Drafted into the United States Navy, Robert Rauschenberg trained as a neuropsychiatric technician. His first exposure to original art came on a visit to the Henry E. Huntington Library in San Marino, California, while he was stationed in San Diego. When he was discharged from the navy, he enrolled at the Kansas City Art Institute (1947), but believing that a serious artist should study in Paris, he traveled there in 1948 and attended the Académie Julien and Académie de la Grand Chaumièr. He returned to the United States in the fall of 1948 to attend Black Mountain College in North Carolina, where he studied with Josef Albers.
Rauschenberg then moved to New York and studied at the Art Students League with Vaclav Vytlacil and Morris Kantor (1949-1951). He returned intermittently to Black Mountain, developing close friendships there with John Cage, Merce Cunningham, and Jack Tworkov.
During this period Rauschenberg designed window displays for department stores in New York, and in 1951 had his first one-man show at the Betty Parsons Gallery. In 1952 he traveled extensively in Europe and North Africa, where he created constructions out of wood, rope, and stones. His White Paintings and Black Paintings were shown at the Stable Gallery in New York in 1953. By the late 1950s his "combines" (so called because they were neither painting nor sculpture, but both) secured his reputation as the "enfant terrible" of American art.
Collaboration and experimentation have been constants in Rauschenberg's art, and the list of his collaborators is long and varied -- including pianist David Tudor, and dancers Merce Cunningham and Trisha Brown. In 1966 he established Experiments in Art and Technology (E.A.T.) with scientist Billy Kluver to promote interaction between artists and scientists. Rauschenberg has also been active in matters of artists' rights. During the early 1970s he established Change, Inc., to provide quick access to funds for artists in need.
In addition to Graphicstudio, his print projects include work with Universal Limited Art Editions, Gemini G.E.L., and many others. He continues to explore the possibilities of print processes in non-traditional ways in all aspects of his art.
Rauschenberg's honors include the Skowhegan Medal for Painting (1982), the Jerusalem Prize for Arts and Letters from the Friends of Bezalel Academy of Jerusalem (1984), and honorary degrees from Grinnell College, Iowa, the University of South Florida, and New York University. He was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Science (1978). Honors have also been bestowed on him by the Royal Academy of Fine Arts, Stockholm (1980), and the Ministry of Culture and Communication, France (1981). In 1986 he received the World Print Council's award for Excellence in International Cultural Exchange.
Rauschenberg's first retrospective was at the Jewish Museum in New York (1963). Major exhibitions include those organized by the Whitechapel Gallery, London (1964), Walker Art Center, Minneapolis (1965), National Collection of Fine Arts, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C. (1976), Staatliche Kunsthalle, Berlin (1980), Musée national d'arte moderne, Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris (1981), Contemporary Art Museum, Houston (1984), and the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York (1990). In 1984 Rauschenberg Overseas Culture Interchange (ROCI) was established, with exhibitions traveling to Mexico, Chile, Venezuela, China, Tibet, Japan, Cuba, the Soviet Union, Germany, Malaysia, and the United States. (Fine/Corlett 1991, 231)