Dylan and the Problem of Intention as an Artist

And then there is the age-old difficulty and problem of intention. Briefly: I believe that an artist is someone more than usually blessed with a cooperative unconscious or subconscious, more than usually able to effect things with the help of instincts and intuitions of which he or she is not necessarily conscious. Like the great athlete, the great artist is at once highly trained and deeply instinctual. So if I am asked whether I believe that Dylan is conscious of all the subtle effects of wording and timing that I suggest, I’m perfectly happy to say that he probably isn’t. And if I am right, then in this he is not less the artist but more. There are such things as unconscious intentions. What matters is that Dylan is doing the imagining, not that he is fully deliberatedly conscious of the countless intimations that are in his art. As he put it:

As you get older, you get smarter and that can hinder you because you try to gain control over the creative impulse. Creativity is not like a freight train going down the tracks. It’s something that has to be caressed and treated with a great deal of respect. If your mind is intellectually in the way, it will stop you. You’ve got to program your brain not think too much.

A shrewd turn, this, the contrariety of “You’ve got to program your brain” and the immediate “not to think too much.”

(Ricks, Christopher. Dylan’s Visions of Sin. ECCO, 2003, pgs. 7-8.)

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