Saturday, November 19, 2011

Just Shelved

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a book about the self-fashioning of an artist. A young woman surrounds herself with totems; she bends towards and away from the artistic visions of others; she finds muses and is herself a muse.

This is certainly a love story. This is about being in the right place at the right time (but surely chance meetings with Janis Joplin and Sam Shepard and William Burroughs say just as much about what kind of magnetism Smith herself must possess).

I wept through the end of Just Kids; I found it very moving as a testament to a friendship and a person and another artist. When do we become an artist? Is it when we declare it? Is it when we've been recognized for our art? Is it when we dedicate ourselves to it? Is it simply when we believe it of ourselves?

I also thought about poverty as a purifier for Smith and the circle of creatives around her in NYC during this remarkable time. I've never been comfortable with giving up material comfort for art. Smith and Mapplethorpe begin as young ascetics, and yet they're getting things done; they're making the connections they need to succeed. I believe it's a function of my background: once comfortably middle to upper middle class, forever hoping to keep that standard. But it's not hard to feel a sense of envy or nostalgia for Smith's romantic vision of art-as-sustenance, for this brave girl showing up in New York with nothing but a few possessions and a belief in where she needed to be, and making a go of it. She demonstrates blistering courage. Of course I don't have regrets, but it is provocative to consider the paths of others, especially someone like Patti Smith who began not even sure what medium would be hers, but was so clearly meant to be a VOICE, and now, successful memoirist.

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