Q&A: Sara Sinclair on Robert Rauschenberg: An Oral History

Fall in love with Robert Rauschenberg, galactic master of art and life, through his worldwide collaborations.

~ Dorothy Lichtenstein, president of the Roy Lichtenstein Foundation

In today’s Q&A, the editor and lead interviewer for Robert Rauschenberg: An Oral HistorySara Sinclair, describes how this project came together. Read the excerpt from to the book’s prologue and remember to enter our drawing for a chance to win a copy of this book!

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Q: What attracted you to this project?

Sara Sinclair: I was the project coordinator and lead interviewer for the Robert Rauschenberg Oral History Project at the Columbia Center for Oral History Research. As the project was nearing its close my coeditor, also the director of the Interdisciplinary Center for Innovative Theory and Empirics [INCITE], approached me with an interesting proposition. He asked, whether I thought there was a book to carve out of the project’s 1,000-plus pages. From there I went to work, thinking through how we might approach all that we had gathered to synthesize the material into the most compelling narrative possible.

Q: How did you approach the editing process?

SS: Part of what I loved about working on the Rauschenberg oral history project was the bird’s-eye view I came to have of the art world. I loved coming to understand all the players that encircled and collaborated with Rauschenberg. Socially and in the making of the art but also later, in transporting the works around the world, curating and installing exhibitions of it, selling it, and critiquing it. My original approach to the editing was to divide narrators into sections based on the roles they played in this microsystem. But it didn’t really capture the energy of the artist in the way that we hoped the book might. So I let that go and tried again, this time editing voices into a salon style. The narrators that could speak to the earlier part of Bob’s life provided our beginning and then we built it out from there.

Q: Have you heard from any of the book’s narrators?

SS: Yes! For the project we interviewed fifty-nine people, and forty-five of those narratives were drawn upon to compile the book. I wrote all of our narrators to let them know that the book exists, and I have heard from many of them who have happily written to say that how pleased they were to see their favorite stories in print or that they were moved to have their relationships with Bob honored in this way. One person wrote to say that he liked the book but took issue with comments another narrator made about somebody else, now deceased. Though that’s just one of the issues that comes up in speaking to the past. Rauschenberg passed away in 2008, and we relied on his community to revive him, to paint a picture of his world after his death. As an oral historian, I was so pleased with the strong sense I had of coming to know this man, whom I had never met, through this series of interviews. As we state in the book’s preface, it really does say something very positive about the creative ability of oral history to resurrect the past for the sake of transmitting memory.

Read the prologue to Robert Rauschenberg: An Oral History

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