Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Robert Rauschenberg Has Died At Age 82.

Erased de Kooning by Robert Raushenberg 1953
19" x 14 1/2"

Heidi did a wonderful retrospective/obituary of Rauschenberg over at The Beat and I don't think I can add much to her words beyond a few personal observations.

I became aware and influenced by the works of Marcel Duchamp, Jasper Johns, and Robert Rauschenberg at more or less the same time.

My favorite Rauchenberg piece has to be "Erased de Kooning." It most captures the many influences that Rauchenberg was channeling as a young and ambitious artist on the verge of a major Break-Out as we say in the Beanworld--even though the art world at large was ingnoring everything he was painting.

Somewhere along the line he became intrigued with the notion of erasing as the flip side of drawing. "I had been working for some time at erasing," he told art historian, Calvin Tomkins in The Bride and the Bachelors, "I wanted to create a work of art by that method."

Raushenburg recognized that erasing one of his own drawings did not have the impact or effect that he was seeking. "I realized that it had to be something by someone everyone agreed was great, and the most logical person for that was de Kooning."

So the eager young Unknown Artist went to the studio of the Older Famous Artist and pitched him his radical idea. De Kooning didn't toss him out on his ear, instead he not only "got it" but he chose a drawing that de Kooning said he" would miss."

De Kooning chose a drawing that Raushenberg would really have to work HARD at erasing. Raushenberg explains the history of this artwork over at YouTube and the clip is well worth watching. "He gave me something that had charcoal, oil paint, pencil, crayon, I spent a month erasing that little drawing."

Rauchenberg later told Tomkins, "It wasn't easy, by any means. The drawing was done with a hard line, and it was greasy too, so I had to work very hard on it, using every sort of eraser. But in the end it really worked. I liked the result. I felt it was a legitimate work of art, created by the technique of erasing."
As I was writing the above, I went out the door of my studio and snapped the pic below. It's the bottom shelf where I keep the big books that I've referred to the most over the years, which explains how tattered some of them have gotten over the decades. Rauchenburg is right next to Duchamp!


Kim Scarborough said...

Huh? The guy got famous for erasing someone else's drawing? What's the point of that? I don't get it.

Anonymous said...

Well, of course. You make people hungry for a donut by showing them a picture of NO donut.

Larry Marder said...

Well, Kim, I didn't mean to imply that Rauschenburg was famous just because he happened to decide to erase a drawing in 1953. I just said that it was my favorite piece of his.
And it is.
I love all of his combine assemblages and his fusion of heated abstract expressionist "painterliness" with his cool ascerbic vision that pointed the way to pop art.

"Erased de Kooning" was a purely Duchampian gesture.

Once a group of 4th graders were shown "Erased de Kooning" and a girl name Sarah wrote:

"I think the artist gave his artwork the title Erased de Koonine Drawing because the erased drawing was like an erased idea. Also, I think the erased drawing is like us only being able to see and realize some things. What I think is interesting about the erased drawing is that if you try hard, you can just begin to make out some of the lines, but no more than that."

An erased drawing is like an erased idea!

Since the invention of the camera, art has been struggling with its own identity. Once the artist was liberated from the arduous task of being the "recorder of reality" by the photograph, artists and critics have been challenged trying to come up with any definition of art that can be universally agreed upon beyond the old saw "I can't say what art is but I know it when I see it."

And in the end that is good enough for me.

We live in a world where Art is whatever an Artist says is Art. You have the freedom of finding it interesting or finding it boring or finding it insulting to your intelligence. But it is still Art if an Artists says it is.

The Marketplace decides how much value a Work of Art has when it is bought and sold.

The Viewer decides how much value the Work of Art has when he or she finds it interesting, exciting, moving, inspiring, revolting, or utterly boring.

As Duchamp said, ""The creative act is not performed by the artist alone; the spectator brings the work in contact with the external world by deciphering and interpreting its inner qualifications and thus adds his contribution to the creative act."

It's a hard pill for us artists to swallow but the truth is, it doesn't matter what the Artist intends, it it he Viewer that completes the creative act.

If someone likes Beanworld it really isn't because of anything I did, it is because something in it...means something TO that person.

I'm so lucky that so many people DO find excitment in the ideas in Beanworld, but in the end, that really has nothing to do with me. It has everything to do with all of you!

Anonymous said...

Sorry to comment so much today. I can't help myself. That 4th grader you quote above sounds about as "with it" as a couple students who just wrote exams for me.

Some of the proof of what Larry Marder says above is - for me, anyway - to be found in what happens when you start to explore the stated or apparent influences of an artist (verbal, visual, musical) you like. Sometimes you can imagine how to took the artist you already know in that direction, sometimes it seems like something utterly alien.

I keep trying to examine the "core" of art that isn't subject to imitation or even to paraphrase. Maybe doing that isn't good for my everyday, walk-down-the-street-safely consciousness, but I don't know.

Larry Marder said...

"Sometimes you can imagine how to took the artist you already know in that direction, sometimes it seems like something utterly alien."

Yes, I gree. Been down that road myself many a time.

"I keep trying to examine the "core" of art that isn't subject to imitation or even to paraphrase. "

I sympathize with the investigation but I fear that line of inquiry is a bit like the Holy Grail-the closer you get to it; the farther away it suddenly becomes.


It's a bit like fractals. (Not that I really understand them beyond vague pop culture definitions.) But the idea that as you keep narrowing focus or magnification, you never can really arrive at an true edge, there are just more and more fractals. Or in the case of trying to find the "core" of art will just produce an infinite number of smaller cores--like nested Russian dolls.

Not that EVER has stopped any of us from TRYING!

Dan Goodsell said...

It is great to think of comics drawing on Duchamp and Rauchenburg.

I never got Johns when I was in art school. I really only began to understand him after I started painting. Once I started pushing paint around on a canvas, his mastery just appeared and I had to deal with it.

Good stuff - love the 4th graders quote.