Can musicians be visual artists too?

Written by Arts, Music

Katie Myers discusses the artwork by Bowie, Bob Dylan and Ronnie Wood,  and if musicians can really transcend their influence, and produce worthy art.

Art is, and should be, subjective. But is subjectivity possible for a painting with Bob Dylan’s name stamped on it? Can the paintings of famous musicians stand alone as credible pieces of art, and not just an extension of said-artists name and career?

November 5 brought the opening of “The Beaten Path,” the latest exhibition of artwork by Bob Dylan at Halycon gallery in London. The collection is a series of paintings depicting scenes from across America: a Los Angeles theatre, a scene from downtown New York, and an abandoned motel, are all sights captured by Dylan. Whether you think his paintings are good or not, how relevant are Dylan’s portrayal of New York to us as viewers? I won’t deny Dylan as a good artist; his work has depth and vision. His paintings have a sense of movement that give these everyday scenes a whimsical quality. But I’m just not sure I can see the artwork in any other way than Dylan telling me to look at some random motel. Anyway, why Bob Dylan? Who gave you the authority to do that? I’m sure he isn’t spending his time on the road in motels anyway, is all I’m saying.

I stumbled across a selection of The Rolling Stones’ Ronnie Wood’s work displayed in Castle Fine Art gallery in London, and admittedly was pretty impressed. Wood has completed an entire range of paintings of the Stone’s members. It’s a nod to his name, and what his name has brought him. His identity is as a band member, and this is not ignored here but embraced: the result is memorabilia at its finest. His paintings are done in an eclectic show of colour and the Stones as performers are brought to life though a whole new artistic vision. His website portfolio shows the work of a very capable and diverse artist; Wood supposedly received formal art training before pursuing a career in music, so perhaps this makes him more qualified to milk his superstar title for all it’s worth.

“But at what point does the musician transcend their title of musician to become all round ‘artist’ when everything they create under their name is credible and worth our attention?

David Bowie was another enthused art collector and painter in his time. On Thursday 10 November his personal art collection was put to auction, which included a painting he produced with Damien Hurst. Bowie’s own paintings in his expressionist style are individualist and sensational in their design. There are a couple of self-portraits, but mostly they cover a range of more personal and abstract range of topics. They are quite a diverse and effective range of paintings, but I still find that I can’t view these paintings in suspension to Bowie’s name. And it’s kind of a shame; the greatness of his name sort of makes us cast a second, potentially harsher judgement on what is (of would have been) good artwork.

It’s okay to be multi-talented, sure. Painting on the weekends, doodling in a notebook, we’ve all done it. But at what point does the musician transcend their title of musician to become all round ‘artist’ when everything they create under their name is credible and worth our attention? Has this not become bad representation for what art is really about? Maybe the famous musician’s art careers are best kept exclusively for their own exhibitions, and not for being showcased in London’s finest galleries.

Last modified: 17th November 2016

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