Dylan: the playful artist

DURATION: 1 min., 14 sec.

In this short clip, Bob Dylan presents a powerful insight into his creative process circa 1966 (and indeed, creativity in general). It is also a good example of playframing.

What’s striking about the footage is not so much the playful process informing Dylan’s Burroughs-style wordplay, but the increasingly childlike, jubilant tone he displays whilst doing so. He starts off nonchalant, simply an out-of-towner scanning the text. His mood soon changes to mischievous, as he begins to mouth the words. As he invents new outrageous combinations, he becomes increasingly physical and energised. Jumping around like an excited child. He begins to laugh and grin; clearly rejoicing in his manipulation of the mundane. Calling out in an excited, giggly tone, he stomps his feet and swinging one arm around like a wild, emphatic pendulum.

This scene exemplifies not only the combinatorial play described by Einstein (Hadamard, 1945) but also Lieberman’s (1977) discussion/definition of “playfulness” (PF); a quality that may, or may not, be present in specific instances of play and indicated by the “glint-in-the eye” behavioural markers of (a) sense of humour, (b) spontaneity, described as a process of recombining things already known; and (c) manifest joy.

The above example also subtly illustrates Hutt’s (1979) contrasting of exploration and play. Dylan’s initial scanning of the sign, where he attempts to understand simply what this thing is is an example of exploration. His behaviour, after becoming familiar with the text and is stimulated to see what he can do with it, is deemed by Hutt to be play. As she explains: “In play the emphasis changes from ‘what does this object do?’ to ‘what can I do with this object?’” (1971, p. 246). These two actions are symptomatic of quite different frames of mind.

(c) 2015 Marshall Heiser



Please note: Portions of this article were presented in thesis form in the fulfillment of the requirements for the PhD of Marshall Heiser from Griffith University.

Hadamard, J. (1945). An essay on the psychology of invention in the mathematical field. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

Hutt, C. (1979). Exploration and play (#2). In B. Sutton-Smith (Ed.), Play and learning (pp.175-194). New York: Gardner Press.

Hutt, C. (1971). Exploration and play in children. In R. E. Herron & B. Sutton-Smith (Eds.), Child’s play (pp. 231-260). New York, NY: Wiley.

Lieberman, J. N. (1977). Playfulness: Its relationship to imagination and creativity. New York, NY: Academic Press.