Two years ago, I had only the most pass familiarity with Patti Smith.
After seeing Anthropologie clad Brooklyn hipsters staring into Just Kids on the subway, I picked it up.
Of course, I fell in love with it immediately. The star crossed partnership of two fiercely creative souls unfolding against the milieu bohemian NYC would have been more than enough to command my interest; but the spare elegance of the Smith’s sentences and the detail with which discrete memories are rendered transforms distance into a continuous stream of first-hand discover.
But, that’s not why I posted this. Neither is the recurring brilliance in Smith’s music (especially Horses).
What interests me about this has to do with fearlessness.
Due to rampant sexism and the western cultural imperative of objectifying/sexualizing the female body, motivations for choosing to appear nude carry an– I think– unnecessary political/consequential weight.
In my reading, this image not only sidesteps these concerns, it gives them the finger. Smith, is not an artist to affect a posture or negotiate her own public perception (unlike, say someone like Kanye West).
St. Augustine noted:
People travel to wonder at the height of the mountains, at the huge waves of the sea, at the long course of the rivers, at the vast compass of the ocean, at the circular motion of the stars, and yet they pass by themselves without wondering.
Or, to put it in the words of Smith’s patron saint Arthur Rimbaud—and more clearly placing creativity as a exercise in mastering fear:
A poet makes himself a visionary through a long, boundless, and systematized disorganization of all the senses. All forms of love, of suffering, of madness; he searches himself, he exhausts within himself all poisons, and preserves their quintessences. Unspeakable torment, where he will need the greatest faith, a superhuman strength, where he becomes all men the great invalid, the great criminal, the great accursed–and the Supreme Scientist! For he attains the unknown! Because he has cultivated his soul, already rich, more than anyone! He attains the unknown, and if, demented, he finally loses the understanding of his visions, he will at least have seen them! So what if he is destroyed in his ecstatic flight through things unheard of, unnameable: other horrible workers will come; they will begin at the horizons where the first one has fallen!
In other words, what moves me about this image is its embodiment of my own personal belief that one can never be more naked before another than they are in their Art.