Art History Lab

Robert Rauschenberg: An Artist Who Challenged Convention

Robert Rauschenberg is considered one of the most influential artists of the 20th century. He was a master of the art of combining different materials and objects into his artwork, which led to the development of the Neo-Dada movement.

His contributions and influence in the art world have been felt for several decades, and his legacy has inspired many contemporary artists. In this article, we shall explore the life and art of Robert Rauschenberg, his early beginnings, key relationships, and his significant contribution to the world of art.

Robert Rauschenberg Biography

Early Life and Education

Robert Rauschenberg was born on October 22, 1925, in Port Arthur, Texas. He had a difficult childhood and had to work odd jobs to support his family.

He attended the Kansas City Art Institute for a year before enlisting in the US Navy. After his discharge, Rauschenberg went to North Carolina’s Black Mountain College, where he studied art under Josef Albers and John Cage.

Career and Relationships

Robert Rauschenberg was a prolific artist and worked across various mediums, including painting, sculpture, photography, performance art, and printmaking. During the 1950s and 1960s, he was an influential figure in the New York art scene, establishing strong relationships with artists such as Jasper Johns and Willem de Kooning.

He was also romantically involved with fellow artist Cy Twombly.

The Art of Robert Rauschenberg

Neo-Dada and Combines

Rauschenberg is most often associated with the Neo-Dada movement, which emerged in the late 1950s. He was famous for his innovative use of everyday objects and found materials, which he combined into what he called “Combines.” Rauschenberg’s Combines were a blend of painting and sculpture that challenged traditional art forms.

Notable Artworks

Rauschenberg’s most famous works include his “Erased de Kooning Drawing” (1953), which he created by erasing a drawing by his friend, Willem de Kooning. Another famous work is the “Bed” (1955), which consisted of a pillow, quilt, and a sheet smeared with paint.

The work challenged the boundary between art and reality. Conclusion:

In conclusion, Robert Rauschenberg was a true innovator in the world of art.

He was not afraid to push boundaries and experiment with different mediums, materials, and techniques. Through his art, he challenged the conventional norms of what can be considered art and influenced the art world for decades to come.

His legacy will continue to inspire future generations of artists. Rauschenberg’s Prints and Collaborations

Solvent-transfer Method and Spread Series

Aside from his Combines, Robert Rauschenberg is also famous for his prints. His solvent-transfer method allowed him to transfer printed materials onto paper or canvas, creating layered and textured artwork.

In the late 1970s, Rauschenberg began his “Spread” series, which featured imagery from newspapers and magazines overlain with thick layers of paint. The series combined his interest in printmaking, painting, and collage.

Dance, Performance, and Moon-inspired Lithographs

Rauschenberg’s collaborations with dancers and performers are also noteworthy. He collaborated with composer John Cage on numerous performances, including “Summer Olympics” in 1952.

He also created sets and costumes for various dance productions, including those by Merce Cunningham. In the 1960s, Rauschenberg created a series of lithographs inspired by the moon landings, entitled “Stoned Moon.”

Commissions and Global Impact

Commissioned Works and Political Statements

Rauschenberg also created many commissioned works in his lifetime. He designed a cover for Time magazine in 1969, which featured an image of astronaut Buzz Aldrin.

He also worked on a commission for the United Nations which featured his “Flags” series, which combined the flag designs of different countries. Alongside his artistic talents, Rauschenberg was also an activist.

He used his platform to provoke political and social conversations through his art. In 1970, he created a lithograph titled “American Pew” in response to the Kent State shootings.

The artwork contained images of firearms alongside images of the statue of liberty and a church.

Rauschenberg Overseas Culture Interchange and Global Travel

At the peak of his career, Rauschenberg launched the Rauschenberg Overseas Culture Interchange (ROCI) in 1985. The project aimed to promote international understanding and cooperation through the arts.

ROCI visited various countries, including Mexico, Chile, and China, showcasing local artists’ work alongside Rauschenberg’s own pieces. The project was viewed as an opportunity to explore different cultures and aesthetics and created a lasting impact on the global art scene.

Rauschenberg’s global travels had a profound influence on his work, exposing him to various cultural and artistic traditions. One of his most notable works resulting from his travels was “Rauschenberg’s Tibet,” which he created after his travels to Tibet in the early 1980s.

The artwork combined photographs, fabric, and other materials, demonstrating his interest in Buddhism and Eastern philosophy. Conclusion:

In conclusion, Robert Rauschenberg was an artist who defied categorization.

He blended different materials, techniques, and artistic genres to create innovative and thought-provoking artworks. From his early days as an art student to his international collaborations and travels, Rauschenberg always pushed the boundaries of art and challenged its limits.

His contributions have influenced contemporary art and continue to inspire artists who seek to break with traditional norms and create something new.

Robert Rauschenberg Book Recommendations

Robert Rauschenberg: Works, Writing, Interviews

For readers interested in delving deeper into the life and work of Robert Rauschenberg, “Robert Rauschenberg: Works, Writing, Interviews” is an excellent choice. The book was published by the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles and provides an in-depth look at Rauschenberg’s art and writings.

The book contains reproductions of many of his artworks, including his Combines, solvent-transfer prints, and lithographs. It also includes transcripts of interviews with Rauschenberg conducted over the years, providing insight into his creative process and artistic philosophy.

One notable section of the book is the discussion of Rauschenberg’s “Erased de Kooning Drawing,” which he created by erasing an original drawing by Willem de Kooning. The book contains reproductions of both the original drawing and the erased version, along with Rauschenberg’s reflections on the work.

“Robert Rauschenberg: Works, Writing, Interviews” provides a comprehensive overview of Rauschenberg’s career, making it an ideal starting point for anyone seeking to learn more about the artist’s legacy. Robert Rauschenberg: An Oral History

Another excellent book for those wanting an inside view of Rauschenberg’s life is “Robert Rauschenberg: An Oral History.” The book is a collection of interviews with people who knew and worked with the artist throughout his life, providing a unique perspective on his personality and artistic process.

The book’s contributors include Rauschenberg’s friends, collaborators, and artists he inspired, such as John Cage, Jasper Johns, Merce Cunningham, and Yvonne Rainer. The interviews cover a range of topics, from Rauschenberg’s early years in Texas to his experiences in the New York art scene and his later travels and projects.

The book’s interviews offer rich insights into Rauschenberg’s creative process and his vision for art as a platform for social and political engagement. Contributors share stories about his collaborations and interactions with other artists and offer their perspectives on his contributions to the art world.


In conclusion, Robert Rauschenberg left a lasting and significant legacy in the world of art. For those seeking to learn more about his life and work, there are many great resources available.

“Robert Rauschenberg: Works, Writing, Interviews” offers an overview of his art and writings, while “Robert Rauschenberg: An Oral History” provides a unique view of his life and persona. Both books offer valuable insights into the artistic philosophy and creative process of this important artist, making them must-reads for anyone interested in contemporary art and culture.

In conclusion, Robert Rauschenberg was an influential artist whose impact on the art world is still felt to this day. His innovative use of everyday objects and found materials challenged traditional art forms and contributed significantly to the development of the Neo-Dada movement.

Rauschenberg’s career spanned several decades, and he worked across a variety of mediums, including painting, sculpture, performance art, and printmaking. Through his art, he challenged conventional norms, stimulated conversations about social and political issues, and inspired future generations of artists.

The recommended books, “Robert Rauschenberg: Works, Writing, Interviews” and “Robert Rauschenberg: An Oral History,” provide valuable insights into his life, work, and creative process, making them essential reads for anyone interested in contemporary art and culture.

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