what is a Bob Dylan?

I was recently involved in a whiskey fueled discussion about how intention shapes art. More specifically the discussion hinged on the question…
Without intent can art exist?
My answer was of course it can. When Kodak invented super glue they were trying to create plastic. The found out that they created glue. Then they discovered that this glue could be used in hospitals to stop bleeding and close wounds, amazing stuff really. Anyway how would you classify super glue? Is it a glue even though the intent was to create a plastic? I say yes. Is it a medical supply because it is effective at that purpose? I say yes again. Is it a plastic because that is what the intent was? I would say no, it is not an effective plastic. In this example intent has very little effect on our classification of something.
So how can I relate this to music?
Well allow me to delve deeper into this discussion. I have been on a huge Dylan kick as of late. Maybe the past 15 years or so. We were listening to Bobby D and I made a statement similar to “Bob Dylan is a poet.” This is the moment when things started to veer toward argumentative.
My counterpart responded with contempt. His view seemed to revolve around how that the term POET is used to regularly to describe any artist people feel “speaks” to them. He continued on to say that music cannot be considered poetry because it has been written as music. Despite my attempts to convince him that many songs were probably written as poems, or at least as words with no musical accompaniment. That didn’t take however. The counter-argument to my point still remained: if you are not meaning to be a poet, can you be a poet?
Name one painter that has every created a painting meaning to create something else? I’m serious, if you can let me know, you would really help me out. I was trying to think of a sculptor that “accidentally” created a sculpture. (My whiskey fueled thoughts continuously pictured a hillbilly and some sort of tractor experiment going horribly awry and ending with some sort of broken tractor related sculpture. Welcome to my mind everyone.) It seems that every filmmaker knew he was filming something, and therefore attempting to make at least some sort of film. My argument was losing ground. It seems for me to be right poetry would have to be different than most art forms.
On to photography. Does your run of the mill newspaper photographer, who gets paid to go out and photograph a new restaurant, or the scene of a crime, fall into the category of an artist? Think about it. They are absolutely a photographer, both in principle and according to the tax office, but is what they are creating considered art? Photography is a tough one because it is SO widespread. Are the “pics” taken by a drunk sorority girl at a party considered art? What about when a two year old grabs a camera and snaps away? Art? My answer to this is no, photographs are not inherently art.
I want to clarify that I am not talking about “good art” here. I understand that opinions on art do not dictate if it is art or not. So what does? It seems that we are continuously coming back to the question of intent. So are Bob Dylan songs poetry?
I’ve been playing the guitar/banjo for six years now. I have picked out new rhythms and put basic words to them. I feel I have a basic understanding of music. I appreciate music. I have never recorded anything. I have never played a true gig. I don’t consider myself to be particularly talented. Am I a musician? This business of labeling is getting tough.
So the definition of a musician is:
{mu-si-cian. Noun – One who composes, conducts, or performs music, especially instrumental music.}
So Bob Dylan is a musician, that was never in doubt. Poet?
{po-et. Noun – 1. A writer of poems 2. One who is especially gifted in the perception and expression of the beautiful or lyrical.}
I still say yes.
The “song” Last Thoughts on Woody Guthrie was released on Bob Dylan – The Bootleg Series vol. 1-3 and is Bob Dylan reading his last thought on the late Woody Guthrie. This is a poem, no ifs, ands, or stanzas. This was the only example of poetry composed by Dylan that I could conjure up during the conversation. How many poems before you are a poet? How many songs before your a musician? How many times must the cannon balls fly before they are forever banned? I suspect that debate will never subside but let me announce that I feel it is one. If you write one single poem you are now a poet. If you invent one gadget you are now an inventor. There is no need to pigeon hole people into one category or another, although that practice is very commonly practiced.
I think the need to limit labels is a fabrication of people who devote significant portions of their lives to an art form. For instance I am a sea captain. I would prefer it if I were the only sea captain on this planet. Every time there is a new sea captain my accomplishment gets slightly less significant. The same is true for college graduates. That slacker cheating their way through school next to you directly devalues your education and hard work.
I feel in the same sense lovers of poetry would like to restrict the label to people who devote greater portions of their lives to the art. Obviously there are multiple levels of poets, my high school poetry teacher is less of a poet than Hemingway, but they are both poets in their own right, along with every student that has taken a poetry class and written a poem. Maybe I will write a later article about the stratification of artists, or the American Poet, Jim Morrison.

I will leave you with some labels that can be applied to Mr. Bob Dylan:

  • human

  • male

  • father

  • son

  • husband

  • Minnesotan

  • musician

  • guitar player

  • harmonica player

  • Jew