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Monday, 17 October 2016


I agree that lyrics aren't poetry, but there's popular music before Bob Dylan, and popular music after Bob Dylan. It was not the Beatles, not the Stones, not Leonard Cohen, but Bob who changed the dialogue of popular music in the English language. It's also worthwhile to remember that Bob was heavily influenced by the Symbolist poets, Rimbaud and Verlaine in particular. FWIW, I would wager that Dylan lyrics have been more influential than any published poet of the same period ... to the general public.

Is Bob worthy of a Nobel? I'm not going to say that out loud, but if influence (for the better I would argue) matters, out in the streets rather than in the classroom, I'm OK with it.

PS This comes from a fan of T.S.Eliot and Philip Larkin.

I totally agree with your annoyance over fame trumping hard-earned excellence. And photography is a field that is particularly vulnerable to that, especially since the advent of digital. With everyone snapping madly away (over 2 billion/day by some estimates) anyone is bound to get a few decent images. Those who organize exhibits want/need an audience and in a sea of photographs it is whatever is on the crests of the waves that gets attention, i.e. those who are already known, even if their fame is for something else, so it is understandable (but regrettable IMO) that the already famous dominate. It irritates the hell out of me too.

OTOH I don't entirely agree that Dylan wasn't a deserving recipient. I suspect that the breadth of his impact was as much a consideration as his actual words. I'm sure that there are authors whose writing may be more polished but, for whatever reason, didn't have the reach of Dylan's songs (which are poems set to music, the quality of his singing not withstanding). And I don't think it is an apt comparison to all the musicians, actors, etc. who are famous in their primary field tapping into that fame to get exhibits of their photography, painting or whatever. Dylan is essentially a writer. Writing is his field.

We live in a "star" society. Once upon a time, a long time ago, there were few photographers, few painters, sculptors, writers, etc. because life was demanding and few had the time and resources to pursue creativity. Perhaps the downside to the post-industrial revolution technology and relative prosperity is that while it democratizes creativity, the resulting flood of "Art" necessitates a system for determining what gets attention. I don't like the "fame" system but I'm not sure what the alternative would be. How would one otherwise sort through over 2 billion images a day?

Hmmm, not awarding the Nobel prize to someone just because the person is already famous? Don't agree with that. And yes, song writing can be poetry, and poetry is literature.

In the recent past, many writers were awarded the Nobel prize and they were already famous: Coetze, Pinter, Pamuk, Saramago, Lessing, Vargas Llosa, Grass, Modiano, Munro...

[Dylan isn't famous as a writer, that's my point. He's a bigger celebrity than any writer--arguably than any writer could be--because he's a singing star, and people are very serious about their passion for their favorite singers. So his celebrity trumps that of any "mere" writer. --Mike]

"As he prepares for his keynote talk at this week's Photo Plus Expo in New York, we spoke to Graham Nash about his career as a photographer, and his role in developing modern digital photographic printing." https://www.dpreview.com/interviews/1013098843/i-dont-use-my-camera-as-my-memory-we-interview-graham-nash

Very prescient Mike. Next thing you know someone will want to give the Nobel Peace Prize to a warmonger (actually they have done this several times).

Speaking of Annie https://youtu.be/oEhUo_hrAzs

BTW, fame is the name of the game. If the gallery owner has never heard of you, You won't get picked. It's not the gallerists fault that he never heard of you (generic meaning), it's yours. The best self promotors always win, in business and life.

Hi, Mike, I'm glad you said it because you said it better than I can. When the Nobel committee strays away from the hard sciences, things go easily pear-shaped. What was once an anticipated event, the announcement of Nobel prize winners, has become, for me, a curiosity that I no longer seek out. I seem unable to understand the reasoning that waters-down the awarding of honors to people for seemingly random reasons. Dylan is a sterling pop/rock (pick the genre that please you) musician and song writer. He has never produced literature. I've been listening, less and a lot less, to the musicians of the 1960's. I was a teenager in the 60's. Enough, already. Yes, it was a very interesting time. Yes, great soul/beat/rock/blues music came out of the Vietnam years, the racial segregation years–which a certain politician is, lamentably, revivifying. The "hippy" years, (I'm with Cartman, "God-damned hippies"). I like much of the music Bob Dylan brought out, but I don't listen to him anymore. After more than half a century, the music does not stand at the same level for me that it once did. None of them from that era are so good that I still want to hear them for more than the occasional nostalgic reason. The Nobel Prize is now, for me, a curiosity rather than a celebration of greatness of thought or accomplishment. Dylan is not Shakespeare. The attempt by the committee awarding the prizes to appear "edgy" is disheartening, geezers trying to be cool. We have enough wtf moments in life.

I know that some people think it's cool to h8t Ming Thein, but please read on.

I’ve also gone on record saying that diminishing returns diminishes vanishingly quickly at the high end: yes, the H6 is better than the H5, but we’re now talking about the 1% of the 1% – if I were to buy something with my own money, I pick the H5 – it’s a simple question of business economics and ROI. But if you’re I’ve also gone on record saying that diminishing returns diminishes vanishingly quickly at the high end: yes, the H6 is better than the H5, but we’re now talking about the 1% of the 1% – if I were to buy something with my own money, I pick the H5 – it’s a simple question of business economics and ROI. But if you’re Annie Leibowitz or Platon, and in the 1% of the 1%, then you already know what kind of tool you need. or Platon, and in the 1% of the 1%, then you already know what kind of tool you need. https://blog.mingthein.com/2016/10/17/off-topic-credibility/#more-13338

Why did Ming Thein pick Annie Leibowitz? I'm sue that there are other more deserving big-name commercial photographers he could have chosen ...

There is an argument for dropping someone famous into a group show: it gets punters in the door, and they hopefully get to see the work of the less famous.
But only one. And the Nobel is not a group show.

I agree with you in the case of the landscape photography show and others like it. But I have the impression that almost always Nobel Prizes go by definition to lads and lassies already very succesful and famous anyway. It is a prize for winners, a topping of cream on an already luxuriuos cake, not a long deserved recognition of a humble genius working in anonimity. Only very seldomly someone hitherto unknown outside informed circles is laureated - the lovely Polish poet Wislawa Szymborska comes to mind.

-Shrug- I understand how you feel, Mike although I don't care nearly as much as you seem to. But it's a private foundation accountable only to itself.

A few years ago another prestigious private foundation made a rare award to a photographer. I had become familiar with this photographer's work not many years before this award and, coincidentally, had personally met and talked with the photographer just a few months prior. I was flabbergasted by news of the award, as I didn't feel that either the photographer or the pretentious work were worth more than $20. I still don't. Surely, I thought, there are so many more deserving potential recipients out there.

Private foundation with private money following private guidelines and accountable to nobody but itself. Move along. Nothin' to see here.

Food for thought: http://www.latimes.com/books/jacketcopy/la-ca-jc-bookless-nobel-20161014-snap-story.html

Bull poo Poo, some photographers call themselves artists. Dylan, Springsteen, Morrison deserve this award too. gb.

I agree 100% with you about celebrities from one field entering another from the top of the pyramid, bit I think you're missing the point that the Nobel prize is not about talent, but rather about political and social influence.

If Dylan's influence is worthy of a Nobel is a matter of further discussion (I don't think he is).

Next year - Patti Smith.

I agree 100%. Celebrity trumps everything these days (I use the term advisedly).

And for the record, talking about exceptional landscape photography, check out Edward Burtynsky's aerial salt pan images.

These are very large scale images taken from a helicopter, but they look totally abstract from a distance. Only when you peer closely at the tiny details do you realise they are real photographs.

I still want to know how he achieved that much resolution from a helicopter, but the work is technically and artistically exquisite.

I couldn't agree with you more especially as one of the great 20century writers, alas now dead, Grahame Greene, was ignored. There does need to be a balance I feel.

I'm sorry, but the plagiarism issue really does preclude him from being a candidate for this prize. Re-purposing another's words for the purpose of making a catchy tune (and a boatload of money) I'm ok with. Getting the nobel prize for literature for doing so.....c'mon; that really cheapens the prize. If this continues, it may become irrelevant.

Just a few thoughts after reading the post and many of the comments:

Marten Collins - on the need for balance: 1 songwriter/poet; 112 others.

Geoff Wittig - on crowding out: I cannot believe that any novelist, non-fiction writer, or poet with sufficient talent to realistically dream of winning the Prize, would forego their passions because of one rare award to a songwriter/poet. Also, I believe that any any contemporaneous attention, by readers, critics, or the market is unlikely affected by the prospect that a writer might or might not win the Prize decades in the future.

While these points may have been more eloquently addressed in the other comments, as Stephen Sharf put it, “tl;dr.”

I am afraid awarding Bob Dylan may degrade Nobel Prize even further and rob it of any prestige that there's left.
Let's face it: the man can't sing. Put a goat in front of a microphone and the results will be very similar. Fifty years putting up with a guy who has no voice, no sense of timing and sings out of tune and, after all this time, award him a Nobel Prize? It's absurd. I believe even hardcore Dylan's fans will concur with me.
They say Bob Dylan created "new poetic expressions within the great American song tradition", but his lyrics are largely irrelevant, as they have no real depth. They're pop lyrics, that's all. Besides, the same could have been said of e. g. The Walkabouts (except that Carla Torgerson and Chris Eckman can sing). And Sufjan Stevens. And R. E. M. And lots of others. That doesn't justify the Nobel Prize. They awarded Bob Dylan because of his notoriety, and not because there are any special merits to his songs.
Was 2016 such bad year for the world literature that they felt they had to award Bob Dylan? Sorry, but that's akin to a selfie of a 16 teenage girl winning World Press Photo. Pop music can be enjoyable, but it stops right there. It's just entertainment.

"Dylan's 50-year engagement with the lyric form" is not analogous to Leibovitz's 46-year engagement with editorial celebrity portraiture, which she all but established as an accepted art form? ..

Indeed, but that's not what you critiqued her for; rather for playing at being a landscape photographer.
Were there a photography Nobel, then she would merit consideration alongside any other 'art' photographer - that is exactly my point.

Fair game to say that Dylan's lyrics are of insufficient merit to justify the prize, but to regard them as not literature - or to think fame disqualificatory - seems to me plain wrong.

Apparently Dylan hasn't responded to the Nobel committee's calls.

I believe that Bob Dylan deserves a Nobel Prize, or the equivalent, but I am stumped for the name of the category.

Sad article with a bitter taste

[Nope, wrong, neither sad nor bitter. --Mike]

This may be the first time I've disagreed with you so strongly, Mike. Dylan's sprawling,prolific body of work transcends songwriting. His words (if not his voice) have remained perfectly chosen and imaginatively potent. Working within the strictures of American folk blues and popular song isn't so different from working within the traditions of blank verse, short story or memoir.

Is Dylan's work literature? Take away all the words, and what have you got- a very tight and well-schooled bar band. It's words that set Dylan above his peers, and words are the currency of literature.

Agreed on Dylan: Agreed on Annie etc.: major problem: the folks who show up for these exhibits are being conned, no question; do they keep showing up or does somebody other than our beloved reviewer make the point he is making?, Add to the power of the review?
I quit exhibiting in shows that have multiple genres, ie. oil, sculpture, etc.

I do hope that is making a similar point.

I missed Dylan, or rather he missed me. I was probably born 15 years too late to think he was speaking to me, and then when I started looking backwards for "quality" I found other musical artists: Miles Davis, Sonny Rollins, even performers like Mel Tome (don't laugh...) or Sarah Vaughn who really sent me, and to whom I still listen. Bob Dylan? He just never did it for me, which is really not much of an argument when you get right down to it. What I love is when the prize, or any prize, goes to someone I have never heard of because I don't read as many books as I would like. And then there is that moment of immersion and discovery, which is, in the final analysis, what I require from all art. With Bob Dylan it is more like a test of endurance. And I agree that musical lyrics are not literature. But hey, when the Swedish Royal Academy call and asks for my opinion, I will be sure to weigh in. Now back to our regularly scheduled programming.

Nice to have you back in the saddle, Mike.

You're just mad at me for ditching Fuji and buying an A6500. :-)

You're right! Grrr!


Nah, I'm not, Mike. I'm a big believer in folks using whatever works for them; what's most important is a camera that makes you want to pick it up and get out and produce "work". And there's SO MUCH great gear out there these days it should be impossible to find something that doesn't inspire us to get out and shoot.

The principle reason for the tl;dr is Bob Dylan himself; personally never found anything he's done to be particular inspiring, so I'm with ya on your points about the Nobel. Why not Maya Angelou instead of Bob Dylan for example?

Best as always,

Annie did some things from a chopper in Monument Valley, for Conde Nast Traveler, but these are probably not the ones you have in mind?

Anyways, I love them. They're *all blurry*! Wonderful. I forget the story in detail, but it was something like she wanted a specific perspective, and then, well, helicopters vibrate. So there you go. The pictures sure don't look like anyone else's, and they capture a certain something.

And I'm no fan of Annie, although I find myself ever so gradually warming up.

I'll just second Kirk Tuck's comment about Dylan.

The Annie Leibovitz story made me laugh. Leibovitz has a terrific eye, but the problem is, the core of her photography involves pop celebrities (like John Beluchi -- she once took a photo of him standing on the side of a road, that I really loved.) So the core isn't a photograph, but an ephemeral personality, and when the personality fades away, the meaning bleeds from the photo. Meaning really shouldn't bleed out of a masterpiece in any genre.

As for the famous people thing, a well known television news personality did watercolors and drawings of hotel rooms he stayed in, and they were given a several-page spread in an art magazine. They were hilariously bad, and the letters to the editor a couple of months later really pounded that point home. I don't think that magazine has ventured anything similar since...

I don't consider Dylan a celebrity. Famous, yes. Celebrity, no. He was the equivalent of a "celebrity" around 1964/65 but not in 2016.

Honestly, to equate Dylan's contributions in his field with Annie Leibovitz's work is sorta insulting to Dylan.

Someone mentioned that the next Nobel prize for chemistry should go to Keith Richards.

I got several good minutes of belly-laugh out of that one.

Oh, and ... please don't use the word "trumped." At least until the elections are over. It is giving me a nasty allergic reaction these days, and I'm not even an American citizen.

1. if playwrights can win, so can song writers.
2. whoever is famous wins ? Really? Had you even heard of, let alone read: Svetlana Alexievich (2015), Patrick Modiano (2014), Alice Munro (2013), Mo Yan (2012), etc, etc, etc. Influential, yes. Important, yes. Famous, not really.
3. plagiarism? Mike, you gunna get sued - big time - I'd pull those posts asap.

Just heard over NPR that the Nobel Committee was having a hard time finding him.

LOL, because ... I always think of Dylan more as a writer and not much of a singer. Really. His singing voice never appealed to me, but his writing is a different story. BTW, I had one of his books titled, "Tarantula" many years ago, and remember it to be full of poetry.


I don't think Keif deserves the Nobel Prize for Chemistry (he outsourced all the lab work, sort of like Jeff Koons does with his art work) - but he's certainly in the running for the prize in Medicine.

Annie Leibovitz did not "establish celebrity portraiture as an established art form". That distinction, if it is one, probably goes to Edward Steichen.
Bob Dylan has done enough good work over a lifetime, influenced countless numbers of other artists, and bent enough genres to deserve the award.

>> Mike replies: Speaking of whom—Robert Frank, I mean, not Billy Collins—have you seen his Steidl book Paris? I missed it when it came out (in '08) but man, I really love it.

Mike, have you seen the "About the Author" description on your amazon link for that book? Do.

[He had accomplishments of which I was not aware!![g] --Mike]

I can't go as far as saying I "don't like" Dylan getting the Nobel, but it did take me a while to get my head around it.

I think my first articulate thought about it, as sheer bemusement began to fade, was: "aren't there deserving writers who could desperately use the money and the publicity, or the recognition?" My second, corollary thought was purely selfish: as a literature-loving former English major who no longer spends much time reading, I rely on the Nobel and other honors to highlight things that might be worth my time. I didn't need to be pointed to Dylan. I felt kinda gypped.

Does he deserve it? It never occurred to me that Dylan didn't deserve a Nobel prize, mostly because the idea was simply outlandish, like salt-flavored gelato, or formal sneakers. But I tried on the thought that he didn't deserve it, anyway, and it just didn't stick. The argument seemed to come down to categories, not merit. And sea salt is now my favorite gelato flavor.

Another misgiving was Dylan's infamously curmudgeon-like deflections and obfuscations when it came to helping anyone understand his art. But that's irrelevant, too, really, as he kept insisting.

And yet, I felt tickled, and a smidge pleased, and maybe I should take a look at why. Maybe I should try to look at Dylan as a writer, what his art means to me and others, and what exactly is that art, anyway? Why does some his work touch me so deeply? Maybe I should reconsider what the Nobel Prize is and does, while I'm at it. I needn't bore anyone with how that's going at this early stage, but I don't mind going there.

The notion that there's some cynical trade in celebrity and cred' going on is all wet, by the way. The Nobel is as shiny as it gets--it's a celebrity in its own right; it doesn't need to borrow anyone's prestige, and that's because it never needed to and never has played that game. Or am I just old and naive? Anyway, it is indeed a cynical take, and I think meritless in this case.

I haven't worked it out yet. But part of my emerging acceptance is that, while Dylan certainly didn't need this to happen, perhaps I did. It's a pretty dark time right now, and the award was oddly cheering. It reminds me that there were other dark times, and we got through them, and a lot of good came out of the horror and misery, and it reminds me that the fight never ends.

And what a soundtrack for those times, that surely and by many accounts helped people understand and get perspective on events, that lit the path. Even when those songs simply articulated doubt and fear and anger, they linked those feelings to a long and feisty and soulful--and collective--tradition. It speaks to me, apparently, here and now, and I'll take it. I need it.

And possibly, too, the prize committee is recognizing that literature needn't be defined as it was in the 19th century and is elbowing itself some room. Why not?

Still mulling it over...

Not sure I get all the slings and arrows being tossed directly at Dylan. It's not like the man nominated himself for the award, nor did he campaign for himself over other candidates. He didn't put out splashy ads, nor ask for his fans to vote for him via Twitter. He didn't demean nor insult other literature candidates (can't say the same thing about many who are deriding the award). Indeed, the whole process, from consideration to nomination to voting, is the doing of the Nobel committee and theirs alone. Sounds like a lot of TOP readers would benefit from doing some MORE reading: https://www.nobelprize.org/nomination/. Or maybe just doing more complete reading.

Dylan's thing is his music. That's it. How any creative person can argue against that is beyond me. One might not like the result, but creative people ought to support each other. There are plenty others out there trying to tear creative folks down.

Yes, I'm a Dylan fan. Where I think he excels, fwiw, are his songs dealing with love and all the many complex facets of relationships. Love requited and unrequited, love longed for and love spurned. I can't think of an artist who so eloquently captures (or captured) the angst and pain, the joy and pleasure, and the ephemeral quality of love better than Dylan.

But, that is just, like, my opinion, man. Like all the others expressed here.

It's not the Nobel peace prize and not the Nobel prize for being famous. It's the Nobel prize for literature and he deserves it.

I would argue that the Nobel Prize is more about the effect someones work has had on others rather than being awarded a trophy for their own self interest.

Paul Simon, one of my personal favorites, said in the American Masters documentary on PBS that without Bob Dylan paving new ground in the early sixties that none of the other activist singer / songwriters would have had access to commercial radio.That genre of music affected the entire decade both here and abroad and Dylan's lyrics continue to inspire new generations of activists.Their relevancy today 50+ years later cannot be denied.

It is also important to remember what the state of popular culture was in the early 60's. It may come as a surprise to those of you old enough to remember that the gatekeeper of popular music, what got played on the radio and disseminated to a wide audience, was Mitch "follow the bouncing ball" Miller. Yes the bandleader at CBS Records and adored by your grandparents had final say in many cases on who got recorded. For Dylan to make it past that obstacle probably deserves its own reward.

I dare to slightly disagree here. The Nobel Price was IMHO never intended to raise awareness, it was always considered as a Price given to already established artists. Herta Mueller, Orhan Pamuk, Le Clezio or Elfriede Jelinek were established writers in their respective regional and cultural locations, amd the price did raise their presence internationally.

You don't particularly like Dylan, but I submit his body of work is unquestionably worthy of the recognition. Some people did (do)not like Steinbeck, some people did (do) not like Dario Fo. That's o.k. Next time I'm sure the literature prize will be awarded to a novelist, whose work I may not like, and/or may never read.

Why I think Dylan Should Get the Nobel Prize:

There's a significant opinion out there that suggests that Bob Dylan should not have won the Nobel prize for literature. The reason for awarding it to Dylan, given by the Nobel committee, was "for having created new poetic expressions within the great American song tradition."

Exactly. This man, so well (self)schooled in traditional American folk music, took the form, blew it apart and reassembled it into imagery and poetry so far beyond the scope of the original that we can, in 2016, scarcely remember what it was like before.

Um, yeah, he deserves it.

Wow - I'm actually going to comment TWICE on my week's visit to TOP. And I couldn't agree more with Mike's POV, although I disagree a bit about fame. Yes, idiot sons, wives, and actors sometimes get elected, but in some cases it's in spite of their fame, not because of it. Perhaps Dylan is that special case much like Reagan and Hillary.

Then again, he could be a George W. Bush too. I'm not familiar enough with his work, but I do know my wife and she adores Dylan and thinks its well deserved.

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