Bob Dylan: Art plagiarist?

Categories: Art, Bob Dylan
Bob Dylan's artwork is on display in a Lower East Side gallery in NYC this month, giving fans a chance to take "a visual journey" through Bob Dylan's life through paintings that the gallery says are inspired by Dylan's travels and provide "firsthand depictions of people, street scenes, architecture and landscape." 

But the collection has already come under fire from art critics who claim that some of the works are plagiarized from well-known photographs.

Naturally, this whole controversy has directed even more attention to Dylan's art exhibit while longtime Dylanophiles are supposing that this may just be another trick that the ever-mysterious musical icon is playing on us all.

For comparison, check out this painting by Dylan called "Opium," which was one of the pieces used to advertise the exhibit:


Art historians were quick to point out that the painting is an almost exact copy-paste of a photo by Léon Busy called "Woman Smoking Opium":

Another painting in the exhibit, "Trade," very closely resembles a 1948 photograph by Henri Cartier-Bresson.

Though Dylan has declined to answer questions about his paintings, the NYC gallery hosting the exhibit, Gagosian Gallery, issued a statement about the controversy: "While the composition of some of Bob Dylan's paintings is based on a variety of sources, including archival, historic images, the paintings' vibrancy and freshness come from the colors and textures found in everyday scenes he observed during his travels."

Read more about the new exhibit and Dylan's supposed art plagiarism in the New York Times.

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Dude Skoodle
Dude Skoodle

The wonderful river scene in Shakespeare's Antony and Cleopatra was lifted word for word from another source. The Sermon on the Mount has an Egyptian source. Joni Mitchell's self portrait lifts the style very plagiaristically from Van GOGH'S earless self portrait.Photorealism (not what Dylan did) is a slide photo projected onto a canvas and basically coloured in. Nobody says that is plagiarism. Why? Because the artist took the slide photo him/herself and basically plagiarises reality cheatingly from a snapshot they themselves took. But isn't that worse than what Dylan did in the Asia series? Dylan has actually hand painted a scene he saw in a photo. So what? Whats the difference between seeing a chair four feet away and painting it and seeing the chair in a photo and painting it? Bob doesn't claim to be a great painter and he is right. He is not- its a hobby for him. But he is a great song writer. Basically his genre is the blues- which is an art form of appropriating and changing other blues songs. EVERY blues singer from Robert Johnson to Mississippi John Hurt has done this. Whole generations of songwriters have totally ripped off Bob's style and highly original phrasing- also his mystique and persona (surely a form of intellectual property).Dylan was highly influenced by other songs, but his very greatest and most iconic tracks are pretty much untraceable (eg Ballad of a Thin Man, Sad eyed Lady of the Lowlands and Like a Rolling Stone). To accuse the most ripped off songwriter in history of being a plagiarist is quite mean spirited, especially when he has been quite open about being "influenced" and derivative. See the sleeve notes of Freewheelin".By the way the photographers (button clickers who got lucky) whom Dylan used as very transparent inspiration for his hobby, will benefit greatly fame and recognition-wise from Dylan 's fame. The civil war poet Timrod was never heard of until Dylan used him in Modern Times. The author of the Japanese Yakuza book was grateful and thrilled that Bob Dylan had publicised his book.Lay off the old fellow. He is an old man who has given us so much- give him a break!


Dylan's penchant for plagiarism has come up before.  His 2001 album "Love and Theft" was widely reported to have lifted lines from a fairly obscure Japanese book called "Confessions of a Yakuza".

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