Bob Dylan: musician,author, painter… plagiarist?

Minnesota troubador Bob Dylan is causing a stir in the New York gallery scene.

Evidently his paintings, now on display at the Gogosian Gallery, were billed as “painted from life” from his travels in Asia, when really they should have been billed as “painted from Life magazine.” His paintings are almost exact copies of old photographs, some of which are in the public domain, some not.


On the left, Bob Dylan’s painting “Opium”; on the right a photograph by Léon Busy, taken in Vietnam in 1915.

Images from Gogosian Gallery and Musee Albert Kahn, respectively, via ARTINFO

The evidence is overwhelming – click here to see a slideshow of the paintings next to the photographs at ArtInfo – and it’s also not the first time Dylan’s been accused of plagiarism, according to NPR reporter Joel Rose:

A song from his 2001 album, Love and Theft, lifted these lines from the Junichi Saga novel Confessions of a Yakuza:

My old man, he’s like some feudal lord

He’s got more lives than a cat

I’ve never seen him quarrel with my mother even once

Things come alive or they fall flat

Dylan was also caught borrowing quotes and anecdotes from Mark Twain, Marcel Proust, Jack London and a host of other sources in his memoir, Chronicles: Volume One.

Fans and critics largely defended him in those cases, but this time even some longtime Dylan watchers are dismayed

Michael Gray, a blogger and author of the Bob Dylan Encyclopedia, says he’s disappointed about what Dylan has presented as his own work.

“Lots of people paint from photographs,” he says. “But … the entire composition, the exact composition of a painting — Dylan has copied that. That just seems to me to betray a lack of ideas, a lack of originality about the whole thing.”

Neither Dylan nor the Gagosian would grant interviews for this story, and the gallery no longer claims that the show is based solely on Dylan’s travels in Asia.

What do you think? Is Dylan using the show as an opportunity to put on a performance, and challenge our ideas of what’s original? Or is he simply making money off of other people’s images?