Friday, June 13, 2008
A friend in the art business is very sad about the exhibition of Bob Dylan paintings. 'I mean they're all right, but you know... I wish he hadn't.' He feels Dylan has let himself down, even made a fool of himself; above all, he has been uncool. He worships Dylan, of course, both the man and the singer-songwriter. He sees him, as many do, as lying beyond criticism - like Shakespeare, Dylan is not just better than others, he is not even the best, he is the thing itself. I sympathise, I've been there myself, but I am untroubled by the paintings for the simple reason that Dylan has always combined the sublime with the ridiculous. If, for example, you think the paintings are not quite up to scratch, try listening to Empire Burlesque. And if you think that all aspects of his life should reflect his inner cool, what about the fact that he plays golf, a game that exemplifies all that is uncool? (It may not be true that he plays, I vaguely heard it some years ago and briefly lost the will to live. Anyway, it makes the point.) Dylan is a great artist, but he is seldom perfect and that, in fact, is the point of the man. He doesn't stand back and, after much careful thought, emit flawless jewels of art; he rushes in and flings out whatever seems right to him at that moment. It works - much of his greatest work is made greater by its roughness. Every so often - The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll, I Want You, Sign on the Window - he is perfect, but perfection is not necessary. He would still be great without those songs. In his art as in his life, he spends a lot of time dabbling in the uncool. So do I, so do you. To misquote Beckett, the artist is he who dares to be uncool as no others dare to be uncool.
Posted by Bryan Appleyard at 4:17 am