7 Aug

There’s a frequently heard complaint in contemporary art galleries: “He can’t even draw. My five year old could do better.” Usually they’re perfectly and excruciatingly wrong, but finally an exhibition has come along where it would be entirely apposite and correct to make such a comment. It’s Bob Dylan’s Face Value at the National Portrait Gallery in London! And yes, your five year old could do better. Dylan even uses school art cupboard supplies to craft his masterpieces, just like a five year old. Alas his drawings did not find their proper home, i.e. stuck to the fridge door with a magnet.


The life model does NOT look like an educationally subnormal postman who’s just strangled your dog, and neither she nor I appreciate your efforts at humour. F. See me after class, Robert. (ACTUAL ART WORK BY BOB DYLAN, ON SHOW AT ONE OF THE UK’S AND OUR CAPITAL CITY’S FLAGSHIP PUBLIC ART GALLERIES.)

Sandy Nairne, Director of the National Portrait Gallery, London, says: ‘Bob Dylan is one of the most influential cultural figures of our time. He has always created a highly visual world either with his words or music, or in paints and pastels. I am delighted that we can now share these 12 sketches which were made for display at the National Portrait Gallery.’


  1. Bob Dylan was (arguably) one of the most influential cultural figures of the 1960s. Our time is the second decade of the 21st century.
  2. You’d have to be living in some kind of Lovecraftian horror madness world or be a case study for Oliver Sacks if you use paints and pastels but don’t create visually. What else would you do with pastels? Eat them? Create a world of invisible pastel sound?
  3. “I am delighted”= I had to say something for the press release. Either that or Sandy Nairne’s threshold for delight is depressingly low. Why are gallery directors always “delighted”? When and why did that become the standard word for describing one’s feelings about events at the gallery you work at? Are you really delighted by portrait work carried out by somebody who doesn’t appear to know that people have skulls under their skin because that’s one of the things stopping their eyes and other facial features bobbing around atop their physiognomy like icebergs on the sea?
  4. Thanks for sharing. Really, you shouldn’t have bothered. No, seriously. YOU SHOULDN’T HAVE.

Here’s my little tribute to Bob’s exhibition and the NPG, executed in his favourite medium.


I may be biased, but I venture to suggest that even my deliberately, insultingly bad drawing that took me less than five minutes to make still has a certain vitality and general je ne sais quoi that is sorely lacking from Dylan’s efforts. Perhaps it’s because I really do know how to draw and I’m not just some sad celebrity has-been who thinks that because he used to be good at something, he’s automatically good at everything. Just a suggestion.

This little train wreck was “curated by the Gallery’s Contemporary Curator, Sarah Howgate, whose exhibitions include the highly successful Lucian Freud Portraits (2012) and David Hockney Portraits (2006).” Curated by the curator? Well, blow me down, there’s a shocker and magnificently clumsy English too. I posted my post in the postbox and the postman delivered the post to the address I posted it to. What was highly successful, the exhibitions? Lucian Freud? Lucian Freud portraits in general? The exhibition called ‘Lucian Freud Portraits’? Wait until your interns have passed their English GCSEs before you let them issue press releases, people. As a draughtsman Dylan’s right up there with Hockney and Freud, no doubt. Email me ASAP, Sarah, because I could bang out a load more like the pastel work above really quickly and nae bother. You might have to clear a space but I’m sure there’s some boring old real artists whose work could be chucked out to make room.

More celebrity art catastrophes:

The civically minded light entertainers Dave Lee Travis and Rolf Harris, who have recently been helping the police officers of Operation Yewtree with their enquiries. Repeatedly, in the case of Rolf Harris. What kind gentlemen they are.

Sgt. Pepper’s Wonky Mousemat Hand: the MS Paint oeuvre of Ringo Starr, apparently inspired by the artistic stylings of twelve year olds on Reddit.


  1. Alistair 08/08/2013 at 3:12 PM #

    Reblogged this on Alistair Gentry.

    • erickuns 16/09/2013 at 2:17 AM #

      Sure, Dylan’s paintings suck (and I’m not a fan of Lennon’s art either), but what intrigues me about this is that he himself doesn’t realize it. You may say he’s a has-been, though I think he is still being, but, he’s arguably the best lyricist in rock music. I’ve never been a huge fan of his, but if I get trapped hearing his work enough (by radio stations or the mysterious proclivities of my media players) I gradually come to appreciate its brilliance.

      Like many of us artists, you may have tried to make music yourself. I have. I realize I’m not that great, but my music is better than Dylan’s painting. I’m enough of a connoisseur of music to measure my own fledgling efforts, and stamp them as the flawed attempts of an amateur who needed a lot more schooling. So it strikes me as odd that Dylan can’t tell his paintings sucks. Equally bizarre that curators can’t tell it’s shite, and exhibit along with the names of Lucian Freud and David Hockney.

      But is he better or worse than another now famous artist, George W. Bush. Er, if you haven’t seen his crap (and I’m sure you haven’t seen my parodies), and you need distraction from meaningful and substantive content, you can check my post: http://artoferickuns.wordpress.com/2013/06/09/bush-self-portrait-paintings-finished/

      • Alistair 16/09/2013 at 3:46 PM #

        I’m pretty sure the curator can tell perfectly well that Dylan’s art is shite, she’s just working in an environment where artistic merit and what she personally thinks of showing Bob Dylan are not the primary concerns, or of any concern at all. Bad art by celebrities (or celebrity artists) is worth more money and is easier to get media coverage for than bad art by artists (and most good art by artists), which both in turn outrank bad art by non-artists unless their work is so bad they count as Outsider Artists in which case it loops around and becomes valuable again.

        I think Dylan at the National Portrait Gallery is a blatant loss leader, like when a supermarket has special offers piled up near the entrance in the hope that you’ll go in and buy other full-priced things too.

        Talking of bad art… unfortunately I am all too aware of Dubya’s oil painting ouevre. Self portrait in the bathroom. SHUDDER.

      • erickuns 16/09/2013 at 3:50 PM #

        Right, it’s all just business, and business as usual. Think civilization needs a paradigm shift.

  2. chris ludke 22/11/2013 at 3:23 PM #

    OMG ! This is what I’m up against?! No wonder my masterpieces get rejected !

    • Alistair 22/11/2013 at 3:33 PM #

      Yes, sorry. You’re not famous enough to get away with being total crap.



    […] my writing elsewhere, and in the real world. My current thoughts on the subject were triggered by this post about a few of Bob Dylan’s amateur daubings going on show at the National Portrait Gallery in […]

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