Robert Rauschenberg and burning bridges

by Joanna Pieters | Follow her on Facebook here

The arguments in the judging room had been heated, bordering on rancorous. An American to win the prestigious Gran Premio at the 1964 Venice Bienniale, the youngest ever, and – whisper it – a pop artist? With silkscreens?

The artist being honoured, Robert Rauschenberg, was away from his New York studio, away from the silkscreen prints and equipment that he’d spent the past two years working with. Ever the collaborator, he was on tour with the choreographer Merce Cunningham, responsible for costumes and stage designs. But the four works hanging in a pavilion in Italy were enough to convince the jury that he was to be the first US winner of this highly respected prize for contemporary art.

The news reached him, though. The next day, Rauschenberg made a decision. He was not going to be trapped by the expectations of recognition or success. He needed to make himself trust his ability, once again, to create something new. And he needed to have temptation out of the way.

He picked up the phone to his assistant in his studio and gave an instruction: Destroy the remaining silkscreens.

Burn your bridges.

Banish your beliefs about where your success comes from.

Set yourself up for adventure.

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