger generation of artists.

                Rauschenberg represents two kinds of artists: a modernist and a contemporary one. He is a modern artist because he is an icon of Pop art, a movement that has been developed in the sixties where modern art thrives on and spreads its dominion across the world. His works reveal that movement because there are images from magazines and newspaper, as well as popular icons and figures during those times such as John D. Kennedy and baseball games.

                On the other hand, he is a contemporary artist because his pioneering efforts, productions, innovations, styles, approaches and techniques still survive today and has been the core influence of other artist. His death does not halt his art rather it gives way to the commonplace realm of today’s art world. Moreover, the materials that he used signify contemporary movement because he breaks away with the utilization of traditional materials such as canvas and paints.

                Robert Rauschenberg’s employment of found materials in his bodies of work provides a manifestation of New York’s culture and artistic realm of his time. His masterpieces have bestowed an artistic identity and trademark similar to Marcel Duchamp. He may be regarded as radical but his discoveries would always be great help on today’s artistic development and innovations.

    Works Cited

    “Art Encyclopedia: Robert Rauschenberg.” 2009. 07 April 2009. <>

    “Art Icon: Robert Rauschenberg.” n.d. Art Icons. 07 April 2009. <>

    Doyle, Nancy. n.d. “Artist Profile: Robert Rauschenberg.” Nancy Doyle Fine Art. 07 April 2009. <>

    Johnston, Rachel Campbell. 2008. “Robert Rauschenberg, American pop art rebel dies at 82.” Times Online. 07 April 2009. <>

    Joseph, Branden Wayne and Robert Rauschenberg. Random Order: Robert Rauschenberg and the Neo-Avant-Garde. United States: MIT Press, 2003.

    “Pop Art in the U.S. and Europe: Robert Rauschenberg-American, 1925-2008.” 2008. Spaightwood Galleries. 07 April 2009. <>

    Rauschenberg, Robert. Personal Interview of Dorothy Slecker. 21 December 1965.

    “Robert Rauschenberg.” 2009. American Masters. 07 April 2009.


    “Robert Rauschenberg 1967-1978.” 2009. National Gallery of Australia, Canberra. 07 April 2009. <>

     “Robert Rauschenberg: Current Scenarios.” n.d. Absolute 07 April 2009. <>

    Solomon, Alan. 1963. “Excerpt Exhibition Catalogue, Robert Rauschenberg: The Jewish Museum New York, March-May, 1963.” Pop Art Masters. 07 April 2009. <>

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