“Transforming Insignificant Bits… Into a Visual Poem”

In the first few chapters of Patti Smith’s memoir, we watch her and Robert Mapplethorpe develop as artists and people. They have not yet even discovered their potential in the fields that would eventually make them famous—Patti in Rock and Roll, and Robert in photography. They go through many different stages in such short time, as represented by the many times Patti would return home to find that Robert had redecorated the apartment. There’s a sense of confusion and even madness in the story at some points as Patti and Robert attempt to find themselves and make sense of the world—as though they are “just kids”. Through all their changes, one thing remains true for Patti and Robert—they are artists. Not only are they artists in their work, but in their mindset and lifestyle as well.

Being starving artists, they are forced to make do with what little resources are available to them. What I found particularly interesting were the descriptions of things they created or put together, not for the purpose of making art, but for everyday life. For example, as a gift for Patti, Robert makes a tambourine and decorates it. Even more practical examples can be seen in their home décor. Along with Robert’s sporadic redecorations of their bedroom, the couple uses random furniture found off the side of the streets to personalize their apartment. They hang drawings and religious artifacts, and Patti has her own study corner with a “frayed magic carpet”. For Christmas time, Robert even makes a wooden manger to be used in place of a tree. Robert also put a lot of effort into making Joseph Cornell boxes that Patti describes as “transforming insignificant bits … into a visual poem.” I see each of these things as art, and, with those words, Patti could not have described them better.