Perhaps you’ve listened to Patti Smith’s albums. Perhaps you’ve also seen Robert Mapplethorpe’s photography. If you keep up with memoirs, you’ll surely know that Smith’s Just Kids, a remembrance of her time with Mapplethorpe in the late sixties, won all manner of acclaim, including the National Book Award, when it came out in 2010. But you might still have no idea of the closeness and importance of each artist to the other, as many of their fans didn’t before reading Smith’s book. While those 278 pages will tell you everything you need to know about it, the 178 words of Smith’s letter to the dying Mapplethorpe featured last week on Letters of Note say nearly as much.
But don’t take it from me; in the video above, you can hear the letter as read by Smith herself. She brought it out, appropriately enough, at the opening of her exhibition, Camera Solo, at Hartford’s Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art, the first show of her own ventures into Mapplethorpe’s craft. Alas, Mapplethorpe didn’t live long enough to get around to trying his hand at rock music — he didn’t even live long enough to actually read this letter — but his artistic sensibility persists in Smith’s own work. “I learned to see through you,” she reads, “and never compose a line or draw a curve that does not come from the knowledge I derived in our precious time together.”