Patti Smith, The Boarding House, San Francisco 1975
I always thought the road to becoming an artist is a road of discovery. You forge ahead, never really knowing what’s next, but that’s not important. Your passion drives you, reason takes a back seat. I was once told that the path to becoming an artist can be a lonely one.
Patti Smith never set out to be a rock and roll singer. She tried art school, loved making mixed media collages and then decided on poetry. She stayed in New York, slept on friends couches and sometimes even doorsteps. Occasionally the thought of a return to the safety of her family’s home in New Jersey entered her mind but it never took hold. She remained an artist, even at the expense of sometime finding herself alone in the largest metropolis in America.
Her book “Just Kids” is the best testimonial I’ve read on what it is to become an artist. Here’s how Amazon describes it
“It was the summer Coltrane died, the summer of love and riots, and the summer when a chance encounter in Brooklyn led two young people on a path of art, devotion, and initiation.
Patti Smith would evolve as a poet and performer, and Robert Mapplethorpe would direct his highly provocative style toward photography. Bound in innocence and enthusiasm, they traversed the city from Coney Island to Forty-second Street, and eventually to the celebrated round table of Max’s Kansas City, where the Andy Warhol contingent held court. In 1969, the pair set up camp at the Hotel Chelsea and soon entered a community of the famous and infamous—the influential artists of the day and the colorful fringe. It was a time of heightened awareness, when the worlds of poetry, rock and roll, art, and sexual politics were colliding and exploding. In this milieu, two kids made a pact to take care of each other. Scrappy, romantic, committed to create, and fueled by their mutual dreams and drives, they would prod and provide for one another during the hungry years.
Just Kids begins as a love story and ends as an elegy. It serves as a salute to New York City during the late sixties and seventies and to its rich and poor, its hustlers and hellions. A true fable, it is a portrait of two young artists’ ascent, a prelude to fame.”
Patti Smith today is 65. She’s as committed and enthusiastic as ever. Her innocence has grown into wisdom. She has a way with words and still commands an audience. Thankfully, she’s chosen to stay on her road and we are all better people for it. She’s the same artist, seeking, exploring , never tiring. The desire never goes away. There is no end in site, the road is the way. The way is the spirit of the artist in her. Listen to her stories, drink in her words, and you may just hear some of your own life in hers.