Wednesday, May 14, 2008


Death of an Artist

Yesterday, Robert Rauschenberg died. Though our paths crossed in various ways, I never met him. In an indirect way, though, he changed my life. It was at a lecture two years ago at the Metropolitan Museum of Art by John Paoletti that I started thinking about putting art into one of my lectures. Paoletti made the work seem so real and alive that I was captivated, and that inspiration still colors what I do. Just yesterday, in fact, I gave Nicole Tingelstad the assignment of helping me to develop art slides for a lecture to go with my death penalty book.

For those who don't know his work, Rauschenberg created painting and sculpture, but is best know for his "combines," which were a mix of the two, usually incorporating things that he found on the street or elsewhere. He actually built real life right into the art, if you think about it. His work is dense with images; there is rarely anything simple about it. For example, in the combine pictured below (one of his most famous), there is a tire, a lot of images (including "L.H.O.O.Q."), and a farm animal. You can glance at it and think it is a lark, but if you look at it closely, at the images there, it pulls you in.

Perhaps more than anyone else, when artists die, they leave a lot of themselves behind. It is a strange but important kind of immortality, the immortality of ideas.

He was from Port Arthur. It must be the chemicals.
A little trivia for you: He is the great uncle (grandfather's cousin) of Jordan C., a recent BLS grad. I am sure that it is comforting for the ones who loved and knew him to hear so many great things spoken about a man they loved.
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