The Life and Work of Robert Rauschenberg
While going through the books needed for this essay, I found out more about the style of Robert Rauschenberg, on how deep each of his works are, despite exerting too much effort into them. I discovered more about why artists have their own styles, and what the reason behind it all is. Every work of an artist has a meaning of their own, a reason why they do a particular work of art. Maybe this is why paintings, despite how simple they may be done, are admired by many. Every single element in the painting has a deep meaning to it, and artists manage to express what they want with very little effort. No matter how many colors, shapes, etc. there are in a painting, it does not measure on how deep the message of the painting is. Although some may have very little color in them, or maybe very little strokes, or effort put into the painting, it is not a basis to tell that the art has a very shallow meaning. It turns out that the lesser the art shows, the more it has to tell to the people.
Rauschenberg’s works is perceived in many different ways by different people. Although the works look very plain and simple visually, they actually have a very deep meaning behind them. An almost white canvass can say so much, even without much element seen in the work. Even if the artist had the desire to show people what he really intends to express, somehow people find it hard to fathom the way Rauschenberg’s thoughts work behind every artwork and there is nothing he can do given that every single person has his own opinion on how he or she sees a work of art or painting.
In the works of Rauschenberg, some perceive them to be an exploration of what he wishes to discover. It is as if his works are questions making attempts to draw some answers despite the fact that others may think that they may be senseless at first glance.
Rauschenberg’s Use of Imagery and Dadaism
We know that artists do a work of art when they wish to deliver a message to the viewers, to probably express the way they feel. They always have an aim or view when they complete an artwork. It is either based on past experiences, their expressions of thoughts, their way of channeling out their emotions through every work of art. They aim to impart to people what they are feeling in a particular situation. And mostly, people would relate to what the artists wish to deliver.
On the other hand, Dada is a way to counter-act the rules of art. However, they never perceived it to be such since they aim to be anti-art. Dada is actually a movement which was a silent protest to the barbarians during the World War II (Richardson 550). If artists deliver their art with meaning, Dadaism intends to make art without any meaning at all. Whatever characteristics an artwork has, Dada does the opposite, trying to be senseless in every work of art they make.
Rauschenberg on the other hand, just like any other art, intends to deliver a message to people in its distinct way. In every work of art, Rauschenberg has a story behind every painting made. In his works, he mostly use scraps for the art he completes, putting them into collages with his very delicate hands (Molesworth 70). He arranges them in a manner that would show to the people what he means to impart. He uses what can be found in the surroundings to make art. He finds meaning in every junk object scattered anywhere.
Rauschenberg’s works differ a lot from Dadaism; despite using scraps of about everything else, he has an objective of expressing his ideas in life whereas Dadaism never intended to be considered an art, because, as previously mentioned, their works mean the opposite. They try to come up with ideas that would help them in their protests against the barbarians. It was just later on that people see it as an art for they see the approach of Dada in an opposite way.
The way I see it, although Rauschenberg wanted to share an art with meaning to other people who view his works, it does not turn out the way he expects it to be. The people end up wondering what his art means, getting people to think more deeply. Until now, people are still seeking to find the deeper meaning on how Rauschenberg interprets the works he has done. In contrast with Dadaism, even though they had the aim to have no meaning in their works, people somehow finds something from it. They saw the intention they had in every painting or works they made.
Black, White and Red Paintings
Minimalism describes its art in various forms by toning it down to its most basic features: geometric, equilibrium of parts, repetition, neutral spaces. Through this, they find a way to express the way they see things.
Rauschenberg’s paintings mainly involved junk and scraps. In his White Paintings, Rauschenberg usually painted a white canvas with wet oil, then lays it on the ground, and picks up whatever particle there is left (Molesworth 70). As soon as the canvas is lifted, he has his work of art. Subsequently, his White Paintings depend mostly on how much dirt or particles are left on the pavement or ground he lays his canvas on. He says that the result of the White Paintings depends on how many people are in the room or were around the area.
As for the Black Paintings, Rauschenberg used old newsprints and dipped them into glue, and randomly arranged them on the canvas, after which he tops it with different coats of black paint. At first, his paintings made no sense to others, since the newspaper print was not at all visible from the black paint. Afterwards, Rauschenberg decided to paint just some parts of the newspaper to reveal parts of it, specifically the classified and sports pages of the newspaper. This opened a whole new meaning to the painting (Molesworth 70).
Following the Black Painting series were the Red Paintings. His art evolved from monochromatic to something bolder. Rauschenberg stated, “I was trying to move away from the black and white so I picked the most difficult color for me to work in. If you’re not careful, red turns to black when you’re dealing with it” (Molesworth 80). This time, he used rags and junk such as pieces of fabrics, nails, wood, etc. and covered them with red paint. While his White Paintings were affected by how much people are around and his Black Paintings expresses the repetition in everyday life, the Red Paintings articulate violence, as seen by the use of red paint.
After going through the sources I found, I noticed that Rauschenberg focused on using objects seen in his surroundings. He used only one color on each painting, aiming to express his thoughts through the already found elements on the artwork. The paint merely emphasizes what he means to interpret.
Rauschenberg’s works can be similarly compared to minimalist works. Minimalists use only the very basic elements to come up with a work of art. And likely, Rauschenberg used what can be found around him. And just like minimalists, he found great meanings behind every constituent of his works. It does not mean that the works were simple; they carried a very shallow meaning, or maybe even nothing. Instead, it states the total opposite. For the White Paintings, every one depends on how much particle it picked up with the wet oil paint. In each painting, you can tell how much elements were left from on the ground, which varies from time to time. Maybe on one instance, the White Paintings picked up a lot of remnants, and maybe on another time, it picks up really less. As for the Black Paintings, although newsletter prints were used, they express the disposability in everyday life. Like for instance, the newspapers on the painting denoted repetitious production, which makes them disposable, especially the classified ads and sports pages. Moreover, according to analysis of some, the Black Paintings had an even deeper meaning to them. They say it is the exploration of the inside of the body (Molesworth 83). But then, the Black Paintings were mostly misinterpreted, not the meaning Rauschenberg expects. As he stated, “Any material has its content and independence from meaning. Meaning belongs to people” (Joseph 85). As for the Red Painting series, they mostly talk of violence, blood, extreme agitation, etc. (Molesworth 80).
To sum it all up, Rauschenberg’s works are comparable to minimalism since he uses the most basic, and found elements for his works. Its how he brings out the thought he wishes to impart to the viewers of his work. The paint simply give emphasis to what he has arranged on the canvass, but still, the scraps, rags and junk is what describes his artwork. Minimalism also aims the same, use lesser and only the most fundamental components to bring out the significance of the paintings. They stick to the saying that less is more.
Rauschenberg and Abstract Expressionism
Abstract expressionism is art brought about by the emotions of artists. Typically, artists of abstract expressionism do their art by forcefully applying paint on their canvass, either splashing or dripping the paint on their workspace. Their works are either geometric or non-geometric, depending on how they apply the paint. In my opinion, abstract expressionism artists never intend to make their work abstract. It is all drawn by their emotions during the time they are doing the work. It is like their sub-conscious mind is doing all the work. If an artist feels anger, probably the painting will come out with really big splashes of bold colors on it. Or maybe if he feels a little calmer, the painting may be composed of very light or soft colors. And, an abstract may not intend to stress what the painting really means, but through the way people see it, they may assume that according to the way the painting was done, they can tell what the current emotion of the artist was during the time.
Rauschenberg’s works, in my outlook, does not have emotion in them. Instead, the thoughts on the paintings were intentional. He arranges every piece of fragment on his canvass, according to what he think he feels. He incorporates a touch of color, depending on his views and intentions to bring out the meaning in his works. He uses a particular type of color for every painting series he has, which classifies them to what series mean. As mentioned earlier, his works mostly compose of bits and pieces that he could find lying around. Then, out of that, he arranges them in a manner that would express the significance of the work. His works are more of collages, or bringing different pieces together to complete his art. But generally speaking, he works every detail intentionally.
Obviously, the surface of Abstract Expressionism arts and Rauschenberg’s are entirely different. For one, Abstract Expressionism use mainly colors to finish their art. All throughout their works, they have a flat surface filled with colors, each with varied pressure on how the paint was applied. On the other hand, Rauschenberg made his works through planned elements in his art. Although, even if he did his work with intentions, it still depends on other people on how they see the art. But still, if you study and research more on Rauschenberg’s background, you will understand how he really wants to express his works. This being said, Rauschenberg’s works aren’t as flat-surfaced just like abstract art. The scraps present on his works aim to give a deeper meaning from what they really appear to be. It is like a collection of different things put together to come up with a specific thought.
Secondly, abstract artists complete their works by a driven force of their subconscious. It is as if they are being commanded by their emotions to put in the colors on the canvass. It may be forceful, subtle, etc. depending on the mood set on that particular time. They also do not have any specific shape in mind, and is non-objective. Meanwhile, Rauschenberg has specific objects that fill up the whole canvass, each of which is carefully planned, arranged and thought of to come up with an objective in mind. They are mostly referred to as collages, each part and element playing an important role in the work.
Finally, despite the random outcome of abstract expressionism arts, it seems like they are more understandable than that of arts carefully planned. In my opinion, people can relate to abstract art because they can easily feel what the artist is feeling during the process of making the art. Then again, when everything else is planned, you tend to have a hard time reading the artist’s mind behind his work. You may interpret one thing differently from the way the artist really perceives it to be. Works which are thought of carefully are harder to understand, despite the fact that it is more object-oriented. Why? It is because an object placed in an artwork may not mean the same thing as it is mostly perceived to be. Most of the time, even the simplest design placed in an artwork may have a deeper meaning than expected. This is why some paintings or artworks are interpreted in many different ways. But again, abstract works was brought about emotions, which we know every person has. At one point in his life, he felt exactly the same way the artist did while doing the artwork.
Rauschenberg and Arte Povera
Arte Povera literally means “poor art”. Artists use materials that can be seen around that they see would still be of good use in their sculptures. They use scattered twigs, newspapers, soil, etc. instead of the traditional materials used by most artists. It is somehow similar to associated to minimalism, since they use very little objects to complete their work of art.
The treatment of materials of Arte Povera and Rauschenberg’s works differ a lot. In the case of Arte Povera, they come up with works the way artists using common materials do. Only, instead of using stone and bronze for the sculptures, they make use of what can still be used from scattered objects on the ground. They make sculptures the way artists using common materials do. Because of their status in life, the still manage to bring out their creativity with the use of disposed, but still usable materials.
In Rauschenberg’s case, he uses materials seen in his surroundings not because they are still usable, or he can not afford to have the materials artists use. But he uses them to interpret his works. The scraps themselves tell the story or the meaning of his work. Every bit of scrap placed in his work has a very deep meaning and reason behind it. He sees the materials as a symbol of something like the economy, the people around, etc.
So, Rauschenberg and Arte Povera’s treatment of materials differ a lot. While Rauschenberg collects junk that give meaning to his works, Arte Povera on the other hand makes something out of the scraps to come up with an artwork which would give a different meaning. In Arte Povera, the materials do not mean anything. The way they are used to construct a structure, which gives the meaning of the art, is what matters. Rauschenberg finds meaning in the junks themselves. He perceives that they play an important role to bring out the thoughts he wishes to express. They may represent the society, or everyday life, or maybe people around a specific area. He carefully chooses the elements of his works according to how he wants to interpret his work.
Arte Povera does not consider the materials as an interpretation to their work. They are merely recycled objects that they would use to build a sculpture. They will form it to express the true meaning of what they really want to show. In other words, the materials will be seen as one whole object making up the sculpture.
Rauschenberg’s materials are perceived and act as individual elements, with their own different meanings on the canvass. Not one material will denote the same meaning as one has. It will stand on its own, carrying its own interpretation. Then, with all materials put together, they will finally merge and come about with a general thought.
So I can say that Arte Povera and Rauschenberg are different in many ways. The interpretation of materials is one that sets them apart. They may look or sound familiar, but if researched closely, and studied more deeply, you will see how deep the differences are.
During the analysis of Rauschenberg’s works, I discovered the significance of each and every artwork he had completed. Each artist definitely has his distinct way of interpreting his views. Initially, I find learning about Rauschenberg’s life and works boring, as if his works mean nothing, as if they are completed out of non-sense. However, further readings made me realize that no matter how little or how simple he did his paintings; they did have a very deep meaning in them. Less elements in a work does not solely determine the depth of the meaning. In fact, the less there is in a work of art, the harder it is for a viewer to read or dig into the meaning.
It made me realize that an art can never be judged just by the way it was made. Sometimes, even the most complicated-looking work of art tends to have the shallowest meaning. Just like abstract expressionism. It is easier for people who see it to relate on how it is made, because as mentioned, the artist completed it by emotions being drawn to the canvass. The subconscious mind is what tells the artist what to do. And, because all people experience the same emotions the way artists do, they tend to interpret it more easily than arts which have been carefully and planned in detail.
But seeing Rauschenberg’s works, understanding them in a more in-depth manner was difficult than what I have expected, most particularly seeing the perceptions of other people towards his works. Every person sees it differently; they have their own interpretation of what it really means. However, Rauschenberg still finds it difficult to reach out to people on exactly what he wishes to deliver.
Indeed, an artist has their own way of conveying their message through their works. On the other hand, Rauschenberg’s works weren’t that easy to interpret. I am sure there are a lot more artists who are like Rauschenberg. Yet, his works need thorough studies and researches to truly understand the reason and meaning behind his works.
Also, in my opinion, you should have a broad mind when it comes to studying the life and works of artists, and not only Rauschenberg. Many more artists out there do their work in a particular way that people need to study them and have a wide understanding on what is behind their works.
Through this study, I learned more about Rauschenberg, that it does not mean you put less effort in your works, it carries a very weak in interpretation. But then, it leaves people thinking how it really is supposed to be interpreted. Because sometimes, even the most complicated work can be easier to read, and those works that seem too plain in the eyes are those that are very hard to read and understand.
Branden, Joseph W. “Random order: Robert Rauschenberg and the neo-avant-garde.” MIT Press (2003): 84-86.
Branden, Joseph W. “White on White.” The University of Chicago Press (2000): 90-121.
Krauss, Rosalind. “Perpetual Inventory.” The MIT Press (1999): 86-116.
Lumley, Robert. Arte povera. London: Tate, 2004.
Molesworth, Helen. “Before Bed.” MIT Press (1993): 66-82.
Richardson, John A. Dada, Camp, and the Mode Called Pop. Blackwell Publishing, 1966.