on artaud and genet

     by patti smith

[from Evening Standard (London), May 31,1996]

I first learned about Artaud, the Surrealist visionary, from seeing him in the movie, The Passion of Joan of Arc. I was very taken with his ability to express himself in so many forms -- writing, acting, directing, drawing. Despite his drug abuse, he had a tremendous work ethic. Genet, who was writing in the Forties and Fifties, I read as a teenager. I thought his language was beautiful and intoxicating, though I can't say that I always understood his message. It was Edmund White, his biographer, who suggested that I might be part of the Artaud and Genet season at the ICA [Institute for Contemporary Arts, London], and I was honoured to be asked.

Writing has always been the most important form of expression to me and Genet has been one of my main inspirations and guides. At the ICA I will be doing a few songs and some readings, including a prose poem I wrote when Robert Mapplethorpe died, from The Coral Sea. Genet reminds me of Robert. When Robert photographed two men kissing it was a very beautiful image, for he intended to portray them in an honourable was, just as Genet did.

All three of these artists, Artaud, Genet and Mapplethorpe, took very complex aspects of the human condition -- whether it was homosexuality or thievery or madness -- and magnified it in their work. They took on what other people called shame and called it beauty, and that is the connection.

All three attempted to create space for others -- I think that is an artist's duty. I started out as a musician in 1974 and I was trying to do away with gender constrictions. It's different to what Robert or Genet were doing but it's still part of that attempt to widen the landscape.

This summer is the start of my first major tour since 1979. In 1980 I got married to the musician Fred "Sonic" Smith. My husband passed away last year and the new album, Gone Again, is a tribute to him. I have two children now and I'm not interested in being a rock 'n' roll star any more. Writing is what has sustained me and that's why I cherish Genet.

Patti Smith will be performing at the ICA on Saturday 1 June, as part of this weekend's "Incarcerated with Artaud and Genet" season. See Repertory listings for details.

Copyright © Patti Smith 1996

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