Bohemians At Large; Robert Rauschenberg’s “White” paintings.

Robert Rauschenberg’s classic triptych still has critics drawing a blank.

Not long ago I visited the art museum in Huston, Texas and was surprised to find that someone had hung three blank canvases on a wall. “Hey.” I almost screamed at a passing guard, “you forgot to paint these!” Instead I just wrote it off as some invisible bowls of fruit and called it a day.

On my way out I passed a prominent painter carrying three identical canvases. Curious, I followed him, thinking that maybe I’d get some kind of explanation. “Sir what are you doing?” “A reproduction of Rauschenberg’s White paintings.” He set up shop near the panels. I cleared my throat. “You are already finished.” He looked up from his easel. “Indeed I am. That was easy.”

The experience set me to wondering about this Rauschenberg fellow, and the unbelievable amount of guts it must have taken to unveil this paradox. Did he have something against the museum, or did someone remove his masterpiece from the studio far too early? I did some research and found this was only one of a series.

Born in the city of Port Arthur, in the state of Texas in 1925 to uptight, religious parents, this kid seemed destined to do something unorthodox.

After attending art school in Kansas, then France, he found himself in North Carolina’s Black Mountain College, where he was taught by the famous Josef Arbers. Josef had a philosophy – “When you’re in school, you’re not an artist, you’re a student.” – In other words – “shut up you punks and pay homage to the square!”

Josef Arbers – Homage To The Square. I kid you not.

Josef discouraged what he called “Uninfluenced Experimentation” Rauschenberg of course, would have none of that. Claiming he was inspired to do “exactly the reverse” what he was taught.

Rauschenberg made a name for himself in the 1950’s, completing thousands of often nameless paintings. Some were blank, others were adorned with random junk he happened upon while out walking. He died one the most prolific artists on the American scene.

The White Paintings, while not my favorite among Rauschenberg’s works, are still hard paintings to ignore.

My favorites are ‘Monogram’ (AKA – the one with the goat)

That’s alright, I don’t get it either.


and ‘Canyon’ (AKA the one with the bird)

What is the significance of the pillow?

The white paintings are shocking even to those who claim to understand modern art. Yet some have apparently drawn inspiration from them.

The Beatles famous “White” Album.




17 thoughts on “Bohemians At Large; Robert Rauschenberg’s “White” paintings.

  1. S Basu says:

    i prefer artists like vinci, boucher, michaelangelo who were elaborately descriptive about the subject of their works.

    i have an id, i dont understand one thing, for some mysterious reason whenever i use that id the comments get gobbled up by wordpress, any ideas or wild guesses?

    • rastelly says:

      Rauschenberg is just funney to me. I like to ponder the
      absurd logic behind his work. Ever hear of the Dutch
      Masters? I don’t think anyone has pushed realism so far,
      something to look into if you like the classics.

      I don’t know about HotMail, but I’ve noticed some gravatars
      get garbeled. I clicked your link and it seemed to work, but
      as I don’t have an account I coulden’t send anything at the
      moment. Sorry. 🙂

      P.S. I saw your earlier comment and I see what you mean.
      My site labeled it spam, so I didden’t notice at first –
      but you do seem to have a problem with that id, I thought
      you had just changed your gravatar – I posted a corrupted
      picture once that turned every other picture on my blog
      to a copy of that picture. I changed the picture and It
      all whent back to normal. You used that Gravatar before
      without insident so I can’t say what might be causing
      it. Strange. The word press people are always updateing,
      I’ve noticed some changes to my page, perhaps your old
      Id is no longer compatable?

      • Sharmishtha says:

        no that id is compatible, because it shows that id in my blog’s settings, you may be right about the gravatar though, i will try to change the gravatar.

        its happening everywhere with that id and after typing the same comment more than twice i stopped using that id for a while, then i typed it by mistake yesterday in your blog and ha! it was its old self. i will try to change the gravatar and see.

        dutch masters? will you mention their names? I have some painting pic books with some dutch artists – mostly still life scenes- amazing work of brush.

      • rastelly says:

        There are an awful lot of them and I’m terrible with
        names. I did however link to an article – I saw some
        of these paintings in person at a museum in new
        york. Up close they seem to sparkel, there was a
        man doing a reproduction – and you could see how
        it was done – in layers.

      • Sharmishtha says:

        i will check out the url. thanks a million times.

      • rastelly says:

        Your welcome. 🙂

  2. What a great post, and great research too.. as for the Blank canvas, I suppose it denotes we can all of us start with nothing.. or… nothing matters!…. or….. the Artist ran out of Paint!…. No… I didnt get it.. and that isnt ART to me..
    Now the Goat I can live with, at least its different.. and as to the pillow.. ???? same here…
    Hope you are doing ok Rastelly ….And I know its been an age since my last visit… but thoughts I would just drop by to see how you are doing!

    • rastelly says:

      Good to see you again!

      While I do accept that it is art in a since, I’ve always
      believed that there should be a skill factor in detirmining
      what should be hung in a museum. It is probably more
      about expressing an idea, evoking a responce, then any
      thing else. I doubt he actually sold any of these – though
      with people today I woulden’t be surprised.

  3. What a brilliant post! And ending with the White Album cover – hah! Rauschenberg’s art is very similar to what composer John Cage was doing with his “silence” pieces. Cage was captivated by environmental sound and wanted to make the point that to him, listening to the world around you was music of a sort. Hence, he really perturbed people with his 4’33” piece — which is a pianist sitting at a piano for 4 minutes and 33 seconds, complete with a timer, page turns, etc. (lots of videos of this being performed on YouTube, as well as interviews with Cage) John Lennon and Yoko Ono were friends with Cage, another “Beatle” link. I appreciate this type of thing more now than when I was younger; I suppose it reminds me of some of the brain twisters experience in reading about quantum physics 🙂

    • rastelly says:

      Rauschenburg said that the content of the
      white paintings was always changeing, who
      was standing in frount of them, what specks
      of dust were floating across them, and what
      shadows were cast upon them, all was ment
      to be part of the peice. These are more about
      ideas and concepts, I think, then what we
      usually percieve as art. It’s interesting to know
      that such concepts were experimented with in
      the music scene, though I wonder what would
      happen if someone turned in “The “White”
      Homework Assignment” 😉

    • mel says:

      Cage & Rauschenberg were friends.

  4. rastelly says:

    No doubt to the irritation of many teachers. LOL

  5. Sampurna says:

    Interesting conversations and some weird paintings. Good collection, rastelly. I like your blog.

  6. bob ondis says:

    it’s Josef Albers, not Josef Arbers.

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