This has been a week of cultural activity wherein, issues of gender equality, violence against women and the 1960’s icon Bob Dylan were somehow juxtaposed in the midst of an increasingly noisy political moment.

Bob Dylan was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature, a gesture that has angered some and exhilarated others. Bob Dylan is purported to have said, “A song should be heroic enough to stand the test of time.”

The same may be said of other works of art, cultural or political gestures. Since the 1960’s Dylan has exploded American songwriting, combining poetry, psychedelic imagery, Beat aesthetics, and collage techniques inspired by the Dadaists, (by cutting out phrases from magazines and then pasting them together finding accidental poetry along the way) into a decidedly heroic form of social commentary. Inside of Dylan’s early work was a deeply felt critique of American hypocrisy (especially during the war in Vietnam) that also ventured into similar critiques of religion, education and humanity in general. At times, his musical persona veered into the territory of Surrealism.

David Hajdu, a music critic for The Nation (who has written extensively about Bob Dylan) in speaking about the award going to Dylan noted, “It’s literature, but it’s music, it’s performance, it’s art, it’s also highly commercial…The old categories of high and low art, they’ve been collapsing for a long time, but this is it being made official.”

Often called the poet laureate of the rock era, Dylan’s music evolved over the years. As it did, his audience became uneasy, expressing a desire for the “old” Bob Dylan, rather than the evolutionary Dylan. This is an example of how artists become the projection of a viewer’s desire for stability and dependability. We want art to look like art and we want artists to make art that is the kind of art we expect them to make.

Continued next week…

Douglas Rosenberg
Chair of Art