When I Paint My
Masterpiece: What Sort of
Artist Is Bob Dylan?
All art constantly aspires towards the condition of music
… In music, then, rather than in poetry, is to be found the
true type or measure of perfected art… Life itself is con-
ceived as a sort of listening—listening to music, or the reading
of Bandello's novels, to the sound of water, to time as it flies.
It was an artistic challenge to see if great art can be done on
a jukebox… “Dylan” proved it can.
In 1997, the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts selected Bob Dylan as one of the year's five honorees, placing him in the company of past recipients Aaron Copland, Leonard Bernstein, Arthur Miller, Fred Astaire, and Martha Graham. Dylan was now a certified as a real artist, not just a pop musician. The status of artist may seem trivial in an age when the word is applied to anyone who makes a record or has a bit part in a movie, but the Kennedy Center Honors were established to
1 Walter Pater, “The School of Giorgione,” The Renaissance: Studies in Art and
Poetry, Library Edition (London: Macmillan, 1922), pp. 135, 139, 151.
2 Quoted in Ralph J. Gleason, “The Children's Crusade,” in Craig McGregor,
ed., Bob Dylan: A Retrospective, (New York: Morrow, 1972), p.185; the essay
originally appeared in Ramparts, 1966.