he simply submitted a telegram to the gallery stating:
"This is a portrait of Iris Clert if I say so."
By the mid-1950s, despite his lack of commercial success, Rauschenberg was already beginning to formulate his brand of aesthetics, founded upon three strands of thought, all of which would be avidly seized upon and developed by the coming generation of Pop-artists. (Note: For a comparison, please see: Andy Warhol's Pop Art of the sixties and seventies.)
First, he wanted to create a form of art with instant meaning - something the guy in the street could relate to - an aim which. was diametrically opposed to the intellectualism of Abstract Expressionism with its esoteric canvases. To achieve this goal, he took much of his imagery from everyday, easily recognizable objects. This strand is exemplified by his collages, assemblages, sculpture and combines.
Second, in contrast to many of the traditions of fine art painting but firmly in keeping with Dada philosophy, he believed that art could be made out of anything, no matter how low-brow or trivial. This strand, which questioned the whole distinction between art objects and everyday objects, an issue first publicised by Marcel Duchamp (in Fountain, 1917), is exemplified by his famous work Bed (1955), when he painted the quilt on his own bed, decorating it with toothpaste and fingernail polish.
Third, again like Dadaists, he believed that the idea behind a work of art was more important than the work itself - a belief he held in common with the growing Conceptual art movement. Like the use of low-brow materials, this emphasis on a work's concept and impact was partly an attempt to debunk the gravitas of the art world, which had yet to appreciate his work. His White Paintings were an attempt at Conceptualism, as was his work entitled Erased de Kooning Drawing (1953) which comprised his erasure of a drawing by the Abstract Expressionist Willem De Kooning (1904-97) leaving only the faint indentations that pencil had made on the surface of the paper. (The work is now part of the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art collection).
Another noteworthy example of Rauschenberg's conceptualism occurred in 1961. After being invited to participate in a group exhibition at the Galerie Iris Clert, where participants were expected to display a portrait of the owner, Iris Clert, he simply submitted a telegram to the gallery stating: "This is a portrait of Iris Clert if I say so." In much of this, Rauschenberg was strongly influenced by a fellow Black Mountain College student, John Milton Cage Jr, (1912–1992), the avant-garde composer noted for his controversial musical composition '4-33' - whose three movements contained not a single sound or note of music.