Friday 28 October 2016

Nobel's Dylan Dilemma

Blowing in the Wind
colour pencil on Stonehenge
30” x 44”
C. Ascher

It’s the big buzz these days: Bob Dylan was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature this year. Imagine that! Speculation and controversy have of course resulted - imagine, popular culture getting the nod from an exclusive organization often accused of being elitist (the divide between ‘the great’ and ‘the common’ has never been wider, with the latter edging the former back by sheer numbers, though in either case, it’s money that keeps the tug-of-war going).

Now, everyone’s on about Bob Dylan’s refusal to acknowledge the Nobel prize. It doesn’t surprise me. He is an artist, not ‘a performer’ in the do-what-everyone-expects sense of that word.. There has always been a huge dilemma for artists created by 1) the conflict between art for its own sake and commerce; 2) the very tricky relationship between personal truth and mass appeal; 3) peer recognition when it is re and mis-directed into competition and one-upmanship in endless awards ceremonies’; 4) the appropriation of celebrity and fame by those with political agendas or the desire to associate themselves with (buy?) success or credibility.

The Beatles stopped touring when they were overwhelmed by fan adulation, having come to a place as creators when they were more interested in music as a form of research and in pushing their own boundaries than becoming more and more peoples’ fantasies. They wanted to control their work, not be controlled in their work.

Artist can begin their careers wanting recognition and praise, they may be competitive with others of their art, but these are more about confirming that what they are creating is bigger than themselves. Once that is established, they turn their attention more and more to growing, evolving and mastering their vision. They have to, or they become little more than manufacturers, repeating formulas for mass consumption. This is what makes great artists greater, not awards that in the end mean nothing if they come with strings - and the Nobel comes with huge strings, not least of which to force artists who don’t need that kind of validation into ethical dilemmas relative to politics and money.

Dylan doesn’t need to explain his actions. Let people interpret them as they are free to interpret his lyrics. That’s what poetry is about isn’t it? That’s what art is about. If the Nobel people don’t get that then what’s the point of their awards?