Patti Smith and her ongoing journey as an artist: ‘I have a million ideas’

Patti SmithIn the preface to a photography book, singer–songwriter, poet and visual artist Patti Smith describes the experience of many creators.

“The artist, in turn, sacrifices his leisure, the pleasure of being vague, of drifting half-present or merging unconsciously with the terrain. For the artist is driven, is one apart, estranged from all save his one eye.

“All confidence, vision, marshaled to secure the shot not shot by us. He must comprehend the equation that produces the architecture and landscape we call sacred.

“He must be aware, dogged, unable to relax. That is how this artist travels. And only after the images emerge, are washed and hung to dry, can she say, ‘This is good.’

“And why is it good? For its own sake. For magnifying the artist’s process. For exalting the principles of nature, the acquired wisdom of man and that to which he aspires – illumination.”

[From preface to the book Monument – large-format photographs by Lynn Davis.]

A number of articles have covered the new release of her memoir. Here are excerpts from a couple.

From ‘Just Kids,’ by Patti Smith, review by Carmela Ciuraru, San Francisco Chronicle :

In the summer of 1967, two bohemian-looking 20-year-olds were wandering through New York’s Washington Square Park, filled with its usual crowd of students, tourists, drug dealers, chess players and folk singers.

“Oh, take their picture,” said a woman to her husband, eyeing the young couple. “I think they’re artists. They might be somebody someday.” Her husband shrugged. “They’re just kids.”

They were Patti Smith and Robert Mapplethorpe. ///

Smith made her way from New Jersey to New York at age 20, after giving up a baby for adoption. She and Mapplethorpe fell hard and fast for each other. “He radiated a charm that was sweet and mischievous, shy and protective,” she writes.

They rented a squalid apartment in Brooklyn, where Smith posted pictures of idols such as Dylan and Rimbaud on the wall. With no TV set or telephone, they passed the time listening to LPs and making drawings, paintings and collages.

“We gathered our colored pencils and sheets of paper and drew like wild, feral children into the night, until, exhausted, we fell into bed,” Smith writes.

They were true starving artists, sometimes choosing art supplies over food. “I was not ready for the constant hunger that gnawed at me,” she recalls. “I was a skinny thing with a high metabolism and a strong appetite. Romanticism could not quench my need for food. Even Baudelaire had to eat.” ///

As a primer on self-discovery and the artist’s journey, “Just Kids” is as inspiring as Rilke’s “Letters to a Young Poet.” It reminds us that becoming an artist is a worthwhile and brave endeavor.

Mapplethorpe died too young, but Smith is thriving at 63, and for that we should be grateful.

There’s no need to ghettoize this book by praising it as an impressive memoir by a famous musician. It is simply one of the best memoirs to be published in recent years: inspiring, sad, wise and beautifully written.

From When Patti Smith and Robert Mapplethorpe were ‘Just Kids’, by Kevin Berger, Los Angeles Times :

Volumes have been written about Smith since 1975, when she released “Horses,” a work of transcendent and lasting beauty, the first of nine albums that paved her induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2007. And a small library could be built on works about Mapplethorpe, whose brazen photographs of male nudes and bondage are still lionized as either signs of cultural liberation or moral apocalypse.

“Just Kids,” though, is the first book that frees both artists from their respective mystiques as punk goddess and gay provocateur.

“I wanted to remind people we were once young and struggling,” Smith said. “Both of us were awkward and still finding out who we were in every way. People have written about us in that period but never with the accurate voice, the accurate atmosphere, the accurate magic.”

Smith unlocks her teenage diaries, baring the insecurities of “a skinny loser,” and explaining why at 20 she gave up a newborn daughter to foster parents. She met Mapplethorpe by chance in Brooklyn in 1967, when she moved there from southern New Jersey.

The duo fell instantly in tune with each other and became their biggest mutual fans. “Nobody sees as we do, Patti,” Mapplethorpe would say. ///

[She lived at the Chelsea Hotel in 1969 and ’70.]

Smith explained she paid $65 a week in rent, which was exactly how much she was earning as a bookstore clerk. For his part, Mapplethorpe drummed up the occasional odd job, like moving pianos. ///

She said rock is part of her life only when she walks around the house humming new melodies and imagining lyrics for them. Otherwise, she listens to opera all day on satellite radio, with an occasional break for Glenn Gould’s luminous piano music.

She knows her early albums have been codified in rock history, but to her, songs like “Birdland” and “Because the Night” are not clouded in nostalgia but are as alive as the day she first performed them. On stage, she said, “We enter our songs with the same spirit and fierceness and devotion as we did 30 years ago.”

Above all, Smith said, this is a time of celebration, as her son, Jackson (who last year married White Stripes drummer Meg White) and daughter, Jesse, have grown into fine musicians themselves.

“I’m determined that no matter what happens in the world this year, I’m going to be happy and appreciative,” Smith said.

“I feel inspired. I’m writing detective stories and poems. I’m cutting a new record. I have a million ideas.”


Book: Just Kids by Patti Smith.

DVD: Patti Smith: Dream Of Life – “Shot over 11 years by renowned fashion photographer Steven Sebring, Patti Smith: Dream of Life is an intimate portrait of the legendary rocker, poet and artist.”

Related book: Patti Smith: Dream Of Life


Read about more multitalented creators like Gordon Parks, Julia Cameron, Bryce Dallas Howard, Jamie Lee Curtis, Jane Seymour, Natalie Portman, James Franco, Mayim Bialik, Jeff Bridges, Viggo Mortensen, David Lynch and others in the post: Multitalented Creative People [an excerpt from my main book].


Originally posted 2010-02-01 23:13:18.

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