Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Just Kids

Patti Smith's parents worried she wasn't pretty enough to snag a husband. They encouraged her to become a teacher so she would have security. Instead, she moved to New York. She struggled, starved, occasionally stole and had the most amazing experiences, all of which are presented in this highly readable memoir. Smith fell in love with artist Robert Mapplethorpe after they were both attracted to the same violet Persian necklace on display in a shop. Patti couldn't afford it, and when Robert bought it, she told him, "Promise you won't give it to any girl but me." What ensued was a passionate friendship where they lived together, collaborated on art, supported each other through hard times and evolved as individuals, blazing their own trails and soaring from poverty to fame. This is one of the most amazing books I've ever read. "Just Kids" gives a historical look at New York and Paris in the 60's and is a testament to the importance of art in advancing civilization. Patti Smith honors all the artists she admired. She gives Bob Dylan and Arthur Rimbaud special recognition, like ornaments on a mantel above her own fire. Her love and appreciation of art is the Miracle-Gro she needed to create her own art and music.

To be an artist, you need more than a room of your own and some money, contrary to what Virginia Woolf believed. You need love, inspiration, support and excitement. A room of your own and some money is like giving a farmer 500 acres of infertile land.

Recently, in The New Yorker, Jonathan Franzen faulted the great American novelist Edith Wharton for not being pretty. In "Just Kids," Patti Smith doesn't bemoan her plain looks and gangly physique. Even when Alan Ginsberg hit on her, thinking she was a boy, she never became preoccupied with her looks. She wrote about other people trying to turn her looks into a disadvantage because it shows the time she was living in. But other people's limiting beliefs did not hold her back from fulfilling her potential as an artist. With almost no money and moving around like a vagabond, Patti Smith knew what she wanted for herself and achieved it. I know in the future more and more people will give female artists the recognition they deserve and there will be fewer superficial idiots criticizing their looks. Reading this book and seeing the world through Patti Smith's eyes for 300 pages served as a filter, ridding my mind of all shallow judgment and reminding myself of what's really important -- art and love.

No comments:

Post a Comment