Brain Pickings

Patti Smith’s Lettuce Soup Recipe for Starving Artists

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“We hadn’t much money, but we were happy.”

Reconstructionist Patti Smith is among the most extraordinary and influential artists of the past century, her achievements consistently demolishing the artificial wall between “high” and “low” culture by spanning from Billboard Chart hits to poetry inspired by Rimbaud and Blake, from CBGB to London’s Trolley Gallery, from the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame to the National Book Award. Most remarkable, however, is Smith’s self-made journey of creative discovery and fame. When she moved to New York City in her early twenties, she met legendary photographer Robert Mapplethorpe, who became her lover and comrade in arms, and they lived the quintessential life of the starving artist — not in the fashionable political-statement sense of creative poverty but in the penurious caloric-deficiency sense.

At the opening of her exhibition The Coral Sea at Cincinnati’s Contemporary Arts Center, titled after her poetic masterpiece of the same name honoring Mapplethorpe, Smith reads from her 2010 memoir Just Kids (public library), which tells the story of the pair’s early years in New York and which earned her the National Book Award. Here, witty and wry as ever, she shares her famous lettuce soup recipe, one of the strange concoctions, at once endearing and heartbreaking, that sustained the two as they struggled to get by on virtually no money — a wonderful reminder that money is not the object of the creative life and a fine addition to The Artists’ and Writers’ Cookbook:

Just Kids is absolutely breathtaking in its entirety. Complement it with Smith’s spoken-word homage to Virginia Woolf.

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