Robert Rauschenberg, 1925-2008: His Inventive and Energetic Works Redefined Modern Art
07 June 2008
I’m Steve Ember.
And I’m Faith Lapidus with PEOPLE IN AMERICA in
VOA Special English. Today we tell about Robert
Rauschenberg. He is widely considered one of the most
influential artists of the past half-century. Throughout his
long career, Rauschenberg explored painting, sculpture,
printmaking and even dance performance.
His inventive ideas and bold work made him a
revolutionary presence in the art world. One art critic said
that there has never been anything in American art to match
the energy of Robert Rauschenberg’s imagination. Robert Rauschenberg
He was born Milton Ernest Rauschenberg in nineteen twenty-five. He grew up in a Christian
religious family in the small town of Port Arthur, Texas. He studied pharmacology, the science of
preparing and using medicine, at the University of Texas for a short time. But he did not complete
his degree. He joined the Navy during World War Two in the nineteen forties and worked in
hospitals in California. It was there that he saw paintings in an art museum for the first
time. Though he had no training, Rauschenberg realized then that he wanted to be an artist.
After the war, he studied art at the Kansas City Art Institute as well as in Paris, France.
Rauschenberg changed his first name to Robert because he thought it sounded more like the name
of an artist. During this time, Rauschenberg met the artist Susan Weil. They later were married for
two years and had a son.
Rauschenberg continued his studies at Black Mountain College in North Carolina. There, he met a group of people who would help redefine modern art and performance. He became good friends with the dance choreographer Merce Cunningham and the musician John Cage. He was also influenced by his teacher, the artist Josef Albers. Rauschenberg said that Albers was an impossible person. But he said Albers taught him how to develop his own personal sense of looking. And, this teacher urged students to explore many kinds of materials to make their art.
In nineteen forty-nine, Rauschenberg moved to New York City to be part of its energetic art world. He made a series of all-white paintings. Then, he made a series of all-black paintings. He wanted to explore the way the paintings changed in different lighting conditions, or as the shadow of a viewer passed in front of the work.
By the mid nineteen fifties, Rauschenberg was making his first “combines," large works of art that were both paintings and sculptures. These experimental works broke down what usually were two very separate art forms. These works included objects such as boxes, books and radios that the artist found in the streets of New York.
The nineteen fifty-five combine called “Bed” became one of his most famous works. It includes a
bed sheet, quilt and pillow covered in paint.
The thrown paint on “Bed” was similar to the work of
Abstract Expressionist painters like Jackson Pollock who
were active at the time. These abstract paintings were
meant to show action and color instead of representing a
subject matter. But Rauschenberg went beyond Abstract
Expressionism by including objects from everyday life in
his combines. Later, members of the Pop Art movement
would further develop this inclusion of common
objects. In nineteen fifty-nine, Rauschenberg made
another famous combine, called “Monogram.” This work ''Monogram''
includes a dead goat with a rubber tire around its middle.
The work stands on a painted surface with other "found" objects like part of a shoe and a tennis ball.
Rauschenberg once said that he felt sorry for people who consider things like soap dishes, mirrors or Coke bottles to be ugly. He said these people must be very unhappy because they are surrounded by these objects all day long. Rauschenberg showed in his work that unexpected things can be beautiful if a person takes time to look.
Over the years, Robert Rauschenberg continued exploring and combining different forms of art.
He developed a method of drawing in which he covered printed images and words in chemicals,
then transferred them onto paper using a pencil. He also made boldly inventive lithographs that
helped bring a new level of respect and attention to the art of printmaking.
In his nineteen sixty-four work called “Shade,” Rauschenberg combined
bookmaking, printmaking and sculpture into one artwork. He printed black
and white images onto plastic sheets, which could be placed like pages into
a box. A light shining through the sheets made the work into a redefined
version of a book. His nineteen sixty-seven print, “Booster,” was at the time
the largest hand-pulled lithograph ever made. Rauschenberg’s work broke
down the boundaries between different artistic methods.
By the nineteen sixties, Rauschenberg had become famous in the art world.
In nineteen sixty-four he became the first modern American to win the ''Booster'' international grand prize at the Venice Biennale art show in Italy. But fame did not cause Rauschenberg to slow down his flow of new ideas. He worked on putting
combinations of printed images onto large canvases using screen-printing.
He made many series of other prints, including a "Hoarfrost Series" in nineteen seventy-four. For
these works, Rauschenberg printed images onto thin pieces of flowing silk and taffeta fabrics. And,
in his "Cardboard Series," Rauschenberg created interesting wall sculptures using combinations of
flattened paper boxes.
Robert Rauschenberg once said that he worked in a direction until he knew how to do it, then he
stopped. He said that once he became bored or he understood, another question had formed.
Robert Rauschenberg strongly believed in working on projects with other artists. In the early
nineteen fifties, he worked with his wife, Susan Weil. They made a series of large prints by
shining a lamp over a person lying on special blueprint paper. He also designed stage sets and
costumes for dance productions by Merce Cunningham and other choreographers. He exchanged
ideas and worked closely with the artist Jasper Johns. And, he worked with printing experts like
Tatyana Grossman in her workshop, Universal Limited Art Editions, in New York.
Rauschenberg helped start a nonprofit group called Experiments in Art and Technology with an engineer from Bell Telephone Laboratories. This group supported joint projects by artists and scientists. The idea for the organization came out of a series of nine performances held in nineteen sixty-six in New York City. At these events, engineers and artists combined art and technology in experimental performances.
And, in nineteen eighty-five, he started ROCI which stands for Rauschenberg Overseas Cultural Interchange. Its aim was to find a way to communicate with other countries through the language of art.
Rauschenberg traveled to twenty-two countries including China, Tibet, Uzbekistan, Cuba and the Soviet Union. He worked with artists in each country to create pieces of art. They were then exhibited in a museum in that country along with works made in other parts of the world. In nineteen ninety-one, the project ended at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. with an exhibit of art from each country.
Robert Rauschenberg's work has been in many major museum exhibits. These include shows at the Pompidou Center in Paris, France in nineteen eighty-one and the Guggenheim Museum in New York in nineteen ninety-seven.
In two thousand five, the Metropolitan Museum in New York opened an exhibit on Robert Rauschenberg’s combines. His work was also shown at the National Gallery in Washington in two thousand seven.
Later in his career, Rauschenberg started spending more and more time at his home on Captiva Island, off the coast of Florida. There, he had a large studio in which he could work on huge projects. In two thousand two, Rauschenberg suffered a stroke that left him unable to use his right side. He learned to work with his left hand. And, with the help of assistants, he kept making art. Robert Rauschenberg died in two thousand eight at his home in Florida. He was eighty-two years old. His inventive examples of modern art will continue to influence future generations of artists and art lovers.
This program was written and produced by Dana Demange. I’m Steve Ember.
And I’m Faith Lapidus. You can see examples of Robert Rauschenberg's work at our Web site,
voaspecialenglish.com. Join us again next week for PEOPLE IN AMERICA in VOA Special English.
Susan B. Anthony, 1820-1906: She Led the Fight to Gain Equal Rights for Women, Including the
Right to Vote The nineteenth amendment to the U.S. Constitution won final approval in 1920 but she did not
live to see it. Transcript of radio broadcast:
14 June 2008 VOICE ONE:
People in America, a program in Special English on the Voice of America.
In the eighteen fifties, women in the United States began to try to gain the same rights as men. One woman was a leader in the campaign to gain women the right to vote. I'm Stan Busby.
And I'm Shirley Griffith. Today we tell about a fighter for rights for women, Susan B. Anthony. (MUSIC)
In seventeen seventy-six, a new nation declared its
freedom from Britain. The Declaration of Independence
was the document written to express the reasons for
seeking that freedom. It stated that all men were created
equal. It said that all men had the right to life, liberty, and
the pursuit of happiness.
Not every citizen of the new United States of America had
one important right, however. That was the right to vote. Susan B. Anthony At first, the only people permitted to vote in the United
States were white men who owned property and could read. By eighteen sixty, most white male citizens over the age of twenty-one had the right to vote.
The Fourteenth and Fifteenth amendments to the Constitution gave black male citizens the right to vote. These amendments were passed in eighteen sixty-eight and eighteen seventy.
Women were not really full citizens in America in the eighteen hundreds. They had no economic independence.
For example, everything a woman owned when she got married belonged to her husband. If a married woman worked, the money she made belonged to her husband. In addition, women had no political power. They did not have the right to vote.
In the eighteen fifties, women organized in an effort to gain voting rights. Their campaign was called the women's suffrage movement. Suffrage means the right to vote. American women sought to gain that right for more than seventy years.
One of the leaders of the movement was Susan B. Anthony of Massachusetts. Miss Anthony was a teacher. She believed that women needed economic and personal independence. She also believed that there was no hope for social improvement in the United States until women were given the same rights as men. The rights included the right to vote in public elections. VOICE ONE:
Susan B. Anthony was born in eighteen twenty. Her parents were members of the Quaker religion. She became one, too. The Quakers believed that the rights of women should be honored. They were the first religious group where women shared the leadership with men.
As a young woman, Susan had strong beliefs about justice and equality for women and for black people. And she was quick to speak out against what she believed was not just. Many young men wanted to marry her. But she could not consider marrying a man who was not as intelligent as she. She once said: "I can never understand why intelligent girls should want to marry fools just to get married. Many are willing to do so. But I am not. " She did meet some young men who were intelligent. But it always seemed that they expected women to be their servants, not their equals.
Susan B. Anthony became a school teacher in New York state. She realized that women could never become full citizens without some political power. They could never get such power until they got the right to vote. She went from town to town in New York state trying to get women interested in their right to vote. But they did not seem interested. Miss Anthony felt this was because women were not able to do anything for themselves. They had no money or property of their own. The struggle seemed long and hard. She said:
"As I went from town to town, I understood more and more the evil we must fight. The evil is that
women cannot change anything as long as they must depend on men for their very lives. Women
cannot change anything until they themselves are independent. They cannot be free until they have
the legal right to own property and to keep the money they make by working."
Miss Anthony went to every city, town and village in New York state. She organized meetings in
schools, churches, and public places. Everywhere she went, she carried pamphlets urging rights
She urged the lawmakers of New York to change the state law and give women the right to own
property. Her campaign in New York failed at that time. But elsewhere the struggle for women's
rights was making progress.
In eighteen fifty-one, Susan B. Anthony met Elizabeth
Cady Stanton. Missus Stanton also supported equal rights
for women. Missus Stanton had many children. She
needed to remain at home to raise her large family. Miss
Anthony, however, was not married. She was free to travel,
to speak, and to organize for the women's rights movement.
The two women cooperated in leading the fight to gain
rights for women in the United States.
Their first important success came in eighteen sixty when
New York finally approved a married woman's law. For Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth the first time in New York, a married woman could own Cady Stanton property. And, she had a right to the money she was paid for work she did.
At last, Miss Anthony's campaign was beginning to show results. The campaign spread to other
The end of the American Civil War in eighteen sixty-five freed Negroes from slavery. Susan B.
Anthony felt that there was still much to be done to get full freedom -- for Negroes and also for
women. She began to campaign for the right for Negroes and women to vote.
The Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution was approved in eighteen sixty-eight. It gave Negro men the right to vote. But it did not give women the right to vote. VOICE TWO:
Susan B. Anthony led efforts to have voting rights for women included in the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution. Her efforts were not successful. Then Miss Anthony decided to test the legal basis of the Fourteenth Amendment. She did this during the presidential election of eighteen seventy-two.
On election day, Miss Anthony led a group of women to vote in Rochester, New York. Two weeks later, Miss Anthony was arrested. She was charged with voting although she had no legal right to do so.
Before her trial, Susan B. Anthony traveled around New York state. She spoke to many groups about the injustice of denying women the right to vote. She said:
"Our democratic, republican government is based on the idea that every person shall have a voice and a vote in making the laws and putting them to work. It is we, the people -- all the people -- not just white men or men only, who formed this nation. We formed it to get liberty not just for half of us -- not just for half of our children -- but for all, for women as well as men. "Is the right to vote a necessary right of citizens? To my mind, it is a most important right. Without it, all other rights are nothing. "
Susan B. Anthony was tried and found guilty of violating the law. She was ordered to pay one hundred dollars as a punishment. She said the law was wrong. She refused to pay. Miss Anthony then led efforts to gain voting rights for women through a new amendment to the Constitution. She traveled across the country to campaign for such an amendment until she was seventy-five years old. In nineteen-oh-four, she spoke to a committee of the United States Senate for the last time. The committee was discussing the proposal for an amendment to the Constitution giving women the right to vote. She knew the victory would come. But she also knew it would not come while she was alive.
Susan B. Anthony died in nineteen-oh-six at the age of eighty-six. Thirteen years later, in nineteen nineteen, Congress passed the Nineteenth Amendment to the Constitution. The amendment stated that the right to vote shall not be denied because of a person's sex.
The amendment had to be approved by three-fourths of the states. It won final approval on August twenty-sixth, nineteen twenty. It was called the Anthony Amendment, to honor Susan B. Anthony. (MUSIC)
This Special English program was written by Shelley Gollust. It was produced by Lawan Davis. I'm Stan Busby.
And I'm Shirley Griffith. Join us again next week for another People in America program on the Voice of America.
Ray Charles, 1930-2004: Singer, Songwriter and Musician Extraordinaire
His work brought together different kinds of music and different kinds of music fans. Transcript
of radio broadcast:
21 June 2008
This is Faith Lapidus.
And this is Doug Johnson with PEOPLE IN AMERICA in VOA Special English. Today we begin
a two-part report about singer, songwriter, and musician Ray Charles. His work will continue to
have a lasting influence on American music.
Ray Charles spent almost sixty years as a professional
musician. Millions of people around the world enjoy his
recordings. If Ray Charles only played the piano, he would
have been considered one of the best. If he had only sung his
music, his voice would have made him famous. If he had
only played jazz music, the world would have listened. But
Ray Charles did all these things and more.
He played and sang rock-and-roll and rhythm-and-blues
songs. He sold millions of country and western records,
too. His work brought together different kinds of music and
different kinds of music fans. His influence on much of Ray Charles America's popular music cannot be truly measured. (MUSIC: "One Mint Julep")
That was Ray Charles and "One Mint Julep." He recorded that song in nineteen sixty-one on an
album called "Genius Plus Soul Equals Jazz." It is one of the many hundreds of records he
Ray Charles Robinson was born in nineteen thirty in Albany, Georgia. When he was six years old,
he began to suffer from the eye disease glaucoma. The disease made him blind. He left the world