Pass it Around

"If I made records for my own pleasure, I would only record Charley Patton songs." - Bob Dylan

Bob Dylan Paints Just Like a Painter

Now there is a big hoo-dada over questions that Dylan's paintings at Gagosian are copied from old masters...or less old and lesser masters anyway. Sheesh. Why won't they let this guy alone. His 50 year contribution to our culture isn't enough?

If we were to list the painters who used photographs or other source material for their paintings, we would never get out of the room. Much ado about nothing, and that the questions are being raised by folks who do not paint is obvious. Just as there are no new jokes in the world, there are pretty much no new paintings. The whole point of art school and studying art is to learn how to replicate accurately.

Walk through MOMA and start with the pop artists. How do you think those comic book panels now worth millions were made? But it didn't start in the 60s.

In fact, sometimes paintings are literally painted OVER existing images. How many great paintings in museum collections even actually have a photograph under them? A question art scholars do not often pursue and museums do not want to know.
So called "crayon portraits" were common in the years before color photography. The dreadful things still appear like zombies at antique malls. Hopeful offspring and relatives lug the beasts (Victorian frames and all) to experts everyday thinking they have a family masterpiece. All they have is a photograph exposed in emulsion briefly, "skillfully" covered over in charcoal to hide the faint photographic lines, and grazed with pastel to create a "lifelike" colorful dust catcher for the wall. You have certainly seen them. They always travel in pairs. The fellow has a beard and the woman looks glum.

A similar practice continues today. You've seen those "Bring your family photographs back to life" ads? One of the tools at their disposal.

The 2001 book "Vermeer's Camera: Uncovering the Truth behind the Masterpieces" by Philip Steadman makes it clear at least one master's hyper-realistic paintings were based on a base of camera obscura. If I owned a Vermeer, I would be inclined to dispute the findings, but I wouldn't lean in and look too closely either. One can easily speculate his work may be the tip of an antique art fraud iceberg.
We may learn the camera has had a far larger influence on painting than thought. One day, a portable x-ray could be as common at the auction houses as a loupe and a black light.

ohn Kane (the first major self-taught painter to be recognized by a museum, on this side of the pond anyway) was an "everyman" painting genius. That is until it was discovered he painted over discarded photographic images. Suddenly the authentic naive and common man was a common authentic fake. A wire story of June 1931 disclosed some 5 works by the artist at the Carnegie Exhibition were actually colored photographs. Kane, a genuine primitive, didn't even know artists weren't supposed to cheat like that, and apparently readily admitted the practice. His career continued, but he died as penniless as he was before being discovered.

I didn't look far to find the examples of Vermeer and Kane. The number of contemporary artists who use photographs (first projecting the image onto a canvas rather than painting over an actual exposure) is too large to count. Most don't hide it, but they don't go out of their way to share it either.

Remember those advertisements in comic books with projectors to help one paint anything? Believe me, they are still in use and by some of the finest and most famous artists working today. Magic Enlargers. "Throw anything on the wall and draw BIG!)

Just like the carnival, the music business, and I suppose even the ice follies, the art world is often a sleazy, crooked business. But there are far greater scams to find.