Most successful music artists have an array of skills. They balance voice, looks, songwriting ability and musical talent in just the right way to attract the attention of an executive and later, the general public. Now and again though, someone succeeds simply because he or she is so overwhelmingly good at one thing. With a never ending series of wild haircuts and an unconventional voice, Bob Dylan rode his brilliant lyrics to immortality. His words were so pointed and honest, his message so genuine, yet aggressive. No one would ever accuse Bob Dylan, the singer, of not having a point of view, but unfortunately, Bob Dylan, the painter, is a whole ‘nother story.

The seventy year old icon opened his latest art show on September 20th at the Gagosian Gallery in New York City to much fanfare, but many visitors have been troubled by its lack of originality. In fact, several have even accused Dylan of plagiarizing. The exhibit was supposed to showcase Dylan’s visions of Asia, as he experienced through his trips to Japan, China, Vietnam and Korea, but several of the paintings seem to be at least based off the well-known photographs of others. Take a look at Dylan’s painting “Opium” followed by Leon Busy’s photograph “Woman Smoking Opium”.

You remember that scene in Finding Forrester in which the kid used Sean Connery’s first paragraph as a jumping off point? This seems to be a little more pronounced than that. The shading, the colors and some of the details are a bit different, but it seems ludicrous that Dylan didn’t at least credit Leon Busy as his inspiration.

I’m not sure painting someone else’s photographs actually breaks any laws, but it still seems like shady business. The above picture isn’t the only example either. The New York Times did another comparison with Dylan’s “Trade” and a Henri Cartier-Bresson picture, and it may actually be even closer to a rehash.

I’m all for celebrities trying their hands at other artistic pursuits, but you need to recognize the work that came before you. No one likes a thief, and even if Dylan hasn’t plagiarized, he certainly stood on other people’s shoulders. Just include a footnote. It’s as simple as that. No one expects a musician to be the next Monet. Expectations are low. Just have fun and be honest.

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