Archive for October, 2011

All Along the Art Tower

“Businessmen, they drink my wine, plowmen dig my earth…” But at least they didn’t steal Bob Dylan’s art. Too bad the same can’t be said for Dylan when it came to liberating other artists’ work. Since a show of his paintings recently opened at Manhattan’s Gagosian Gallery, it’s come to the art world’s attention that these pictures may not be on the up and up.

The show in question is simply called “The Asia Series.” Based on the musician’s recent trip to the Far East, the work was billed as a reflection on what he saw and felt. However, the imagery in the actual paintings has been directly linked to the work of various photographers, including Henri Cartier-Bresson. Truth be known, Dylan’s pictures reproduce the photos verbatim. This is not what the art experience is supposed to be about.

While some may claim his usage of photographs can be linked to the Photorealist movement, Dylan is cutting corners. During the late 1960s and early 1970s, a new art movement was launched; Photorealism. Artists, including Chuck Close, Richard Estes, and Charles Bell, relied on photographs as springboards to create their paintings. But these Photorealists took their own photographs. So in essence, even though these artists “copied” photographs, they were still capturing their initial vision. In Estes’s case, he focused on the urban landscape and how reflections, which appeared in storefront windows, twisted and distorted themselves into highly abstract compositions. Charles Bell painted close-ups of gumball machines and their contents; multi-color spheres interspersed with the occasional toy surprise. Chuck Close mined facial portraiture, exposing with excruciating detail the sitter’s pores, freckles, and wrinkles. These works provided the viewer with a fresh look at the visual world that surrounds us. Great art gets you to view your environment in new ways. When that occurs, you feel alive.

What Bob Dylan did was take someone else’s photograph, copy the imagery onto a canvas, and then pass it off as a genuine creative gesture. Yes, in theory, Dylan did bring some of himself to the work by the physical act of painting the pictures. Still, there’s nothing authentic about not thinking for yourself. Whether it was laziness or lack of confidence in his ability to crossover from one creative field to another, a la Julian Schnabel, Dylan couldn’t come up with his own iconography.

It’s hard to make good art. Works of art, that survive the test of time, are made by painters who perfect their craft over decades and have something original to say that reflects their life experiences and the times they live in. At the end of the day, it’s about fabricating work that has a soul. Until Bob Dylan is prepared to put the same effort into his painting, that he has put into his indisputably brilliant music, better that he stick to his song-writing. As he once so famously stated, “To live outside the law, you must be honest.”
by Richard Polsky