Bob Dylan And Bottichelli, DaVinci, Delacroix, Duchamp, Picasso, And Van Gogh
by Larry Fyffe
As well as songs, poems, short stories, novels, and movies, Bob Dylan draws upon paintings in a number of his Freudian Surrealistic song lyrics:
Inside the museums, infinity goes up on trial
Voices echo this is what salvation must be like after a while
But Mona Lisa musta had the highway blues
You can tell by the way she smiles
See the primitive wall flower freeze
When the jelly-face women all sneeze
Hear the one with the mustache say, ‘Jeeze,
I can’t find my knees’
Oh, jewels and binoculars hang from the head of a mule
But these visions of Johanna, they make it all seem so cruel
(Bob Dylan: Visions Of Johanna)
Johanna is Vincent Van Gogh’s sister-in-law who promotes her brother-in-law’s paintings after Van Gogh’s suicide, including those of the now-domesticated 45 million-year-old sunflower from North America -‘Sunflowers’-, and the dignified, somewhat colourful painting of his mother – ‘Portrait Of The Artist’s Mother’. Van Gogh describes cobalt blue as a ‘divine’ colour; Dylan, as the colour of ‘dissension.’
And I said, ‘There’s no locket
No picture of any mother I would pocket
Unless it’s been done by Van Gogh’
(Dylan: Positively Van Gogh)
Bob Dlyan uses Van Gogh-like images of women as restrained wallflowers:
Won’t you dance with me?
I’m fallin’ in love with you
Written with little conscious effort, ‘Visions Of Johanna’ makes reference to Leonardo Da Vinci’s painting of ‘Mona Lisa’ with her restrained smile. Da Vinci also paints “Virgin And Child With St. Anne” in which Saint Anne’s daughter Mary wears a garment which, according to some psychanalysts, looks like a mothering bird:
And Madonna, she still has not showed
We see this empty cage now corrode
Where her cape on the stage once had flowed
(Dylan: Visions Of Johanna)
Bob Dylan more than once refers to the mother image of women with their lasting psychological influence:
Now, if you see Saint Annie, please tell her thanks a lot
I cannot move, my fingers are all in a knot
I don’t have the strength to get up and take another shot
And my best friend the doctor won’t even say what it is I’ve got
(Dylan: Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues)
Marcel Duchamp, the Dadaist, parodies conventional bourgeois values, and transgenders Mona Lisa by painting a mustache on Lady Gherardini. The Dadaists juxtaposed incongruous objects with one another like mules and jewels, jellyfish and women.
Sandro Bottichelli paints idealized, graceful images of women including ‘Madonna With Child’ and “The Birth Of Venus” – on the half-shell is the mother goddess of Aeneas:
Got to hurry back to my hotel room
Where I got a date with Bottichelli’s niece
She promised that she’d be right there with me
When I paint my masterpiece
(Dylan: When I Paint My Masterpiece)
And there’s this song:
The Madonna was yours for free
Yes, the girl on the half-shell would
keep you from harm
(Joan Baez: Diamonds And Rust)
Eugene Delacroix, after visiting Algiers and Tangier, paints exotic scenes in bright colours – works include ‘Women Of Algiers In Their Apartment’, with one of the women gazing out at the viewer, which Pablo Picasso later renders in the changing-point-of-view style of Cubism.
Workin’ for a while on a fishin’ boat
Right outside of Delacroix
But all the while I was alone
The past was close behind
I seen a lot of women
But she never escaped my mind
(Dylan: Tangled Up In Blue)
Norman Raeber renews Bob Dylan artistic drive by inspiring him to consciously write song lyrics that are like a painting from out of the past that is essentially unbounded by the past, present, and future of time; the Cubist-inspired song lyrics above double-references the American place name and the Romantic artist Delacroix. Below, the surrealistic-style singer covertly alludes to the French painter and his exotic depictions of women:
If you see her, say ‘hello’
She might be in Tangier
She left here last early spring
Is livin’ there I here
(Dylan: If You See Her, Say Hello)
Dylan’s often strives to turn his song lyrics into word-paintings.
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