In 1959, Robert Rauschenberg wrote, “Painting relates to both art and life. Neither can be made. (I try to act in that gap between the two.)” With art recently featured in the Museum of Modern Arts, this prolific artist had a profound impact on America’s artistic transition from Abstract Impressionism into more modern movements.
Experiencing Rauschenberg’s exhibition “Rauschenberg and the Art of Collaboration”, one can feel the collaborative spirit he embraced, uniting not only the works of other modern artists like Cy Twombly and Jasper Johns, but the fused properties of paint, sculpture, dance, sound, and even mud. One can truly feel his statement of the connection of art and life in the use of items which prove to serve both purposes. His work is perfectly suited for MOMA, a place of extraordinary creativity and unique blends of both artistic mediums and common articles of everyday life. Each display stretches the use of both imagination and artwork as a statement, and we can discover our own story within each piece presented. His encouragement of other artists shows his true dedication to art, as he urged others to revise, improve on, and add to his works.
His own sense of himself and how art was viewed by the artist rather than the observer was exemplified early in his career when he entered a contest to submit a portrait of the gallery. His submission consisted of a telegram sent to the gallery, itself declaring, “This is a portrait of Iris Clert if I say so.”
As an artist pushing the bounds of his existing surroundings, Rauschenberg coined his own art style of a combination of paint and canvas as well as found objects, to consist of “combines”, though history has come to view him as Neo-Dada in scope. His dimensional series of works through the 1950s and 60s featured a multitude of works with traditional oil on canvas but also dimensional aspects to complete the various compositions. This early penchant for borrowing various aspects of a myriad of sources helped to make Rauschenberg’s early works some of his most influential, helping to establish the trend of borrowing from one media to another in combination to create new means of artistic expression. This branching out beyond the traditional materials for use in a given field has over time encompassed many or most avenues for art, including even such as feminist artists and land artists to expand the materials used in their creations.
Instead of attempting to fill his–sometimes abstract–paintings with hints for the viewer to discern while admiring his artwork, Rauschenberg felt it was best to let each viewer determine his or her own interpretation of the piece. He felt there was a relationship between the art created by the artist and the art as it was embraced by the viewer and popular media, bestowing a unique artistic vision upon each piece individually.
While he served as a divisive point in art appreciation in the art world of the 1950s with his pieces such as White Paintings, a series of blank white canvases he allowed others to scrawl upon, he was deeply admired by his predecessors in the art community. By the 1960s, Rauschenberg’s works included not only found objects, but found images as well, and incorporated images using the process of silkscreen to address the issue of reproducibility of his works. Incorporation into his pieces of various published prints, as well as the regular addition of found objects into his artworks, found great following in the pop artists who would follow in some of his artistic footsteps. Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein, for example, traced inspiration to his collages and incorporation’s into silkscreen paintings and other artistic experiments.
Becoming more politically involved in his later years, Rauschenberg testified before congress in support of the Endowment of the Arts in the 1990s, and his consistent vocal support for continuation of art programs nationwide through his lifetime helped to cement the attention given to artistic programs lasting past the end of his own life. He was awarded the National Medal of Arts in 1993, and the Leonardo Da Vinci World Award of Arts in 1995 after more than four decades of prolific creation of art. One cannot help but walk away feeling inspired by his amalgamation of textures, colors, and even blank space.