I don’t have much to say about the excerpt Rolling Stone has from Patti Smith’s new memoir of her time with Robert Mapplethorpe except that it’s lovely and extremely sweet:
On Valentine’s Day, Robert gave me an amethyst geode. It was pale violet and nearly the size of a half grapefruit. He submerged it in water and we looked at the glowing crystals. When I was a kid I had dreamed of being a geologist. I recounted how I spent hours looking for rock specimens, wearing an old hammer tied around my waist. “No, Patti, no,” he laughed.
My gift to him was an ivory heart with a cross carved in the center. Something in this object provoked a rare childhood tale from him, and he told me how he and the other altar boys would secretly rummage through the priests’ private closet and drink the vestment wine. The wine didn’t interest him; it was the funny feeling in his stomach that excited him, the thrill of doing something forbidden.
Given the notoriety he later achieved (not that I necessarily think any of that is actually justified), there’s something innocent about all of this, and endearing. The stuff about them choosing between cheese sandwiches and art supplies, about what a treat a Mallomar or a coconut ball was, underscores Smith and Mapplethorpe’s mutual rise. I don’t think artistic success should count for more if the people who achieve it were desperately poor when they started out. And I don’t necessarily think that niceness or lack thereof should actually influence the way we judge art (There are exceptions. If the means of production of a work is morally intolerable, whether it’s snuff, or use of forced labor, or whatever, I think that’s a different matter.) But I already liked Smith and Mapplethorpe’s work before reading this, and it’s certainly nice to be able to feel warmly towards them as people, too.