Tuesday, February 14, 2017


The Combine

A decade ago, maybe longer, I went to New York to write. While I was there, I saw a remarkable art history lecture at the Met, about Robert Rauschenberg. The lecture was given by John Paoletti of Wesleyan, who spoke with admiration and a wry wit about Rauschenberg and his work.

Rauschenberg, who died in 2008, was a painter and sculptor, but often he combined those things with found objects, various materials, and other art to create "combines" like the one above, his most famous.  Paoletti showed slides of the combines, sometimes in the process of being created, and I leaned forward, fascinated. I still remember that shock of discovery.

We all create combines. We inhabit them, surrounded by the shape and texture and scent of those things we have gathered around us, and the ideas and constructs that frame our view of the world. What I loved about Rauschenberg, as Paoletti talked, was the way that he so intentionally did this, while most of us are haphazard. I was a dog dragging a stick around for no real reason, but Rauschenberg was a careful bird, putting the bit of newspaper below the stick and the leaf to form a nest.  

But now, I try. 

You seem more like the bird who carefully formed a nest with a view. A view framed by all the experiences you gathered both deliberately and haphazardly, just like life itself. I think Rauschenberg often layers his compositions (combine makes me visualize the machine that harvests grain crops) with a studied deliberation that searches a response. And that feels almost contrived to me sometimes. A response to art is very personal and it should come naturally from within. I hate it when I look at art that tries to rush that response out of me…okay, hate may be harsh… I resent being hit by the combine.
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