I’m in the middle of reading Patti Smith’s memoir, Just Kids, and it’s raised some interesting questions for me. Before buying the book, I had the most basic knowledge of both Patti Smith & Robert Maplethorpe. I knew that Patti Smith was a cult rocker who made the seminal rock album, Horses. And I was aware of Robert Maplethorpe’s revered status as a homo-erotic photographer. But beyond that, my knowledge was limited.

An interview with Patti Smith in (what else?) this month’s Interview implored me to read the book.In the article,  she talks about the gentrification of New York City and the correlation between poverty and life as an artist. Normally, I would roll my eyes at such tired topics but Smith’s eloquence struck me. The book, so far, is interesting. It definitely romanticizes life in the “old” New York, living hand-to-mouth but making beautiful art with your cute creative friends. It’s kind of all the old cliches about artists rolled into one memoir but for some reason, it matters more coming from Patti Smith’s mouth. Maybe because she has the talent (musically at least) to back up her words.And it gets me thinking about the relationship between money and art. In the 70’s, I feel like it was almost necessary for an artist to come from a rough impoverished background. It gave them the tragedy that would be deemed necessary to fuel “great art.” But I’ve always had a problem with the idea of a starving artist. Why can’t an artist eat caviar instead of canned beans?  An artist’s upbringing plays a pivotal role in their work. It acts as their point of reference, it’s what they know. But why is one upbringing more valid than the other?

But then I think of today’s new artists and I see a definite change. Photographers like Ryan McGinley and Jack Seigel certainly don’t seem starving. Quite the opposite, they appear always well-groomed, fashionable and as attractive as their subjects. And for some reason, this bothers me as much as the concept of the starving artist. Maybe its fear of nepotism, an easy ride, whatever. I feel like the bougie socialite, the person that picks up a Holga camera during their photography class at Crossroads High School, is the new modern artist/photographer. These kids also have a strong relationship to the internet and post photos taken on their expensive cameras of their jaunts to Europe, party photography, etc. Robert Maplethorpe didn’t have access to the internet and if he did, he sure wouldn’t post pictures of his nights at Misshapes. Or maybe he actually would.

This rant has no real cohesion. No concrete conclusion. And I normally loathe talking about things of this nature but I just Youtubed so many episodes of Autopsy Presents, ate so much Nutella and I can’t sleep. So there you have it.


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