Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Just Kids, Smith

Apologies for my absence, dear readers. I know you must be missing me. I’ve missed you, too. Fear not, I have been reading, just not writing so much (unless wedding vows count?), because I’ve been so gosh darn busy! In the past month and a half I got married, traveled around Colombia, packed all my worldly possessions into a U-Haul, watched my husband graduate from medical school, and drove across the country with said U-Haul and husband. Whew! It was a mighty big May and early June. Still, being the gal I am I squeezed some reading in here and there. Here’s the first of several (uncharacteristically condensed) analyses of what I took in, reading-wise.

Just Kids
Patti Smith

This is a beautiful true story of love, friendship and art in New York City. Smith’s memoir about her relationship with the artist and photographer, Robert Mapplethorpe, is inspiring on multiple levels. Even though, of course, there was some pain involved in their romance, which developed into a lifelong friendship (otherwise, how could there be a book? and how could there be a romance?), what stands out as unique is the respect these two people showed for each other and for each others’ art over a lifetime. It reminded me how absolutely invaluable a true believer is to any artist, and how lucky and amazing it is when that believer is also an artist him or herself. We are all lucky that Patti and Robert had each other: it seems likely that the rest of us would not have had their art if they didn’t.

I’m not at all familiar with Smith’s other work, but I learned quite a bit about it by reading this book. I guess she’s a poet and a singer? Her personality comes across as very sober and serious; she’s certainly not the kind of jovial, playful author I’m usually drawn to. And yet, over and over again I found myself intensely impressed by her dogged pursuit of art for art’s sake, and of her faith both in art and in herself. The fact that Smith believed in what she was doing even when no one else, or at least very few people (there was always Robert) did reminded me of the importance of maintaining my faith in myself. Smith was doing totally weird, unmarketable things. She didn’t have a “platform,” or any connections (aside from those she cultivated, seemingly haphazardly, while living at the Chelsea Hotel), and she wasn’t a businesswoman, but she eventually made a living making the things she cared about. It wasn’t always easy and it wasn’t always pretty, but Smith’s story reminds me of the importance of integrity in art, and gives me hope. It would be great if I could make a living at making the things I love, but for now every person who reads and is moved is payment enough. I hope that’s you. If not, pick up Just Kids. That should do the trick. 

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