As the first decade of the twenty-first century nears its conclusion, fewer and fewer of the truly titanic artists of the twentieth century’s post-war landscape will live to see the next phase in cultural production, be it painting, sculpture, cinema, music, or theater. I am thinking of the brilliant painter Robert Rauschenberg, who died last month at the age of 82. His extraordinary influence on painting, sculpture, theatre design, graphic design, print-making, and photography can be seen so often in the work of contemporary artists, that it could easily be argued that we live in a universe ubiquitously stamped with Rauschenberg’s unique flair for fusing swaths of color and pop culture imagery to everyday objects.
Who will be the next generation of artists to transform our ways of hearing, feeling, thinking, or seeing? Will we in the future even pause from our media saturated world to recognize the lives and accomplishments of the current cadre of tabloid ingénues, image-bloated celebrities, the one-hit-song wonders embedded within car commercials, or the disposable “reality show” characters choreographed by Madison Avenue to dumb us down rather than to inspire, educate or enlighten us? Who will represent the artistic qualities and visions requisite for an open society to meaningfully reflect upon complex and difficult subject matter that both informs and shapes our way of being?
The best kind of art rarely promoted or even discussed by the mainstream media, can raise salient questions about social relations or address the nature of the individual’s place in the broader social matrix. It can rupture traditions, both artistic and ideological. It can shock us with its absurdities or provoke us to think more deeply because of its subtleties. It can make us both laugh and cry, sometimes simultaneously. Here at KPL, library users have access to all of it, the good, the bad, and the ugly, including the painters, the musicians, the auteurs, and the poets.
Robert Rauschenberg, a retrospective