I recently read Patti Smith‘s memoir, Just Kids, about her time with Robert Mapplethorpe in NYC in the late 60s and early 70s. There were a lot of good things about this book, especially if you are interested in this time frame, but what spoke to me the most was the quest to become a known artist.
I really like (certain) Mapplethorpe photos and his quest for the perfect, deepest black reminds me of the time when I thought I would be a photography major in college. Alas, it was the 90s and landscape photography was just not edgy enough (I guess I can partially thank Mapplethorpe for this as well.) It was interesting hearing how he developed his work through the eyes of Smith who just about as close as anyone would ever be to him, but still an outsider. The book was different in this respect. It wasn’t just her memoir, it was about the two of them but we never see it through his eyes, just hers. It’s a filtered perspective in that way.
Aside from this, it was really heartening to see how hard the two of them had to work to create art that meant something to them. The quest to get discovered was really labor intensive and she really showed how Mapplethorpe worked hard to make the right connections, network with the right crowds, and to really make the most of what little that they had. I felt while reading this book that if it took so much work and time for them to become known, then I shouldn’t feel like I should already be super famous by now. I’m working hard to get my name and my work out there, it just takes some time.
So while over all there is a sadness hanging over this book (if you don’t know what I’m talking about, I’m not going to spoil it for you by blabbing here, but really, where have you been?!) for me it was inspiring and offered hope during a time where I’ve been feeling a little down. This time of year I’m always waiting to hear back about shows and it’s hard waiting sometimes when you don’t have anything lined up yet for the year. But at least I have a roof over my head, food in my belly, and great network of supporters like you!