Robert Rauschenberg’s combines Matt 23 Dec 2005

11 comments Latest by g

Robert Rauschenberg’s combines mix together paintings with bits and pieces of tattered clothes, newspaper clippings, broken umbrellas, light bulbs and other found “junk.” Art Out of Anything, a review of the recently opened Rauschenberg retrospective at the Met, argues that “it is largely, if not exclusively, thanks to Robert Rauschenberg that Americans since the 1950’s have come to think that art can be made out of anything, exist anywhere, last forever or just for a moment and serve almost any purpose or no purpose at all except to suggest that the stuff of life and the stuff of art are ultimately one and the same.” The article includes a slideshow of the exhibition.

Rauschenberg on the beauty of everyday objects:

“I really feel sorry for people who think things like soap dishes or mirrors or Coke bottles are ugly, because they’re surrounded by things like that all day long, and it must make them miserable.”

Counseling draftees and soldiers with acute combat psychoses during World War II had a large impact on him:

This, he told the art writer Calvin Tomkins years ago, was when he “learned how little difference there is between sanity and insanity and realized that a combination is essential.”

Related: PBS’ American Masters: Robert Rauschenberg

11 comments so far (Jump to latest)

Jared White 23 Dec 05

Hmm, sorry, I do think his art is quite ugly. I think a lot of what passes for modern design is ugly. I like simple as in elegant and sincerely pretty, not simple as in devoid of meaning, geometry, and spiritual sustenance.

I don’t think his stuff matches the 37signals style at all, but whatever….just as long as Backpack doesn’t look like a work by Rauschenberg, I’ll be happy. :)

Ryan Schroeder 23 Dec 05

Rauschenberg is great, and I haven’t seen the show, but I’ve got to bring up my boy M. Duchamp, and take issue with:

it is largely, if not exclusively, thanks to Robert Rauschenberg that Americans since the 1950�s have come to think that art can be made out of anything,

To leave Duchamp, his fountain, and the rest of his ready-mades out is just silly.

Khoi Vinh 23 Dec 05

Ryan: I agree that comment turns a worryingly blind eye to Duchamp, but Rauschenberg also deserves a lot of credit for at least helping to upend our concept of what makes for appropriate raw material for art. He’s one of the acknowledged lions of 20th Century art and — maybe because he’s one of my top three or four favorites — still doesn’t seem to get his due, at least to me. I learned a tremendous amount from studying his works not just from the critical level but compositionally too…

In response to Jared’s comment, I’ve actually found most of his early work, anyway, to be exceedingly and consistently beautiful. The combines reward repeated viewings (especially in person), a quality which designers would do well to emulate. I’ll admit, though, that it’s a stretch to draw lessons from Rauschenberg’s oeuvre that can be directly applied to challenges facing designers today, at least not in the mode that Web designers are thinking of their work in 2005. Hopefully we’ll catch up to his work soon.

Perambulator 24 Dec 05

I agree with Jared; a lot of what is created under the heading of art is rather tainted with the fads of modern day life, and quickly extinguishes when the camera is removed. In a century, will work like this really be treasured?

I’ve seen beauty created from recycled goods; Worm eaten planks from long lost sunken ships being recovered from the shore and crafted into objects that are truely beautiful by any definition of the word.

I fear the craft aspect of art is largely ignored, the true masters dedicated their lives to mastering their medium and that’s what helps to make them so rare and valuable to society. Today, we prefer second-hand glimpses of shock from newspapers.

Time is the true judge of these matters, and I’ll be interested to see what is remember when I am old and grey.

jtaylor118 24 Dec 05

Well, I think Duchamp is just a bit player here. By the time the 50’s rolled around, he was playing chess most of the time. Although he may have adopted objects for his use, they were only the means to a very conceptual end. He did not display a urinal to draw attention to it’s beauty, but rather to open a dialogue about the act of creation. The urinal was just a nice attention getting point of beginning—but the end in itself. I think R. explains imself pretty well, in that respect. What I like about R’s work could almost be described as it’s quality of “anti-modernism.” Oh really? Yes. He is not always asking the viewere to abstract himself AWAY from the object, but rather to focus on the object itself, as itself. To me, in that way, he creates more visibility of real things—a very non-abstract goal.

Anyway, I’m just a new visitor here and like the link and site. Y’all carry on. Thanks.

dmr 24 Dec 05

I think there’s a gross under-appreciation of the skill of collage in these comments. Are you saying collage isn’t valid art? There’s no craftsmanship in combining images and elements? Collage is the essence of art, the formal qualities that defines contemporary imagemaking. And the ready-mades are some of the purest forms of collage. How can you not enjoy the visual of a bike wheel attached to a stool; it’s wonderful!

May I kindly ask… what the fuck is a “fad of modern daily life?”

OK artists, you can all go back to painting still life from the 18th century and skip all this relevant and contemporary imagemaking; especially the political and social stuff, OK?

Either you’re making good images or you aren’t; that’s art.

Shvantz-O-Matic 25 Dec 05

His real art is the fact that all the suckers THINK it is art!
You can be SURE THAT if someone combined all the junk he puts in his “combines” and put it on the street with the rest of the garbage, NO ONE would pay a dime for it!
He sits in FL and laughs and make millions of $$$$$$$ from these suckers!

test 25 Dec 05


pp 26 Dec 05

> In a century, will work like this really be treasured?

The philistines and conservatives out there were calling pop art (or post-abstract-expressionism if you’re eating muesli) a short-lived fad since the beginning. They were proved wrong - we are 40 years down the line and artists like Rauschenberg are not only hugely collectable but have become major sources of inspiration for the following generations of artists and graphic designers.

There’s a decent wikipedia entry on found objects in art:

gboodhoo 01 Jan 06

one thing is certain; the general public is just as disinterested in advanced art as ever.

pp - you make an excellent point, one well worth reflecting upon.

Jared, what you refer to as simplicity & elegance in design is by its very nature a modern phenomena - or have you not seen the excessive graphic designs executed prior to, uh… 1930?

I find it either laughable or depressing that many who wouldn’t think to question the design of everyday and possibly banal objects (newspapers, billboards, soap packaging, parking lots, commercials, movies, etc…) have such strong - dare I say, uninformed opinions regarding “fine art”

Abstract Expressionism isn’t considered “fake art for the suckers” when it appears as advertising or as motion graphics, only when it appears in its original physical context. Hm… interesting. It seems the original is unfaithful to the translation!

g 23 Jun 06