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Omphaloskepsis Blog

On becoming an artist, another’s perspective

Apr 8, 2011

PattiSmith.jpgPatti Smith and Robert Mapplethorpe

This is regarding certain outtakes from Patti Smith’s National Book Award Winning memoir, Just Kids, her account of her relationship with Robert Mapplethorpe. But also, an account of being and becoming–an artist.

I simply want to post a few extremely short passages from the book and pose questions about them or further discussion about them–along with a few photos.


P22 (about Mapplethorpe)
He wasn’t certain whether he was a good or bad person. Whether he was altruistic. Whether he was demonic. But he was certain of one thing. He was an artist. And for that he would never apologize.

What does that really even mean in the world? What does it mean to be an artist? Does it really? I mean, to whatever you answered, does it really? I’ve heard this statement said in many ways before, but I’ve never really understood it. It’s like grasping smoke. Maybe it doesn’t really mean much of anything, or maybe it does and I just don’t get it, or maybe we want it to mean so much, because we are artists. Or perhaps, because I’m in it, I can’t see it, as is often the case. But I like the part about not apologizing for being an artist. I brought that up at a Seattle Group meeting and there was some consensus that there is a milieux of feeling like one has to apologize for being an artist often. At an Artist Trust event I heard some staggering statistics. (I may be off by 2%) When polled, something like 90% (or more) of the population (American? or international...I'm not sure) thought art was important. However, only 27% thought artists were important! No wonder there is a pervasive ambience of apolgeticness. I like the image of chin held high...and for that he would not apologize. I think I'll wear that one.(although with my hair sticking up in so may directions, perhaps I don't need to thrust my chin up too.)


P59 (Here she’s talking about seeing Jim Morrison in concert)
Everyone around me seemed transfixed, but I observed his every move in a state of cold hyperawareness. I remember this feeling much more clearly than the concert. I felt, watching Jim Morrison, that I could do that. I can’t say why I thought this. I had nothing in my experience to make me think that would ever be possible, yet I harbored that conceit. I felt both kinship and contempt for him. I could feel his self-consciousness as well as his supreme confidence. He exuded a mixture of beauty and self-loathing, and mystic pain, like a West Coast Saint Sebastian. When anyone asked how the Doors were, I just said they were great. I was somewhat ashamed of how I had had responded to their concert.

That how it is for me. How it’s always been. Just like that. (The shame too. )


P61 (about Mapplethorpe)
He did not feel redeemed by the work he did. He did not seek redemption. He sought to see what other did not, the projection of his imagination.
He thought his own process drudgery because he saw the finished outcome so quickly

Yes! I’ve always felt embarrassed to admit to this last. So many say they love the process, and I’m so impatient. I try to embrace it, it’s taken years of maturing for me to embrace it enough even to be able to functionally work.


[…]Why commit to art? For self-realization, or for itself? It seemed indulgent to add to the glut unless one offered illumination.

The glut she’s referring to from the earlier paragraph when she asks if the ultimate goal of art is to have one’s work caged in art’s great zoos–big 3 museums. But ultimately the glut is the glut of commoditized art that already been made kitsch but the masses who gravitate to because its familiar–in their comfort zone–and reaffirms what they already understand of the world and of art. Its easy ... and it matches the couch.


I preferred an artist who transformed his time, not mirrored it.


In the narration of the film, I had explored ideas that Robert and I often discussed. The artist seeks contact with his intuitive sense of the gods, but in order to create his work, he cannot stay in this seductive and corporeal realm. He must return to the material world in order to do his work. It’s the artist’s responsibility to balance mystical communication and the labor of creation.


Category: Creativity

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