It Turns Out, Patti Smith Can’t Play Guitar or Why I Won’t Learn To Draw

About twenty years ago, I realized I was going to do better as a person if I emphasized my strengths rather than trying to eradicate my weaknesses (That being the approach of my younger adulthood). For example, I’m a person of natural friendliness and curiosity totally stymied by huge anxiety. In new or scary situations I used to try and manage my fear. Now, I try to be friendly. And it is working better.
But it is in the creative realm that this really counts. I have a friend of many decades who has also been my student. She is a brilliant memoirist working on her next book. And she was thrown for a loop when given advice to learn and type faster. So fine, she isn’t a fast typist. But it is unwarranted to feel shame. After all, writing really is not typing! Of course she should just finish that new dramatic and intriguing book.
Earlier this winter, Patti Smith on stage at the Lensic did something I’ve never seen a rock and roller do–sing a capella. I couldn’t imagine Mick Jagger doing that. It was haunting, intimate, amazing. Then she mentioned she could only play a few guitar cords, and invited a local on stage to back her. The entire thing was incredible. Should Patti Smith work on her guitar playing? Obviously not.
I can’t draw. And I’ve turned into an installation artist. My secret weapons are:

1. Collaboration, notably with my daughter multi media artist Isabel Winson-Sagan as part of the creative team Maternal Mitochondria.

2. Concept. The truth is, I can see pieces complete in my mind’s eye.

Case in point, we were invited to produce an artist’s book for a show. We don’t know how to do this. Yet I saw it immediately:

a box covered in paper
a 36 stanza poem divided into two decks of cards
silk suminagashi wrapping

The collaborative poem is written–that I know how to do. Isabel is starting on the box. If she prints and produces the cards I can certainly add suminagashi, or she can.

I can’t draw, I can barely fabricate, but I can SEE.

A brilliant teacher told me months ago to work on mark making–not to produce anything but so I could follow Isabel’s mind. That was unusual fascinating advice which I am following.

I also can’t type or play the guitar.

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About Miriam Sagan

I'm blogging about poetry, land art, haiku, women artists, road trips, and Baba Yaga at Miriam's Well ( The well is ALWAYS looking to publish poetry on our themes, sudden fiction, and guest bloggers and musers.

8 thoughts on “It Turns Out, Patti Smith Can’t Play Guitar or Why I Won’t Learn To Draw

  1. There is something so engaging about this piece, Miriam. I can almost hear your voice, which of course, enhances the experience of reading. And I love hearing about Patti Smith at tiger Lensic and your gift of visualization an your baby, Isabel, all grown up and creating art. I feel touched by the sharing of your current approach, ficus on playing to your strengths rather than trying to subdue your presumed lacking. Thank you. I enjoyed reading this so immensely, and feel I learned.

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