Have you ever played a game of comparisons where you match up persons or things and try to decide which you prefer? I know we can’t or won’t really say who is the better artist but it is fun to take two artists who are contemporaries and match them up.
I invite your comments on these two artists. I simply want to know who you prefer:
Robert Rauschenberg or Jasper Johns.
Robert Rauschenberg was born in 1925 and died in 2008 and is to many contemporary artists an infuriating figure. So many artists have been excited by some great breakthrough only to discover that Rauschenberg did it first. He was a painter, sculptor, photographer, printmaker, and performance artist. He is best known for his combines of the 1950s, and lesser known for many other works of art. He created so much and so many forms of art it is almost impossible to understand his achievements. It is sometimes said he stopped being an interesting artist after the early 1960s, yet his Cardboards and related pieces he created on Captiva Island in the early 1970s are an under known and exciting example of work by an artist who made use of everyday materials and junk that he found lying around on the street or in his studio.
Rauschenberg’s prolific output might have contributed to his later work being overlooked. Also the sheer brilliance of the combines overshadows the great work he created before and after. His use of silkscreen could be said to be derivative of Warhol though Rauschenberg’s subject matter and technique with silkscreen painting is very different from Warhol’s.
Jasper Johns was born in 1930 and is a painter, printmaker, and sometimes sculptor. He is most famous for his encaustic paintings, a medium that he helped to resurrect from the dead. His use of images such as the American flag, coffee cans, maps, and numbers has led him to be called a Pop artist though he could be better described as a Neo-Dadaist. Johns’s appropriation of popular iconography in his work was to be highly influential to later artists, particularly pop artists of the 1960s.
He was the lover of Robert Rauschenberg, and for a while they influenced each other’s work. Leo Castelli discovered Johns while visiting Rauschenberg’s studio, and Castelli gave him his first solo show. In some ways it could be said that Johns began to have a greater success than Rauschenberg at this time, and this might have led to a breakdown in their relationship.
Both of these artists are among the finest and most influential of American artists. Both have had long productive careers, and they inspired each other to great lengths. Johns’s flag paintings are stunning achievements, and Rauschenberg’s combines are brilliant. Johns’s influence on the American pop artists of the 1960s cannot be understated, but Rauschenberg’s influence on the art world is still a force to this day. If you are a performance artist, conceptual artist, street artist, minimalist, photographer, experimental printmaker, if you do theater sets, etc, etc, chances are Rauschenberg did it first, and for these reason I give this match up to Rauschenberg.