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modernism, spring2002
Robert Rauschenberg

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Robert Rauschenberg, born in Port Arther, Texas, in 1925, is one of the unique figures in American Art history.  Not only was he multi-talented (painter, sculptor, choreographer, performer, photographer, etc.), he was one of the few artists who kept his fame throughout his career.  After serving at Navy, he went on to study art both in the States and Europe, and upon his return from European tour, he resided himself in the studio in New York.

 

His early and probably the most famous invention in art is what he preferred to call Combines.  In 50s, he started to experiment with assemblages of oil and objects on canvas. 

 

In these combine paintings; he obviously tried to blur the boundary between painting and sculpture, although it seems to me that he still was interested more in showing his art on two-dimensional surface, i.e., on canvases.  Another boundary here he made it ambiguous was the line drawn between life and art.  He kept introducing new media and elements into his work such as silkscreen, metal, and Japanese clay works. He said,

 

Painting relates to both art and life.  Neither can be made.  I try to act in that gap between the two.  A pair of socks in no less suitable to make a painting with than wood, nails, turpentine, oil, and fabric.

 

 He believed that art has duration of lifespan just like us, and by bringing in new air to each work, he was keeping the art alive.

 

 

This gap between art and life has much to do with his relation with Abstract Expressionism in the mid-50s, when its ideology was embracing internal crises.  As much as he admired those works, his concern was the literalness, which ripped off too much of the unique encounter and emotion from its painted surface.  Abstract Expressionists tried to figure out the inner self by painting, by introspective.  Rauschenberg, however, counted on his senses reflected on his object art to project himself and the relation to the outer world, and he wanted the same for the viewers.  What is amazing here is his openness to the exterior, which also opens up to the core of ones inner truth.  Although his attempt to erase his identity from his work quite did not succeed, he wanted the viewers to interpret his work upon their unique encounter to the objects--- the individual fresh and alive interpretation is what he wished--- and we realize that we, too, are in somewhere between life and art. 

 

His idea on this unique encounter also foresaw our perception in mass media age.  When we see things, we dont just see everything; there is always a choosing process of what to see.  His photo collages, for example, detailed and packed with information are suggesting that we will all see different meanings in those work, and that is the beauty of our relation to the pop art.

 

His contribution has been to put the metaphors back into art, and also to life.  Rauschenberg expresses the importance of finding ourselves in the openness of everyday encounters in his work through his unique process of creating art.  And we are turned into the active interpreters of his work, the world, and ourselves. 

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