I’ve alluded to Patti Smith’s book, Just Kids in other posts.
I’m rereading it because I need that voice of hers. I need to meet up with the artist. Is their any artist who’s not striving to be free? That freedom takes different forms, but I think it’s fundamental for anyone who’s creative. It has to do with the eye, freeing the eye (ear, body, tongue, mind) from seeing the world in only one, proscribed, common way. Without this kind of freedom, it is impossible to invent, design, create.
Jackson Pollock had to see the world in a new way in order to paint the way he did. In the documentary, Patti Smith: Dream of Life, Smith talks about Pollock as she works on one of her own paintings. Pollock apparently complained because Picasso had done everything in painting. Smith agrees, but then goes to talk about Picasso’s influence on Pollock–that it came down to a drip of sweat from a horse’s nose. I don’t know if this is true, but it could be. We are influenced by things around us in myriad ways, by connections that may not surface for years.
So I’m indulging my Patti Smith crush right now. As I said, I need her voice to help me find my own. After I watched the documentary this morning, I stood in my bathroom looking at myself in the mirror, imagining a conversation with Smith. I want to ask her how she did it when her kids were young, when they were teens. It’s not just finding an hour here or there to paint or write. It’s how to sustain the big, huge energy that making art requires when one needs to switch gears so often to tend to children and family.
Which leads me around indirectly to the recent comment by V.S. Naipul about the inferiority of women’s writing. He claims he can tell when a woman has written something within a half page or something ridiculous like that because of the sentiment of the work. Bluster and bullshit. But what picks at me is this–what is the impact on one’s work when interruptions are par for the course? What does that kind of life pace do to the quality, the texture of the work?
I go back to something I think I’ve discussed here before–poet Maxine Kumin writes about doing her work (which won her a Pulitzer by the way) in the interstices. She’d have one of her poems with her at all times. While waiting for her daughter to finish swim lessons, she’d work. Early for school pick up? Out comes her latest poem.
Very few of us have the luxury of uninterrupted hours for our creative work. Or at least, we don’t get it consistently. I suppose it is a demonstration of persistence in keeping at it. It is part of the commitment, the discipline.
When Patti Smith met Robert Mapplethorpe in NYC in 1967, she didn’t have a job or a place to live. She’d come to NY to be an artist. She didn’t even know what she meant by that exactly–her medium wasn’t clear. But she was dedicated. She worked hard. I think luck played a little part in things. But she was unafraid. The path wasn’t clear and still, she wasn’t afraid.
Here’s an amazing picture of Smith that I first saw on Luke Storms’ blog, Intense City:
I rented Patti Smith: Dreams of Life from Netflix. It’s meandering roam of a documentary. Dream-like in one sense. One of my strongest impressions is of Smith’s vulnerability and aloneness. I don’t know if she’s lonely. But she lost four key people in her life within a five or six year span. I don’t get melancholy from Smith, but a sense of apartness. I hesitate to attempt characterizing Smith based on a documentary I watched while lying on my couch with a sore throat. But there’s something about her I admire, things about her inspire me. I’m trying unsuccessfully to pin this down. One thing I do want to get down is that without the vulnerability, that sense of life happening to us, we can’t make art.
And to my lovely friend Kehaunani–It was good to talk to you today. Thanks. You always know how to set my head back on just straight enough.