One of the most influential singer-songwriters of the 20th Century, Bob Dylan, is now displaying the other side of his talent in the Frost Art Museum at Florida State University. The contemporary artist, who is great with a paintbrush, has created a large scope of images that depict various poignant scenes. Through his entire life, which began in 1941, Bob Dylan has encountered a host of scenarios and movements that ran their course over the years. The world is always changing, and his music gave a soundtrack to the shifting of consensus. An avid anti-war voice with a desire for more freedoms to live our own lives, Dylan picked up a Nobel Prize for his inspiration to literature in which he gave rise to a new and modern American voice.
Since his breakthrough into music during the 1960s when he dropped out of college and moved to New York, the multi-talented musician has enjoyed a continual run of success and growth. A huge following began to form during the 60s and 70s as he wrote songs about human rights and the stupidity of war. After a motorcycle accident in 1966 in which Dylan broke his neck and survived, his touring came abruptly to a close. Working in the studio with The Band, his continual flow of American folk and blues took a turn into the realm of the album. AOR sentimentality perhaps became popular thanks to this twist of fate, with many musicians and bands preferring the scope of an artistic album over ten or twelve radio songs.
Despite his busy career with a schedule no-one would envy, Bob Dylan remained true to his passion for painting. Now in his 80s, the artist has created a huge catalogue of work that shows many intriguing aspects to his experiences and personality.
Retrospectrum is an exhibit hosted by The Frost Art Centre at Florida State University in Miami. The vast collection spans the musician's painted output from the late 60s until the modern day. Perhaps the more secretive side of this long-standing stage performer, the pictures immediately strike with quality of talent. On the retrospective, Dylan is known to have said “Seeing many of my works years after I completed them is a fascinating experience”. Artnet
Much like photography, Bob Dylan's paintings depict images of people and places with an inclusion of subtle drama that creates an immediate imaginary experience. Deep Focus is Dylan's latest series of paintings. These stills are taken from films, known for having iconic cinematography, in which the atmosphere and intention of the scenes are captured in static pigment. Situational story-telling in Bob Dylan's art provides the viewer with countless introspections toward life's twists and turns in ways that resonate with the brilliance of the artist. Over 180 paintings, photographs, and sculptures make the exhibition which opened in November.
It was over a year into the COVID19 pandemic when I decided to pick up a copy of Randy Shilts' now classic tome And The Band Played On. The title made me immediately correlate the two anomalies as relatable events. As a child of 1981, the AIDS outbreak was something I learned about only in the playground, unfortunately in childish and morally dubious ways. Revisiting the phenomenon felt appropriate in order to get a better understand of the experience of global disease the world already had. As far as I know, AIDS was the only modern example of a pandemic we can draw wisdom from due to its high mortality rates.
When I began the book, I was immediately struck by the homosexual descriptions of sex practice that seemed to want to shock me into either submission or intrigue. Looking at the title, I felt reassured that this wasn't going to be a continual theme, as erotica wasn't what I was looking for. Thankfully, after the first few sections, the subject matter turned more towards what would later be known as AIDS.
I was brought up to not associate AIDS with homosexual lifestyles and that doing so was prejudiced. The book however, albeit liberal minded and progressive in nature, really didn't mind about putting the two ingredients in the same bread. Perhaps the more seedy practices of homosexual behaviour that arose possibly due to the fact it was forced underground and labelled dirty to begin with, did contribute to the widespread affliction among US citizens. It was not until much later in the long and information dense story that blood-banks were shown to be complicit in allowing infected blood to be sent to patients. It does also mention that intravenous drug users that shared needles also transmitted the agent and yet the main subject matter in this book centres on the homosexual culture.
What struck me as important to take home from this book was the nonchalant attitude towards the disease from the 'mainstream' community. Blaming the outbreak on homosexual behaviour incurring the wrath of God was an acceptable argument in civilised debate. The underlying feelings about homosexuality allowed the disease to be permitted to continue for much longer than it should have done. Not acknowledging it as something worth looking into and continuing as if nothing is happening was the primary response to what in today's world would be a serious threat to global health.
Unless you were homosexual or in a social group that had homosexuals in it, you would not have likely been affected by AIDS in the first years. Only drug users and the occasional transfusion recipient would otherwise be at risk. The illness was seen as a strictly gay disease and no-one was able to empathise with the seemingly alien community. A self-blame attitude seemed to propagate towards anyone who died from it. Only when the numbers of the dead reached several thousand did larger bodies of thought begin to take it seriously.
The work carries a continual undercurrent of righteous anger towards those with the power to affect change an their lack of interest in the situation. The corruption and blind-eyes that seemed to fall to every aspect of the problem from the top made the eventual outcome much worse than it needed to be. A mistrust of homosexuality and authority combined to create a massive void in understanding, care, and responsibility. This led to the tragic and avoidable deaths of millions over the ensuing years. Being woken up to the scale of dereliction of duty by the authorities during this time has made me see the response to Covid19 in a new way. The governments have been much more proactive this time around, with some unpopular mandates being passed and plenty of pushback from unsalted society.
When we compare the two situations, can we draw the conclusion that our governments of today responded adequately to the more recent pandemic? Should we celebrate the progress since only 40 years ago when the woefully inadequate response led to serious consequences for all? Time will tell if what we did in today's situation holds up to the standards laid down by those who come after.
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