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In the fall of 1943, Robert Rauschenberg was studying pharmacology—the study of pharmaceuticals—at the University of Texas. He had always loved to draw, but he enrolled in the pharmacology program to appease his parents’ wishes.
One day in biology class, Rauschenberg’s dissatisfaction with his studies reached a tipping point. A dead frog lay cold and limp before him. His professor instructed him to dissect the frog as part of an assignment. But Rauschenberg froze. He loved animals and had many pets growing up. How did his professor expect him to cut open the innocent, lifeless creature?
Rauschenberg knew he had to follow his instincts. He bravely told the professor that he wouldn’t dissect the frog. The leaders of the program weren’t happy with his refusal. They decided to expel him from the university! Little did Rauschenberg know that his rebellious act would plant a seed for some of his most iconic works of art.
A few years later, Rauschenberg visited art galleries, and the art he saw made a lasting impression on him. He bought painting supplies and began taking his love of art seriously for the first time. He studied art at various institutions, including the Kansas City Art Institute and the Académie Julian in Paris. In the 1950s, Rauschenberg started to develop some of the ideas and techniques for which he’s now famous, including his “combines” (artworks made with everyday objects and art materials).
Rauschenberg’s 1955-59 Monogram, below, features a large, stuffed Angora goat. A car tire encircles its midsection. He mounted the goat on a painting and splattered the goat’s bearded face with colorful paint. The overall effect is strange and might leave some viewers pondering—why a goat?
In an interview with the Museum of Modern Art in New York City, Rauschenberg said that he was inspired to create the sculpture when he saw the stuffed goat in a shop window. He wanted to give it a new life as art. “I always thought, it’s too bad they’re dead,” the artist said. “So I thought I can do something about that.”