Someone recently asked what I thought about Bob Dylan winning the Nobel Prize in Literature. Opinions among writers on the internet is certainly divided. Some feel there are plenty of accolades and awards for songwriters, and that Dylan has achieved more than his fair share of fame and fortune from the music industry, and that songwriting is not literature. Others feel that Dylan’s lyrics are, indeed, poetic and even influenced by classic literature, and that good writing is good writing, period.
I’ll admit my first reaction was mild dismay. I don’t disagree that Dylan has made a lasting and unique contribution to art and culture, and he certainly has a large and varied volume of work, but he has been justly and aptly recognized for that in numerous ways.
While the glorification, appreciation, and consumption of music remains high, the same cannot be said for literature. Fewer books are being read and purchased, and author incomes are down by 20-27% in the past decade in various countries. Celebrating the contribution of authors to world culture seems important right now. I’m feeling kind of protective lately of the few ways in which authors can establish their presence.
But in thinking more about it, I realized, as with everything else, the more we separate ourselves, the weaker we become. I’ve long been a proponent of collaboration between the arts. By doing so, we not only learn from each other, we expose our audiences to different art forms. If Dylan’s win helps music lovers take an interest in the Nobel Prize in Literature, maybe they will seek to read some of the other winners. And if someone is doubting whether songwriting is a “real art,” this award may give him the confidence to pursue that interest and maybe even take it more seriously.
On the flip side, maybe his win also gives authors permission to think outside the box to discover for themselves the true meaning of “literature,” and that could lead to some exciting new forms.
Dylan’s win has us talking, partly because he is famous and his win is controversial, and any time we talk about art and culture, that’s good.
Maybe it’s also time that artists admit we are influenced by each other and we cross the lines all the time. I know writers whose story ideas were sparked by a lyric in a song and musicians who took a friend’s poem and set it to music. I know painters who were inspired by a TV character and actors who based a performance on the nuances of an eccentric artist.
The Nobel Prize is big, but it’s just one committee’s opinion. I have read award-winning literature that made me yawn and never-awarded books that changed my life. So debate it all you want, then get back to producing your own art and share it across the channels! Because that is what really matters.