glbtq: an encyclopedia of gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender & queer culture
social sciences
special features
about glbtq


   member name
   Forgot Your Password?  
Not a Member Yet?  

  Advertising Opportunities
  Permissions & Licensing
  Terms of Service
  Privacy Policy






Alpha Index:  A-B  C-F  G-K  L-Q  R-S  T-Z

Subjects:  A-B  C-E  F-L  M-Z

Rauschenberg, Robert (1925-2008)  

Robert Rauschenberg was one of the most prolific and innovative artists of the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries. He was at the core of a group of interdisciplinary artists including Jasper Johns, John Cage, and Merce Cunningham, whose influence on the face of American art has been nothing short of revolutionary.

Dubbed both Neo-Dada for their use of found objects and Proto-Pop for their inclusion of media imagery, Rauschenberg and Johns led painting away from the introspection of the dominant Abstract Expressionist movement to the everyday world of common objects and recognizable imagery, thus paving the way for such Pop painters as Andy Warhol.

Rauschenberg was born to a blue-collar family in Port Arthur, Texas on October 22, 1925. After a tour in the Navy, he attended the Kansas City Art Institute and the Académie Julian in Paris. He also spent several summers in the late 1940s and early 1950s at Black Mountain College in North Carolina.

The experimental atmosphere at Black Mountain encouraged artists of all disciplines to share ideas and to collaborate. Rauschenberg participated in an early multi-media performance there with composer John Cage and choreographer Merce Cunningham. Cage's interest in Zen Buddhism and his philosophy of favoring outside inspiration rather than personal expression had a great impact on Rauschenberg.

Rauschenberg began including common objects in his art through collage and assemblage. He often employed the bravura brushwork of the Abstract Expressionists, but he also incorporated objects from real life such as pillows, brooms, tires, and all manner of salvaged detritus. Monogram (1955-1959), for example, includes a stuffed goat. He liked to say that he operated in the gap between art and life. He christened these works "combines."

Rauschenberg moved to New York City in 1949 and was briefly married to painter Susan Weil. In 1953 he met Jasper Johns, and they formed an intense personal and creative relationship that lasted until 1961. The painters critiqued one another's work, exchanged ideas, and together established a mode of making art that challenged Abstract Expressionism's emphasis on self-revelation.

Rauschenberg questioned the connection between feelings and paint both verbally and visually. For example, in Factum I (1957) he apes the spontaneously "unique" drips and splatters of Action Painting and then cleverly reproduces them in Factum II (1957).

Rauschenberg's de-emphasis of the self in his work is particularly meaningful when analyzed in the context of McCarthy-era . How could a gay man explore his inner feelings if revealing his true self meant having to face ostracism and even persecution?

In response, Rauschenberg's strategies ranged from campy coding as he included such telling tidbits as photos of Judy Garland in Bantam (1954) to witty all-out assault as he un-drew the work of an older artist in Erased de Kooning (1953).

After the rupture of his relationship with Johns, Rauschenberg explored the potential of silkscreen printing in a series of paintings featuring appropriated images. These pictorially complex works feature photographic images lifted from the news of the day, and they can almost be read as history paintings. With their inclusion in the 1964 Venice Biennale, the artist gained international prominence.

Rauschenberg continued working in a variety of media throughout the 1970s, and in 1985 he launched the ambitious Rauschenberg Overseas Cultural Interchange (ROCI). This global enterprise of traveling, exhibiting, and collaborating provided a perfect conduit for Rauschenberg's continued work in the gap between art and life. The ROCI project posits art as a conduit for social interaction and intercultural diplomacy.

In the 1990s, Rauschenberg revived the ancient fresco process, though typically he used photographically based images embedded in the plaster surfaces. For Rauschenberg, this interplay of material and image is reflective of his larger philosophy regarding the connections between art and life.

Rauschenberg died on May 12, 2008 in Captiva Island, Florida, where he owned a home and studio.

Jeffery Byrd


zoom in
Robert Rauschenberg (YouTube video still).
Contact Us
Join the Discussion
Related Entries
More Entries by this contributor
A Bibliography on this Topic

Citation Information
More Entries about The Arts
Popular Topics:

The Arts

Drag Shows: Drag Queens and Female Impersonators
Drag Shows: Drag Queens and Female Impersonators

Photography: Gay Male, Pre-Stonewall
Photography: Gay Male, Pre-Stonewall

Erotic and Pornographic Art: Gay Male
Erotic and Pornographic Art: Gay Male

New Queer Cinema

White, Minor

Halston (Roy Halston Frowick)


Winfield, Paul

McDowall, Roddy
McDowall, Roddy

Cadinot, Jean-Daniel
Cadinot, Jean-Daniel


   Related Entries
arts >> Overview:  American Art: Gay Male, 1900-1969

Prior to Stonewall, most gay artists were closeted, but they were inventive in creating codes for those in the know; after 1945 some adventurous artists developed independent networks for the distribution of works of gay art.

arts >> Overview:  Contemporary Art

Contemporary Art, which designates new currents in art since 1970, is identified with postmodernism; during this period an art addressing gay and lesbian identity emerged.

arts >> Overview:  Dance

Artistic dance has proven to be a haven for glbtq people, who have made significant contributions in almost every area, including as choreographers, performers, and teachers.

arts >> Overview:  Pop Art

An early 1960s school of painting and sculpture that utilized the subjects, techniques, or stylistic conventions of popular culture, Pop Art expressed a camp sensibility.

arts >> Overview:  Set and Costume Design

Set and costume design for stage and film are fields that have attracted a large number of talented gay men and lesbians.

arts >> Cage, John

The music of controversial American composer John Cage contains little autobiographical or gay content, but his ironic emphasis on the importance of silence in music may comment on the imposed silence of the closet.

arts >> Cunningham, Merce

One of the twentieth-century's most influential dancers and choreographers, Merce Cunningham avoided political statement and self-expression in his work, but his collaborative model may be said to represent a queering of the creative process.

arts >> Johns, Jasper

Known for his iconic yet cryptic paintings, acclaimed American artist Jasper Johns is a key figure in the transition from Modernism to Post-Modernism.

arts >> Parsons, Betty

American artist and gallery owner Betty Parsons retreated into the closet after World War II, but her support of gay, lesbian, and bisexual artists during a time of repression and her later candor are important contributions to glbtq history.

arts >> Taylor, Paul

Dancer and choreographer Paul Taylor has been an important presence in American dance since the 1950s.

arts >> Warhol, Andy (as artist)

The avatar of Pop Art, Andy Warhol expressed desire in his images of celebrities and flouted traditional notions of masculinity by embracing extravagance, effeminacy, and an obsession with surface appearances.


Hunter, Sam. Robert Rauschenberg. New York: Rizzoli, 1999.

Katz, Jonathan. "The Art of Code: Jasper Johns and Robert Rauschenberg." Significant Others, Creativity and Intimate Partnership. Whitney Chadwick and Isabelle de Courtivron, eds. London: Thames and Hudson, 1993. 189-207.


    Citation Information
    Author: Byrd, Jeffery  
    Entry Title: Rauschenberg, Robert  
    General Editor: Claude J. Summers  
    Publication Name: glbtq: An Encyclopedia of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual,
Transgender, and Queer Culture
    Publication Date: 2002  
    Date Last Updated June 21, 2012  
    Web Address  
    Publisher glbtq, Inc.
1130 West Adams
Chicago, IL   60607
    Today's Date  
    Encyclopedia Copyright: © 2002-2006, glbtq, Inc.  
    Entry Copyright © 2002, glbtq, Inc.  


This Entry Copyright © 2002, glbtq, Inc. is produced by glbtq, Inc., 1130 West Adams Street, Chicago, IL   60607 glbtq™ and its logo are trademarks of glbtq, Inc.
This site and its contents Copyright © 2002-2006, glbtq, Inc.  All Rights Reserved.
Your use of this site indicates that you accept its Terms of Service.