Patti Smith on The Rules of Life

From Spin:

It’s important that an artist asks himself if the things he’s offering the world have merit.
Are they of worth? Are they worth the paper they’re on, the amount of materials that went into making them? Creating art is supposed to come from the highest part of one’s self, so naturally you’re going to have questions. In “Constantine’s Dream” [a ten-minute-plus improvisational meditation found near the end of Banga], there are many questions. It questions the role of artists in our society. The questions are there, and they’re not answerable questions. They’re more things that we contemplate and ruminate constantly. As an artist, one thinks, “What is the purpose of art? Can we make a difference? Is art just more pollution in an already polluted world?” There are a million questions one asks oneself.

I always have some kind of elegy, because we’re always losing someone.
With the song for Amy Winehouse [“This Is the Girl”], I didn’t know her — I wrote it out of respect for her artistry and her youth. The song “Maria” — I did know Maria [Schneider, the actress] in the ’70s, but “Maria” is not just about Maria. I would say it is the more emotional song on the record; it’s the one that looks back on a beautiful time and sort of encapsulates the ’70s in a certain way for me. It’s a nice little R&B song, but an emotional song. The rest of the record is really driven by life, and driven by exploration, driven by concern for our environment, driven by, you know, a lot of questions that I’m constantly asking myself as an artist about the process of art.

I don’t break rules that are going to harm anyone.
In terms of my own trajectory, I’ve only broken rules for the good of the work or the good of my family. I’m not career bent, so if I’ve broken rules that have twisted and turned or even obliterated my so-called career, that’s not really a big concern of mine. My major concern was to do good work. That’s my main rule: The work has to be worthy. Everything else falls away after that. The important thing is really to do good work and to be able to step back from it and say, “I believe this is good work. I believe that it has worth in the world.”

I don’t care if a review is good or bad.
I just look for insight, something intelligent. Sometimes people just attack me, or the stuff they say is just personal. I’m not looking for flattery. Sometimes people who write on your work have insights that you don’t have yourself. I’m not very analytical, so I always find it interesting if someone sees something that I didn’t, or gives me a good piece of criticism that I can learn from, but I’m not interested in sarcastic, snide attacks, and I’ve seen plenty of them. It doesn’t matter to me. Journalism itself is important. A journalist can really elevate a piece of work and magnify it through their eyes. And they can share with the people things of merit — or if something is dangerously terrible, they can warn them. I think journalism should be taken seriously.

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