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When Bob Dylan became an art critic

There are many reasons to love Bob Dylan. He’s one of the best songwriters in history, a poet of standards that are of an age long since passed, possessing a sharp intellect that puts many of his peers to shame. Even at the ripe age of 81, the Minnesota native brings much to the table and has something to say, still leading by example after 60 years of invariably doing so. 

One of the most notable facets of Dylan‘s career is that aside from being one of the modern era’s greatest songwriters is that he’s a polymath, an unrelenting creative who has tried his hand at a myriad of mediums with much success. Whether it be as a visual artist, author or filmmaker, Dylan’s definitive creative vision is one that assumes many forms, raising the bar for artists of all walks of life in the process.

Clearly, Dylan understands art deeply, and his multi-disciplinary aptitude is informed by an educated and well-read intellect, and one that has an innate desire to expand and to make a mark on everything he comes across. 

Duly, then, it won’t come as a surprise to you to heed that the ‘Blowin’ in the Wind’ author has a lot to say on art as a whole, and once when he was at his creative zenith in the mid-1960s, he briefly became an art critic, offering up some incisive observations about the nature of paintings and museums, and why he believes art museums specifically are an obsolete relic of the past. 

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Speaking to Nora Ephron and Susan Edmiston in the summer of 1965 in the office of his manager Albert Grossman, Dylan had just entered a critical juncture in his career, as he’d just made the segue intro electrified rock. He abandoned the acoustic folk of his early days for a more contemporary sound, something that in retrospect proved to be a pivotal decision for the longevity of his career. At the time of the interview, Dylan had just been booed at his Forest Hills Stadium concert with many in the audience incensed by his new sound. 

A slightly surreal description of the troubadour on the day reads: “He was wearing a red-and-navy op-art shirt, a navy blazer and pointy high-heeled boots. His fact, so sharp and harsh when translated through media, was then infinitely soft and delicate. His hair was not bushy or electric or Afro; it was fine-spun soft froth like the foam of a wave. He looked like an underfed angel with a nose from the land of the Chosen People.”

After speaking about everything from music to poetry and even the class system in England, the focus then turned to other art forms. The interviewer initiated this course by saying: “I think you started out to say that music was more in tune with what’s happening than other art forms.”

Offering up a profound take, Dylan replied: “Great paintings shouldn’t be in museums. Have you ever been in a museum? Museums are cemeteries. Paintings should be on the walls of restaurants, in dime stores, in gas stations, in men’s rooms. Great paintings should be where people hang out…You can’t see great paintings.”

He continued: “You pay half a million and hang one in your house and one guest sees it. That’s not art. That’s a shame, a crime…All this art they’ve been talking about is nonexistent. It just remains on the shelf. It doesn’t make anyone any happier. Just think how many people would really feel great if they could see a Picasso in their daily diner. It’s not the bomb that has to go, man, it’s the museums.”  

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