Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Robert Rauschenberg Memorial Post

Yesterday was one of my super-early teaching days, so I didn't hear about the passing of Robert Rauschenberg until the middle of the day when I arrived at the museum for a meeting. There is a small gallery of a few of his combines up right now (until Monday, actually, so see them soon!); we concluded our meeting in this gallery and talked about the impact of Rauschenberg's work on us. A few of us had similar stories: we had first come to know his work during college. His work and his life had set an example for us, plotted out a path to follow while we were trying to figure our own selves out.

I had never consciously thought about his influence on me until this time spent surrounded by his work yesterday. I first learned about him while I was going to college in Houston. There was a small show of some combines and silkscreens at the MFAH, and I went to see it on a field trip with one of my studio classes (the MFAH is very close to our campus, so that we would usually walk there under the spreading live oak shade on Main Street). I remember feeling like my little sophomore mind was blown open just a bit by what I was seeing. And the fact that the artist was from nearby made my experience even more potent -- like, wow, you can be from a small Southern-ish place and be a serious artist and make important contributions to our cultural fabric, these things aren't limited to writers and musicians and politicians. I was affected in a deep way by the vitality and visual voraciousness I saw, although I don't think this affect was manifested until a couple of years later, when I decided I was going to give this art thing a serious shot.

I hope many more young artists can come to know his work like I did, to be blindsided by it out of nowhere, knowing nothing about him beforehand, and just eat it up. It will make all the difference to them, I think.

(image is Untitled Combine (Man with White Shoes), 1955)

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