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the pioneer of Dylan Studies; writer, public speaker, critic; became a Doctor of Letters in 2015 (awarded by the University of York, UK)

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Friday, September 16, 2011


Ah well, so he's at it again  -  copying or referencing, depending how you see it. Wiebke Dittmer has written to report that Dylan's 'Opium' painting from the Asia Series can't but have been based on a photograph taken in 1910. She writes, very interestingly:

"Bob obviously painted this new work from an old photograph. See link below... To me, it's a fascinating find. I've suspected before that Bob might paint from photographs sometimes, though the main idea / image always was that he makes drawings of things that interest him and paints from those. That's certainly true for the Drawn Blank Series and part of the Brazil Series, but some of the Brazil Series looks very much like good photo opportunities (the Favela pictures come to mind), and one as yet unpublished painting from the Asia Series called "LeBelle Cascade" has been described in the press as "a riff on Manet's 'Le Déjeuner sur L'Herbe' but is, in fact, a scenographic tourist photo opportunity in a Tokyo amusement arcade." We'll have to see about the rest of this new series, but it looks like there will be much to discover, and isn't it just like Bob to find such a vintage photo to paint from? He's doing what he does with old songs in a different medium."

Thanks to Amy Crehore, the photo and the painting were linked, and are juxtaposed, here.


Anonymous Kieran said...

I actually think this is fair enough. It's a swapped medium. It's isn't like the songs because he takes a lyric and makes a lyric there. This is a photo he paints. An object for his painting.

Different action altogether...

12:50 pm  
Blogger edfinn said...

AS far as I know, nobody's ever complained about Andy Worhol's use of other photographers as a source for his Elvis, Marilyn prints etc...

12:16 am  
Blogger edfinn said...

Enough of this plagiarism nonsense - Dali drew a moustache on the Mona Lisa, Worhol used existing photographs of Elvis, Marilyn, etc for his famous's the 21st Century FFS!

12:19 am  
Anonymous Wiebke Dittmer said...


Further evidence of painting from photographs, Bob also used this image as found out by a commentator on Amy Crehore's blog.
"In this latest Asia Series he has also referenced or copied Magnum stalwart Bruce Gilden's Japan Asakusa, (1998) image:"
We don't know the title of Bob's painting yet, but you can clearly see it as one of the cover variations of the Asia Series catalogue.
Then of course, there's the appropriated cover of Life magazine that's shown among Bob's works on the Gagosian website. How much more? The press release, of course, said that Bob's recent tours in Asia inspired the new series. I'm beginning to think he must've looked at a lot of photos during those tours.

10:55 am  
Blogger Michael Gray said...

edfinn: it isn't as simple and straightforward as you make out.

I'm not arguing that what Dylan is doing is or isn't plagiarism, but it's a legitimate and interesting debate and your briskly calling it "nonsense" and adding "FFS" doesn't kill it off.

Nor does your argument about Dali and Warhol really help. All those images you mention - the Mona Lisa, the photographs of Monroe and Elvis - were and are extremely well-known images: everyone knew what was being referenced. In the case of the Dylan Opium painting, the 1915 photograph is about as unknown as any image can be. So it's a different matter altogether.

And by the way, it wasn't Dali, it was Marcel Duchamp who drew the moustache on the Mona Lisa.

11:12 am  
Anonymous Kieran said...

That's a good point, Michael, about the original photo being unknown, as opposed to being a cultural icon. It makes a diference, if Dylan is passing an ironic comment or even merely borrowing.

It also makes a difference if he's concealing his source and passing the content off as original. It isn't original content, but he's made an original painting from it. He probably should have given the painting the same name as the photo, in that case...

11:30 am  
Blogger edfinn said...

Hi Michael.

Oh, thanks, and Marcel Duchamp too. I was referring to Dali's Self Portrait as the Mona Lisa. The point I am making is simply that it doesn't really matter where these images are sourced from - the Asia series are paintings to be experienced and enjoyed (and indeed, sold) just as the songs of Bob Dylan or any other artist are.

Bob Dylan has never found it necessary to annotate his songs with source references. It's his process and he has indeed stated this on many occasions. Does all this sourcing and referencing expand and enhance our experience of them as art? I think not. An aspect of this plagiarism debate seems to suggest that Bob Dylan is trying to conceal his source material. Again, I think not. To be honest, I shouldn't think he cares too all that much about it anyway...

You may find the plagiarism debate "legitimate and interesting" because it's in your interest to support it - I find it disrespectful (if not indeed potentially dangerous) to a great and honoured artist.

'Let the bird sing, let the bird fly...'

2:10 pm  
Blogger Michael Gray said...

Hi again edfinn
I don't know what you mean by "it's in your interest to support" the plagiarism debate, or what's "potentially dangerous" about questioning some of the workings of "a great and honoured artist".

But that aside, you have now given us a real argument - ie that he's never annotated his song sources so he's behaving the same way when it comes to other forms.

I'm still uneasy about this. The re-use of old folk songs (or a Paul Clayton melody, or a Dave Van Ronk arrangement) in his folkie days was done when Bob was part of a community very familiar with the songs being re-worked.

As with Warhol's re-use of those famous images, the reference points were clear.

Your argument just doesn't address the distinction between re-working the well-known (without "annotations") and re-working obscure creative artefacts by other people without their ever getting a namecheck.

In the case of those early folk appropriations, Bob was on a par with the rest of the coffee-house performers in terms of his lack of power or money. Now he's the great and honoured artist and very rich. He may not find it "necessary to annotate" any of his borrowings but perhaps there's something slightly iffy when his borrowings are taken from the unrecognised, the un-honoured, the far less materially rewarded.

For this reason, of course, I don't think anyone should complain that he re-works a Life Magazine cover into a painting. . .

2:41 pm  
Anonymous Kieran said...

Thing of it is, why would he copy that picture at all? It's hardly original itself.

I think with songs his MO is so familiar that any charges of plagiarism are false: he knowingly lifts from other peoples work, and he knows his own work will be forensically examined and that these borrowings will be exposed. So either he's a stupid thief, or he's giving his audience the credit for knowing the difference.

With the picture, he's taken from one medium and planted it into another. That's not so bad, or uncommon. But I don't see why in the first place. The composition is too similar. If he was intrigued by the subject, then he could easily have made something of it but looking absolutely different to the photograph.

Unless, of course, he's hooked on this form of borrowing and loves to rework old stuff and bring it to the front again, a la his borrowings from Timrod...

3:17 pm  
Blogger Fred@Dreamtime said...

And another. Note the similarities between this 2008 photo of a Bangkok cockfight...

by Jacob Aue Sobol

and the Dylan cockfight painting which can be partially seen in this image...

8:53 pm  
Anonymous Elmer Gantry said...

My feeling about Bob and plagiarism is that he has crossed a line from the time of 'Love and Theft' onwards from what could be called 'creative' borrowing to simply taking without adding any real value to the original source.

So that, whereas in the old days, there could be little doubt that, say, "Don't think twice" was a superior song to 'Who's gonna buy your ribbons' and that "Blind Willie McTell' was as great (if not greater) a song as 'St. James' Infirmary' I find it hard to see what Bob's 'Rollin and Tumblin' adds to the original.

There were always ethical questions around some of bob's 'borrowing', especially from friends like Clayton and Van Ronk, but nowadays I don't think it can be justified even on artistic grounds.

4:19 am  

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