Nobel Laureate Bob Dylan’s entire career has been a struggle with interpreters, those who want to ascribe meaning to him in ways that make him notably uncomfortable — see his refusal to make a fuss over his Nobel.
But sometimes he offers us a glimpse into his thought process. In an essay that introduces a new exhibition of his paintings opening in London (yep, he paints, in addition to sculpting gates), he reflects on this tension between interpretation and creation as a way of explaining why he chose mostly landscapes for the subject of his series of paintings. He begins with an anecdote about being with The Band on tour, years after they were booed by audiences everywhere, and watching fans hold up matches and lighters in the audience:
Every one of us on the stage thought that we’d really done it this time—that the fans were going to burn the arena down. Obviously we were wrong. We misinterpreted and misunderstood the reaction of the crowd. What we believed to be disapproval was actually a grand appreciative gesture. Appearances can be deceiving.
For this series of paintings, the idea was to create pictures that would not be misinterpreted or misunderstood by me or anybody else.
Dylan’s explanation of the exhibit’s themes is extremely straightforward: “The common theme of these works having something to do with the American landscape—how you see it while crisscrossing the land and seeing it for what it’s worth,” he explains early on. And he also concisely describes his technical efforts and how they connect to the meaning: “An attempt was made to depersonalize the works—strip them of illusion. All the work is exclusively placed in non-exotic settings within a rationally defined space. The focus points are important and sometimes unusually placed. Background and foreground not easily defined.” The essay provides an interesting chance for an artist who has been imbued with mystery explain his process (for a different art form!) in a totally non-enigmatic, understandable way. It seems like the great poet, songwriter and artists just wants to create without being burdened by the cultural weight that’s been assigned to him.