Robert Rauschenberg

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cropped photo of Robert Rauschenberg, 1999

Milton Ernest "Robert" Rauschenberg (January 22, 1925May 12, 2008) was an American artist who came to prominence in the 1950's. His work is regarded as a transition from Abstract Expressionism to the media-saturated surfaces of Pop art, together with the art of Jasper Johns; both lived and worked for years in the same studio in New York and discussed their art frequently; they were deeply influenced by the ideas of John Cage and involved with choreograph Merce Cunningham.

Quotes of Robert Rauschenberg

sorted chronologically, after date of the quotes of Robert Rauschenberg

Photo of Robert Rauschenberg, in front of one of his works at the exhibition in Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam, 21 Feb. 1968; - quote of Rauschenberg, c. 1965: 'I am sick of talking about What and Why I am doing. I have always believed that the WORK is the word. Action is seen less clearly through reason. There are no shortcuts to directness.
Photo of Robert Rauschenberg, sitting on one of his own art-works at the exhibition in Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam, 21 Feb. 1968
Rauschenberg, 1985: 'painted BMW 635CSi'
Rauschenberg, 1986: 'painted BMW 635CSi'
Rauschenberg, 1986: 'painted BMW 635CSi'
Rauschenberg, 1998: 'Riding Bikes', installation; - quote of Rauschenberg, 1985: 'Painting relates to both art and life. Neither can be made. (I try to act in the gap between the two)'
Rauschenberg, 2002-06: show of 3 'Scenarios', prints at William Griffin Gallery


  • It is completely irrelevant that I am making them. 'Today' is their creator.
    • Quote, c. 1950; as cited in Abstract Art, Anna Moszynska, Thames and Hudson 1990, p. 199
    • Rauschenberg's comment on his series 'White Paintings'
  • Josef Albers's [a former art teacher of Rauschenberg, on Black Mountain College ] rule is to make order. As for me, I consider myself successful when I do something that resembles the lack of order I sense. (around 1949 during Black Mountain College, fh).
    • In Robert Rauschenberg, Works, Writings and Interviews, Sam Hunter; as quoted in Ediciones Poligrafa, Barcelona, Spain, 2006, p. 37

Is today's artist with or against the past, (1958)

Quotes of Robert Rauschenberg from: Is today's artist with or against the past, James Schuyler, in Artnews No. 4, New York 1958, pp. 46-56
  • I don't feel any direct relationship between what I do and existing art. Though there is unavoidable progression: the things all paintings have in common are paint, and color, and some means of application. With the standard you can make any two pictures appear either alike of different. I don't think whether they're alike or different is really very interesting.
  • Outside the big idea that there is art I don't think of other's paintings. But I defend the idea of art and know that it is made up of all these paintings. Classic pictures are objects that may or may not influence what you're doing, just like anything else. Like the radio.. .But it hasn't anything to do with your own art or the artist's intention.
  • I didn't even know that there was art until I left Texas when I was eighteen. The only painting I knew (and I didn't know it was a 'painting' until much later) was 'Hope' [of George Frederic Watts, 1886] the woman sitting on the globe with.. .that green [of the painting 'Hope'] you only get in reproductions]! I think that negates the idea of a painter's relation to official – old master art. It was neutral ground – that one picture – I responded to visual things.. .'Hope' was just sort of visual thing there, not art.


  • Every minute everything is different everywhere. It is all flowing.. .The duty or beauty of a painting is that there is no reason to do it nor any reason not to. It can be done as a direct act or contact with the moment and that is the moment you are awake and moving. It all passes and is never true literally as the present again leaving more work to be done.
    • Quote of Rauschenberg (1961), as cited in Introduction, Roberta Bernstein, from catalog 'The White and Black Paintings'
    • from a recording of a symposium in 1961, Larry Gagosian Gallery, New York, 1986
  • I find it nearly impossible free ice to write about jeep axle my work. The concept I plantatarium struggle to deal with ketchup is opposed to the logical continuity lift tab inherent in language horses and communication. My fascination with images open 24 Hrs. is based on the complex interlocking of disparate visual facts heated pool that have no respect for grammar. The form then Denver 39 is second hand to nothing. The work then has a chance to electric service become its own cliche. Luggage. This is the inevitable fate fair ground of any inanimate object Freight-ways by this, I mean anything that does not have inconsistency as a possibility built-in..
    • Quote from 'Note on Painting', Robert Rauschenberg, in Pop Art Redefined, October/November 1963, J. Rusell and Suzi Gablik, Praeger Publishers, New York, 1969
  • The character of the artist has to be responsive and lucky. Personally I have never been interested in a defensible reason post card for working achievement functionally is a delusion. To do a needed work short changes art. It seems to me that a great part Indian moccasins of urgency in working lies in the fact that one acts freely friends and associates may become more closely allied with you real soon.
    • Quote from 'Note on Painting', Robert Rauschenberg, in Pop Art Redefined, October/November 1963, J. Rusell and Suzi Gablik, Praeger Publishers, New York, 1969
  • I am sick of talking about What and Why I am doing. I have always believed that the WORK is the word. Action is seen less clearly through reason. There are no shortcuts to directness. [around 1965]
    • Quote from Robert Rauschenberg, The early 1950s, Walter Hopps, Houston Fine Art Press, 1991

The Bride and the Bachelors, (1962)

Quotes of Robert Rauschenberg, from: The Bride and the Bachelors, Calvin Tomkins, Penguin Books, New York 1962
  • [Art is] a means to function thoroughly and passionately in a world that has a lot more to it than paint.
    • p. 3
  • Albers [on Black Mountain College ] was a beautiful teacher and an impossible person. He wasn't easy to talk to, and I found his criticism so excruciating and so devastating that I never asked for it. Years later, though, I'm still learning what he taught me, because what he taught me had to do with the entire visual world. He didn't teach you how to 'do art'. The focus was always on your personal sense of looking.. .I consider Albers the most important teacher I've ever had, and I'm sure that he considers me one of his poorest students.
    • p. 198
  • I don't think he [ Josef Albers ] ever realized that it was his discipline that I came for. Besides, my response to what I learned from him was just the opposite of what he intended.. .I was very hesitant about arbitrarily designing forms and selecting colors that would achieve some predetermined result, because I didn't have any ideas to support that sort of thing – I didn't want color to serve me, in other words.
    • pp. 199-200
  • With the black ones [his 'Black Paintings'] I was interested in getting complexity without their revealing much – in the fact that there was much to see but not much showing. I wanted to show a painting that could have the dignity of not calling attention to itself. In both the blacks and the whites [paintings] there was none of the familiar aggressiveness of art that says, 'Well, here it is, whether you like it or not'.
    • pp. 203-204

'I never thought of it as much of an ability,' (1968)

Quotes from: 'I never thought of it as much of an ability', interview of Richard Kostelanetz with Rauschenberg in Partisan Review No. 35, New York 1968. pp. 96-106
  • It was because of the general inclination, until very recently, to believe that art exists in art. At every opportunity, I've tried to correct that idea, suggesting that art is only a part – one of the elements that we live with.. .Being a painter, I probably take a painting more seriously than someone who drives a truck or something. Being a painter, I probably also take his truck more seriously. In the sense of looking at it and listening to it and comparing it to other trucks and having a sense of its relationship to the road and the sidewalk and the things around it and the driver himself. Observation and measure are my business.
  • It's almost as if art, in painting and music and stuff, is the leftover of some activity. The activity is the thing that I'm most interested in. Nearly everything that I've done was to see what would happen if I did this instead of that.
  • You could waste years arguing. All I had to do was make one [image] and ask: 'Do I like that?' 'Is there anything to say there?' 'Does that thing have any presence' 'Does it really matter that it looks bluer now, because it is late afternoon? Earlier this morning it looked quite white.' 'Is that an interesting experience to have?' To me, the answer was yes. [on his 'White Paintings']
  • I have another feeling that in working with a canvas, and with something you picked up off the street and you work on it for three or four days or maybe a couple of weeks and then, all of a sudden, it is in another situation. Much later, you go to see somebody in California, and there it is. You know that you know everything about that painting, so much more than anybody else in that room. You know where you ran out of nails.. .At the time I did that early piece, I didn't know it was the lower right-hand corner that had the new element – that that part would grow and that other parts would relate more to the past.
  • I think the ideas [as starting point for his paintings] are based upon very obvious physical facts – notions that are also simple-minded, such as, in the 'White Paintings', wanting to know if that was a thing to do or not, or in 'Factum', wondering about what the role of accident is. Those aren't really very involved ideas.
  • I like the aliveness of it [theater] – that awful feeling of being on the spot. I must assume the responsibility for that moment, for those actions that happen at that particular time. I don't find theater that different from painting, and it's not that I think of painting as theater or vice versa. I tend to think of working as a kind of involvement with materials, as well as rather focused interest which changes.
  • I feel a conscious attempt to be more and more related to society. That's what's important to me as a person. I'm not going to let other people make all the changes; and if you do that, you can't curt yourself of.. .I'm only against the most obvious things, like wars and stuff like that. I don't have any particular concept about an utopian way things should be. I have a prejudice or a bias, it is that there shouldn't be any particular way. Being a complex human organ, we are capable of a variety; we can do so much. The big fear is that we don't do enough with our senses, with our activities, with our areas of consideration; and these have got to get bigger year after year.


  • I think a picture is more like the real world when it is made out of the real world.
    • Quoted in: Kenneth Coutts-Smith (1970) The dream of Icarus, p. 53
  • I still have a struggle reading [dyslexia] and so I don't read much.. .Probably the only reason I'm painter is because I couldn't read yet I love to write, but when I write I know what I'm writing, but when I'm reading I can’t see it, because it goes from all sides of the page at once. But that's very good for printmaking.
    • Quote from interview: 'Robert Rauschenberg talks...', Maxime de la Falaise McKendry, 6 May 1976, p. 34
  • [I have] various tricks to actually reach that solitary point of creativity. One of them is pretending I have an idea. But that trick doesn't survive very long because I don't really trust ideas – especially good ones.. .Rather, I put my trust in the materials that confront me, because they put me in touch with the unknown. It is then that I begin to work.. ..when I don't have the comfort of sureness and certainty. Sometimes Jack Daniels helps too. Another good trick is fatigue. I like to start working when it's almost too late.. ..when my sense of efficiency is exhausted.
    • Quote from 'Robert Rauschenberg: An Audience of One', John Gruen, Art News, 29, February 1977, p. 48


  • [I] could not design forms and colors that would achieve some preconceived result.. .I wasn't going to hire them. I was more interested in working WITH them than in their working for me.
    • Quote from Rauschenberg, Andrew Forge, H.N. Abrams, New York n.d., p. 12
  • Painting relates to both art and life. Neither can be made. (I try to act in the gap between the two)
    • from Selections from the Ileana and Michael Sonnabend Collection, Sam Hunter, exhibition catalogue The Art Museum, Princeton University, 1985 p. 21
  • He [ Jasper Johns ] and I were each other's first serious critics. Actually he was the first painter I ever shared ideas with, or had discussions with about painting. No, not the first. Cy Twombly was the first. But Cy and I were not critical. I did my work and he did his. Cy's direction was always so personal that you could only discuss it after the fact. But Jasper and I literally traded ideas. He would say, 'I've got a terrific idea for you' and then I'd have to find one for him. [remark on his cooperative relation with Jasper Johns, to his biographer Calvin Tomkins ]
    • As quoted in Lives of the great twentieth century artists, Edward Lucie-Smith, London 1986, p. 31
  • It is my own personal psychosis that it is only by the background that you can see what is in front of you. Only be accepting all that surrounds you can you be totally self-visualized. And at the same time, your self-visualization is a reflection of your surroundings. Albers was right about that. That's why I like Cezanne so much. Matisse said, you have to read between the lines. When he would stop a line, say, at the ear, and beginning it again at the neck, he was really exercising the viewer's mind to fill in the blanks [parts].
    • Quote from an interview with Barbara Rose, 1987, in Rauschenberg, Avedon Vintage, Random House, New York 1987, p. 72
  • I got so depressed that I went to an astrologer.. ..everybody I knew was breaking up. Everything was falling apart. There was such an abundance of bad news [on his retreat to Captiva where he started his studio and a print studio]
    • from Rauschenberg, Barbara Rose, Vintage Books, New York, 1987, p. 86

Off the Wall: Robert Rauschenberg and the Art world of Our Time, 1980

Quotes of: Off the Wall: Robert Rauschenberg and the Art world of Our Time, Calvin Tomkins, Penguin Books, New York, 1980
  • 1948 Black Mountain College N.C. Disciplined by Albers. Learned photography. Worked hard but poorly for Albers. Made contact with music and modern dance. Felt too isolated, Sue [Weil, they married soon, then] and I moved to NYC. Went to Art Students League. Vytlacil & Kantor. Best work made at home. Wht. Painting with no.'s best example. Summer 1950, Outer Island Conn. Married Sue Weil. Christoher (son) Born July 16, 1951 in NYC. First one man show Betty Parsons's
    • pp. 55-56 : Autobiographic notes
  • I used to think of that line in Allen Ginsberg's 'Howl', about the 'sad cup of coffee'.. .I have had cold coffee and hot coffee and lousy coffee, But I've never had a sad cup of coffee.
    • p. 89
  • It was my sensual excessiveness that jarred him [ Jasper Johns.] He was always an intellectual. He read a lot, he wrote poetry – he would read Hart Crane's poems to me, which I loved but didn't have the patience to read myself – and he was often critical of things like my grammar. But you don't let a thing like that bother you if you have only two or three real friends.
    • p. 119

'I don't necessarily desire a perfect photography,' 1981

Quotes from: 'I don't necessarily desire a perfect photography', interview by Alain Sayag, in Robert Rauschenberg Photographs, Pantheon Books, New York 1981, not-paged
  • One gets as much information as a witness of activity from a fleeting glance [in the photo], like a quick look, sometimes in motion, as one does staring at the subject. Because even if you remain stationary your mind wanders, and it's that kind of activity that I would like to get into the photograph – a confirmation of the fact that everything is moving.
  • I don't crop. Photography is like diamond cutting. If you miss you miss. There is no difference with painting. If you don't cut you have to accept the whole image. You wait until life is in the frame, then you have the permission to click. I like the adventure of waiting until the whole frame is full.
  • It's because I wait, I wait until it's there again. Whatever is there [in the eye of the camera] is a truth, but a truth you have to believe in. What you see in front of you is a fact. You click when you believe it's the truth. The information is waiting to become in essence a concentration, concentrated so clearly that it can be projected back into real life, into your recognition. It could be any size.
  • The photo can insist on reviewing moments that were unseen, or not know they were seen but passed in viewing. John Cage said (I don't know if they were his own remarks or Zen) his goal was not to get somewhere; he just wanted to enjoy the trip. That's the quality I want in all of my work, that a specific goal or accomplishment would be allied to the fact. I noticed a long time age, when I went to a strange country, that I had the best time and the greatest experiences when I thought I was lost, because when you are lost you look so much harder.
  • I am always afraid of explaining what I am doing, because my mind works so perversely. If I know why I am doing something it immediately goes to another channel and I try not to do that anymore. So in any interview there is a possibility that I have to leave the interview and change my entire life. I think I'll stop now and let the works answer the questions. To much information is an obstacle to seeing. My works are created to be seen.


  • My whole area of art activity has always been addressed to working with other people.. .You see, I personally like the sensual contact of collaborating. Ideas are not real estate. In collaboration one can accept the fact that someone else can be so sympathetic and in tune with what you’re doing, that through this they move into depths that might not be obvious if that person had been working alone in a studio with the door shut.
    • Quote from Breaking Bounderies.., Robert S. Mattison, exhibition catalogue Whitney Museum, 1994, p. 3

Rauschenberg / Art and Live, 1990

Quotes from: Rauschenberg / Art and Live, Mary Lynn Kotz, H. N. Abrams, New York, 1990
  • This was my first encounter with art as art [when he saw 'Pinky' ['Sarah Barrett Moulton: Pinkie'], 1794 painted by Sir Thomas Lawrence and 'The Blue Boy' painted by Thomas Gainsborough.. ..somebody actually MADE those paintings.. ..(it) was the first time I realized you could be an artist.
    • p. 60
  • I was bombarded with TV sets and magazines, by the excess of the world. I thought an honest work should incorporate all of these elements, which were and are a reality [referring to the use of photo-silkscreens, made from published photographs of persons, events, disasters, Rauschenberg started to use in his art, after 1961]
    • p. 99
  • For the first time, I wasn't embarrassed by the look of beauty, of elegance, because when you see someone who has only one rag as their property, but it happens to be beautiful and pink and silk, beauty doesn't have to be separated.. .I have always said that you shouldn't have biases, you shouldn't have prejudices. But before that [before his trip to India, c. 1975] I'd never been able to use purple, because it was too beautiful.
    • p. 206
  • Work is my joy.. .Work is my therapy, I don't know anybody who loves work as much as I do.
    • 265

21st Century

  • Screwing things up is a virtue. Being correct is never the point. I have an almost fanatically correct assistant, and by the time she re-spells my words and corrects my punctuation, I can't read what I wrote. Being right can stop all the momentum of a very interesting idea.
    • Quoted in: N.M. Kelby (2009) The Constant Art of Being a Writer, p. 102
  • I usually work in a direction until I know how to do it, then I stop. At the time that I am bored or understand — I use those words interchangeably — another appetite has formed.
    • Quoted in: Wendy Richmond (2009), Art Without Compromise, p. 136

Robert Rauschenberg, Works, Writings and Interviews, 2006

Quotes from: Robert Rauschenberg, Works, Writings and Interviews, Sam Hunter, Ediciones Poligrafa, Barcelona, Spain, 2006
  • I already see things backwards! You see, in printmaking everything comes out backwards so printing is an absolute natural for me. It is difficult for a lot of artists to do prints because they draw one way and can’t imagine it the other way. I always had trouble reading as a child. Every few minutes my mind would shift and I would pick out all the o's, than all the letter a's on a page.
    • p. 28
  • There was something about the self-confession and self-confusion of Abstract expressionism – as though the man and the work were the same – that personally always put me off because at that time my focus was in the opposite direction.
    • p. 37
  • There was a whole language that I could never make function for myself; it revolved around words like 'tortured', 'struggle'. 'pain'.. .I could never see these qualities in paint – I could see them in life and art that illustrates life. But I could not see such conflicts in the materials and I knew that it had to be in the attitude of the painter.
    • p. 37
  • [we gave] permission to do what we wanted.. .It would be hard to imagine my work at that time [c. 1956 – 1960] without his [ Jasper John's] encouragement.
    • p. 71

Quotes about Robert Rauschenberg

sorted chronologically, after date of the quotes about Robert Rauschenberg
  • Object in/ and space – the first impulse may be to give the object – a position – to place the object. (The object had a position to begin with.) Next – to change the position of the object. – Rauschenberg's early sculptures – A board with some rocks on it. The rocks can be anywhere on the board. - Cage's Japanese rock garden – The rocks can be anywhere [within the garden]..
    • Quote of Jasper Johns, in Book C (sketchbook), c. 1970; as cited in Jasper Johns, Writings, sketchbook Notes, Interviews, ed. Kirk Varnedoe, Moma New York, 1996, p. 70
  • He [Robert Rauschenberg]] was a kind of enfant terrible at the time [around 1960] and I thought of him as an accomplished professional. He'd already had a number of shows, knew everybody, had been to [[w:Black Mountain College] in South Carolina, working with all those avantgarde people.. .Rauschenberg focused very much on working. I was prepared to do that, too. He was also involved with Merce Cunningham dance group and totally unconcerned with his success, in the cliche term. All of the activity had a lively quality, quite separate from any commercial situation.. .You get a lot by doing. It's very important for a young artist to see how things are done. The kind of exchange we had was stronger than talking. If you do something then I do something then you do something, it means more than what you say.
    • Quote of Jasper Johns, in 'Once Established, says Jasper Johns..', Grace Glueck, New York Times, 16 October 1977, sec. 2 pp. 1-31
    • [Rauschenberg moved into a loft in Jasper John's building and they worked very closely together for a couple of years].
  • I met him Cummingham around 1953 after a performance I saw. He was teaching and making dances for his company and was already working with John Cage. What interested me initially wasn't just the movement but also the music he worked with, which was unfamiliar to me.. .Later Bob Rauschenberg had been doing sets and costumes for the Cunningham Company.. .I can't say exactly how, but for a period of time, Cage, Cunningham, Rauschenberg, and I saw each other frequently and exchanged ideas.
    • Quote of Jasper Johns, as cited in 'Jasper Johns', Bryan Robertson and Tim Marlow, Tate, in 'The Art Magazine', London, Winter 1993, pp. 40. 47
  • Rauschenberg's references to other media aren’t just tricks. They're an integral part of the way he connects the language of his images to that of a wider world. Collagists [collage makers] had always done this, ever since the invention of collage. Braque and Picasso brought newspaper clippings and headlines into their images, though these had to be scaled to the actual size of the printed page - you couldn't effectively do a cubist collage six feet high, it would need too many elements. The same was true of Kurt Schwitters, with his bus tickets and cigarette wrappers and bits of wood or rusty iron. But around 1962, Rauschenberg began to use not things but the images of things. He gathered photos and enlarged them into silk screens, so that they could be printed directly on the canvas. This had two main effects. First, it enormously increased his image bank, because just about everything in the world.. ..has been photographed. And second, by reusing silk - screened images from one painting to the next, it let him use repetition and counterpoint across a series of works in a way that wasn't possible.. ..if he had been using things themselves. In doing this, he was adapting to the great central fact of American communication, its takeover by the imagery of television.
    • Quote of Robert Hughes, in 'My Friend Robert Rauschenberg', at The New York Review of Books, (from Robert Hughes’s unfinished memoir), published for the first time in The Spectacle of Skill - Selected Writings of Robert Hughes, Penguin Random House, 2015
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