Controversy over Bob Dylan's use of reference photos in his paintings



On September 7, Amy Crehore posted the two images above on her blog, Little Hokum Rag. She wrote:

Top photograph (an autochrome) was taken by Leon Busy around 1915 in French Indochina. Bottom image is a painting called "Opium" by Bob Dylan (2010) from the Gagosian Gallery website. 

Looks like Bob Dylan used the Leon Busy photo as a reference for his painting.

Amy told me, "That blog post started a debate and lots of traffic from Dylan fan site.
Now it has become a NY Times article."

The NY Times article, which ran on September 26, reports that people upset that Dylan is using old photos as reference material. A Dylanologist named Michael Gray was quoted in the article:

The most striking thing is that Dylan has not merely used a photograph to inspire a painting: he has taken the photographer's shot composition and copied it exactly. He hasn't painted the group from any kind of different angle, or changed what he puts along the top edge, or either side edge, or the bottom edge of the picture. He's replicated everything as closely as possible. That may be a (very self-enriching) game he's playing with his followers, but it's not a very imaginative approach to painting. It may not be plagiarism but it's surely copying rather a lot.

I don't see anything wrong with Dylan's use of reference photos in his paintings. I'm on the side of a commenter at a Bob Dylan fansite, Expecting Rain, who wrote, "'quotation' and 'borrowing' are as old as the hills in poetry, traditional songs, and visual art."

Dylan Paintings Draw Scrutiny