Research Proposal: Contemporary Art

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Art

Even in work as abstract and deconstructed as cubism, notes Steinberg, "where the Renaissance worldspace concept almost breaks down, there is still a harking back to implied acts of vision, to something that was once actually seen," (p. 82). Art is always rooted in the familiar and borrows from the world of nature. However, some artwork challenges the supremacy of verticality. As Steinberg points out, "opaque flatbed horizontals...no more depend on a head-to-toe correspondence with human posture than a newspaper does," (p. 83). Perhaps nowhere is the opaque flatbed horizontal more poignant than in the work of Robert Rauschenberg. In "Bed," for example, horizontal and vertical merge onto the wooden frame. Moreover, the subject matter directly evokes horizontality. A bed beckons the human body to recline on a horizontal plane: to ease the tension of constant verticality. Rauschenberg's "Bed" epitomizes its subject matter also by his inclusion of actual bedding: the quilt. "Bed" conforms to what Steinberg calls the "symbolic allusion" to hard surfaces and more importantly, to "receptor surfaces," (p. 83). Objects can be placed on a horizontal surface, whereas they must be physically adhered to a vertical surface because of the power of gravity. Therefore, Rauschenberg's "Bed" conceptually defies gravity.

The ultimate effect, states Steinberg, is the shift toward art that represents "operational processes," (p. 84). Where "Bed" is placed matters not. Hung on a wall, Rauschenberg's "Bed" has the same soothing, reclining effect because its imagery and media invoke the operational process of lying down. Steinberg claims that the horizontal picture plane constitutes "the most radical shift in the subject matter of art, the shift from nature to culture," (p. 84). The horizontal plane also entails the shift from representational to conceptual art.

Robert Rauschenberg's "Bed" includes a quilt, folded over to reveal an actual pillow and sheets. The whole is drizzled with paint as if to warn the viewer that the bed is but an illusion. Rauschenberg achieves the concept of bed by using the horizontal plane and warping the traditionally vertical vision of art. However, Rauschenberg's "Bed," connotes more than mattress, frame, sheets, and pillow. By capitalizing on the power of the shifted plane, Rauschenberg conveys all that the bed means in our society: from sleeping to sex. As Steinberg puts it, the bed is where "we do our begetting, conceiving, and dreaming," (p. 90).

A horizontal plane allows the expression of a "matrix of information" about the object(s) being represented that would be impossible from the traditional vertical plane (Steinberg p. 85). The objects being represented in "Bed" are typically interacted with on a horizontal level: a bed is sometimes jumped on and often sat on, but most of the time spent in a bed will be horizontal. Because of the bed's function in the real world, the multimedia art piece representing "Bed" must also use the horizontal axis. "Bed" therefore becomes a sort of multidimensional work of art, something that represents the essence of the object and its central function, and not just what the object looks like. The horizontality of flatbed surface connotes actions, or what Steinberg calls "making," (p. 90). On the other hand, art that uses only the vertical plane connotes a limited way of viewing the world: through "seeing" (Steinberg, p. 90). Rauschenberg's art is more holistic, universal, and heterogeneous than one that stresses sight over all other modes of interpreting reality. Therefore, the horizontal plane or flatbed is part a new artistic language, notes Steinberg (p. 85).

Ironically, Rauschenberg seems cognizant of and concerned about gravity in "Bed." The paint drips downward, emphasizing the vertical plane at the very same time as the imagery evokes horizontality. The juxtaposition of different lines parallels the melange of up and down, horizontal and vertical. For example, the folded-over sheets form triangles, and the quilt patchwork is all squares. The bed is messy as if it were recently slept in; the texture in the painting and quilting invite the viewer to reach out and touch the bed. "Bed" is wholly multisensory. Rauschenberg has transformed the function of art into something more meaningful and interactive. Steinberg claims that Rauschenberg accomplishes a goal of shaking up the art world itself by serving "to alienate the connoisseur as art defects and departs into strange territories," (p. 91). Rauschenberg's "Bed" is like art for the masses and it speaks the language of the ordinary person. "Bed" blends what is not art with what is and is "part of a shakeup which contaminates all purified categories" (Steinberg, p. 91).

In "Bed," Rauschenberg blurs several purified categories. First, the artist blurs the line between realism and abstract expressionism. The bed is stunningly realistic because Rauschenberg incorporates actual bedding into the composition. Using quilts, pillows, and sheets enhances the realism of the subject matter partly because of the textural dimension. The realistic texture and appearance of the bed parallels Rauschenberg's selection of the flatbed plane to convey the concept of bed: the act of lying down and sleeping or making love. Texture also adds multiple dimensions to the "Bed" and involves more sensory input than simply sight.

At the same time, the bed is shockingly abstract. With paint drizzled all over it, no one could assume it were ready to be slept in, even if "Bed" were laid on a table or any other horizontal plane. The patchwork quilt is a series of geometric designs: no human or zoological imagery is woven into the patches, which do not look like anything from the natural world. Instead, their horizontal and vertical lines mirror what Rauschenberg accomplishes by switching planes. The horizontal and the vertical are also blurred in Rauschenberg's "Bed."

Rauschenberg also blurs the line between soft and hard. In "Bed," the media of quilting, pillow, and sheets are all soft. The effect is cozy. However, the wooden frame is undeniably hard. Moreover, "Bed" seems cold because it is uninhabited. It is empty; whoever was sleeping in the bed left in a hurry, without making the bed. The bed is messy. Another distinction between neat and messy is blurred, signaled by the gradual shift from order to chaos as the eye creeps up from the quilt to the paint-strewn pillow. What appears neat and orderly on the bottom becomes messy and chaotic at the top. The geometric lines and comforting predictability of the squares on the patchwork pattern yield to haphazard Pollack-like drippings and unkempt sheets. The beds we sleep in at home convey similar juxtapositions and contradictions. They are soft and crumply, they have hard, heavy frames. They are places of both nightmares and dreams, of lonely nights and nights spent with lovers.

Although Rauschenberg purposefully chooses the flatbed plane to convey the bed concept, he seems to be acutely aware of verticality such as in the way paint drips downward from the pillow to the quilt. Therefore, the distinction between up and down, horizontal and vertical, is blurred too. No matter how "Bed" is displayed it will be a multidimensional piece: "Though they hung on the wall, the pictures kept referring back to the horizontals on which we walk and sit, work and sleep," (Steinberg p. 87).

Therefore, Rauschenberg totally redefined and reinvented art. He transformed the way viewers approach the art, and the way the artist approaches it too. Rauschenberg changed the relationship between artist and image, image and viewer," (Steinberg, p. 91). The relationships between objects and their surfaces, between colors and their backgrounds, between textures and their role on a canvas: all the fundamental relationships are transformed in a Rauschenberg composition.

As Steinberg suggests, Robert Rauschenberg was instrumental in changing the meaning and function of art. Although by no means the first to incorporate multimedia elements into the canvas, Rauschenberg understood the inadequacies of available pictorial surfaces and conceptual planes. He did not apply new techniques to a traditional art form: he changed the art form itself. Rauschenberg found traditional pictorial surfaces and their corresponding horizontal biases to be "too exclusive and too homogenous," (Steinberg p. 88). A traditional pictorial surface allows only for the expression of gravity and of vertical content. The viewer and the artist interact with the painting while standing, viewing it the same way as viewing a landscape. When a horizontal plane is represented it is still done so from the perspective of a vertical orientation. Rauschenberg's "Bed" suggests that multiple planes can be conveyed on the same essential surface. In that respect, the flatness of the canvas is "no more of a problem than the flatness of a disordered desk or an unswept floor," (Steinberg, p. 88). As Steinberg points out, Rauschenberg experimented also with inserting the dimension of time into his work: such as by watering a patch of growing grass in one of his installations. For Rauschenberg the horizontal plane becomes a "pictorial surface that let in the world again," (Steinberg, p 90).

Rauschenberg unleashed horizontality, liberated objects from their planes, and therefore offered artists more leeway in the scope of ideas they could represent. An artist… [END OF PREVIEW]

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Contemporary Art.  (2008, October 16).  Retrieved December 6, 2019, from https://www.essaytown.com/subjects/paper/contemporary-art/734275

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"Contemporary Art."  Essaytown.com.  October 16, 2008.  Accessed December 6, 2019.
https://www.essaytown.com/subjects/paper/contemporary-art/734275.