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Bob Dylan: The Painter and the Photograph (5)

I have the greatest respect for Gray as a Dylan scholar. I’ve actually read the print version of his hefty 2006 Bob Dylan Encyclopedia from cover to cover; it’s eccentric but, overall, brilliant. It also contains the following statement, on page 433: “Jazz musicians generally regarded the blues, too, as beneath them, and thereby disqualified themselves from playing any of it well.” This is one of the most deeply ignorant comments about jazz by a renowned writer on popular music that I have read in my entire life. […]

Bob Dylan: The Painter and the Photograph (4)

If you read his published interviews, his liner notes for his own and other people’s albums, his autobiography Chronicles: Volume One, and take into account the hundreds of songs by others he’s included in his own performances and recordings, you’ll find him giving credit and paying homage to countless figures in the creative arts on whose work he’s drawn for inspiration. He’s done that voluntarily, and (in my opinion) forthrightly and generously. Which make his lack of candor in this situation all the more disturbing; it’s beneath him, an untypical act of bad faith. […]

Bob Dylan: The Painter and the Photograph (3)

Even at his worst musically, Dylan has never proven less than instructive. These paintings teach us nothing about Asia, about painting, or about photography as source material for visual artists. They simply tell us that Dylan, in private, has worked hard at learning the craft of painting. That may be of interest to someone who, like me, finds it rewarding to track Dylan’s activities; but it’s not enough to sustain a public show at a high-profile venue. […]

Bob Dylan: The Painter and the Photograph (2)

There’s undeniably a difference between painting from sketches or photos you made of real-life scenes you yourself observed and painting from someone else’s sketches, or someone else’s photographs. Just as there’s a difference between witnessing and bearing witness, there’s a difference between direct, firsthand observation and response — no matter how creative and accomplished — to the observations of others, not unlike the distinction in law between eyewitness testimony and hearsay. So asserting, á là Whitman, that “I am the man, I suffer’d, I was there,” stakes out a position akin to Goya’s “Yo lo vi (I saw this)” in his etching series “The Disasters of War.” […]

Bob Dylan: The Painter and the Photograph (1)

Most if not all of Bob Dylan’s “Asia Series” paintings are based on identifiable photographs not of Dylan’s making — none of them recent, but at least some of which remain under copyright protection. I consider it perfectly reasonable to hold him accountable, as a visual artist, to the same strictures his attorneys would hold anyone who produced and marketed an interpretation of his work. In what ways are graphic artists allowed to respond to photographs — and, conversely, disallowed from responding to them — both legally and ethically? […]