I just finished reading
Patti Smith's memoir of her first 10 years in NYC, chronicling her relationship with Robert Mapplethorpe, her lover and lifelong friend.
I'll admit, though I've loved Patti Smith for years, and I count Robert Mapplethorpe as
, I hesitated before picking up this book. I'm weary of druggy memoirs of self-destruction and pain that many rock-and-roll bios are fraught with. Even triumph over adversity is something I felt I didn't have the stamina for.
is far from all of that. It's a tender, insightful love story and coming-of-age tale. The story of two young people who are as much in love with each other as they are with art, and are imbued with a confidence that their path is a true one. It's as much an inspiring tale of two artists finding their voice as it is a public memoir of the characters in late 60s, early 70s New York. In fact, it's their private, quiet growth together - and later as they both begin to grow into their mediums - their growth apart, that carries the most sweetness and honesty.
Smith's writing is strong and straightforward, the poetry is found in its lack of embellishment. I read or heard somewhere that she wanted to write a book that Robert would have read. She describes their circumstances in their first apartment in Brooklyn, their stay in the famous Chelsea Hotel, and later in a cold loft a few doors down from the hotel with reverence and clarity. Every minute of their lives was devoted to their work and to each other.
It's a book about making the work, as opposed to the work itself. A story of the genius that flows through a receptive artist, rather than the ego. Patti Smith mentioned in an interview that Robert helped her to feel confident to call herself an artist - not an apprentice or a student, as he never doubted that he was an artist. What impressed me was their ability to take hold of that ownership without a sense of entitlement - they worked hard, scraped together dimes, never wanted what they couldn't have.
I'm feeling kind of empty in the way a good book leaves you feeling. I'm searching for extra pages at the back of the book, hoping for a little bite more. But instead, I'm left to carry on here in my own studio. Left to think about the choices I make here and how I want to approach my work now that I've been so inspired.