There was an almost universal surprise when Bob Dylan was awarded the 2016 Nobel Prize for Literature. Among those most surprised was Dylan himself, who as shared on the website of the Nobel Foundation told Sara Danius, Permanent Secretary of the Swedish Academy: “The news about the Nobel Prize left me speechless.” He also told Edna Gundersen of The Telegraph “It’s hard to believe” and “amazing, incredible. Whoever dreams about something like that?”
While Bob Dylan is the first singer-songwriter Nobel laureate, he is the second songwriter after the Indian poet Rabindranath Tagore to be selected for this award. It was a book of songs, Geetanjali, by Tagore that earned him this recognition in 1913. The book of songs was also his first work translated into English,
A Shared Out of Context Use of Traditional Elements
Writing for The Guardian, Amit Chaudhuri noted how Tagore’s work, like Dylan’s, “recreates tradition and crosses genres.” In his article published on October 21, 2016, he pointed out how in Who Killed Davey Moore, Dylan has elements of folk songs, children’s rhyme, and references to a tragedy lifted from the headlines (the death of a boxer after a fight). Chaudhuri then points out that before Dylan, Tagore also mixed different elements. Tagore’s creatively used elements of traditional forms in his poetry.
Rabindranath Tagore – Poet, Songwriter, Novelist, Philosopher, Painter, and Educator
Tagore was a man of many talents, like Dylan. On the one hand, he was the first Asian and non-European to win a Nobel. Ironically, he was also a novelist who was recognized for his book of songs.
As a painter, Tagore helped modernize Bengali art. He was a philosopher and established a school for children, and afterward, the Visva Bharati college, that became a university in 1951 after Independence from colonial rule. Hs interest in education was inherited from his father, Debendranath Tagore, who was an educational reformer.
Tagore used his Nobel prize money to expand the college. It has had some illustrious alumni including Amartya Sen, the Nobel-winning economist. Although Tagore did not produce a philosophical treatise, he composed many essays and lectures instead. He communicated his vision through his poetry. A source for learning more about his philosophy is Professor S. Radhakrishnan’s book The Philosophy of Rabindranath Tagore first published in 1918.
Apart from the more than 2,000 songs he composed, Tagore also composed what became the national anthems of India, Bangladesh, and Sri Lanka years after his death in 1941. The Sri Lankan national anthem is based on a song Nama Nama Sri Lanka Mata that was adopted in 1951 as the national anthem.
The Genre Crossing Talents of Bob Dylan
As a painter, sculptor, writer, filmmaker, and actor, in addition to his singing and songwriting, Dylan smoothly crosses genres. Dylan is also an artist and sculptor. Alongside his musical career, Dylan has created artwork since the 1960s. Dylan has been working with iron for a long time. He began working with iron even before he left his hometown. Since 2007, Dylan’s artwork has found a place in several private collections and museums.
A new exhibition of Dylan’s acrylic and watercolor paintings was exhibited in November 2016 at the Halcyon Gallery in London, which has been the venue of several exhibitions of Dylan’s work. The 2016 exhibition is his fourth since the one held at the Halcyon Gallery in 2008.
Dylan has also exhibited his artwork in the U.S., including at the venue of the Gagosian Gallery in New York City. A book of drawings, Drawn Blank that was released in 1994 became a series of paintings exhibited in Tokyo in Asia, and in Germany, Edinburgh, London, and Turin in Europe.
Dylan’s ironworks were first exhibited at Halcyon Gallery in 2013. He was commissioned to build 26-by-15-foot iron archway for the MGM National Harbor, a $1.3 billion resort casino in Prince George’s County, Maryland. This will be his public artwork, aside from the cover drawing he did for The Band’s Music from Big Pink in 1967, and his own Self-Portrait in 1970. Born and raised in Minnesota’s iron ore region in the iron mining town of Hibbing, Minnesota.
Criticisms of Awarding the Nobel for Literature to Songwriters
Dylan will not be personally attending the Nobel awards ceremony, although his speech will be presented during the event. He also did not attend President Obama’s meeting with the American Nobel Prize winners. Maybe he does not feel worthy of being in the company of other winners? Whereas Dylan’s songs have moved millions and been selected as the anthems for the Civil Rights and Anti-Vietnam War movements, Tagore was newly discovered, and not well known outside India at the time he was selected.
Tagore was sponsored by a member of the Royal Society of London. When Rabindranath Tagore was being considered, some Nobel Committee members were unsure about awarding the award for a book of songs. However, they were swayed by the enthusiastic recommendation by Committee Member Carl Gustav Verner von Heidenstam.
In a 60 Minutes interview by Ed Bradley, Bob Dylan said his “early songs are almost magically written.” He said they still ” hold up because they’re so wide and there are so many levels in them.” They remain relevant to his audience even though their meanings change over time. Although Dylan believes interpretations of his songs are subjective, Tagore had a vision that he shared which also animated other aspects of his life and works.
Tagore and Dylan – Recognized for Their Poetic Verse a Century Apart
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