I can’t recall when I first heard of Florence Foster Jenkins; I do know it was Beth Massie who started a fan club for her on Facebook at some point and Cortney Skinner who designed badges for the club (you can’t have a club without badges!) — a treasured possession of mine. The Wikipedia precís of her career:
Florence Foster Jenkins (July 19, 1868 – November 26, 1944) was an American amateur operatic soprano who was known, and ridiculed, for her lack of rhythm, pitch, tone, aberrant pronunciation of libretti, and overall poor singing ability.
Her genre is listed as ‘outsider’ which intrigues me. I generally think of outsider art as championed by folks like Liz Hand: the ‘art brut’ that shows an untutored hand but a powerful imagination. What Flo offers is kitsch with ego:
Despite her patent lack of ability, Jenkins apparently was firmly convinced of her greatness. She compared herself favorably to the renowned sopranos Frieda Hempel and Luisa Tetrazzini, and dismissed the abundant audience laughter during her performances as “professional jealousy.” She was aware of her critics, but never let them stand in her way: “People may say I can’t sing,” she said, “but no one can ever say I didn’t sing.”
Outsider artists have no thought for success or fame; they’re driven by a relentless muse to which they must give voice. Think of Darger churning out thousands of pages of a story he thought no one would ever read. While there has been the occasional discovery of an outsider during his lifetime (for it should be acknowledged that we find few Guerilla Girls being discovered) most die in obscurity and then their treasure is discovered. Flo was a self-proclaimed artist who had the wherewithal to manufacture a body of work and promote it — and absolutely no critical acumen.
This is the new model for publishing.
Andrew Nette started my day off on the wrong foot with a tweet about the “10-15 million books” published in 2012. What hope is there of any one of those books finding its audience? Slim to none. Word of mouth is still the primary way people find books. How many mouths do we need to be heard? Anyone can be ‘published’ now — it’s dead easy. That the Big
Six Five are investing their futures in expensive vanity publishing shows this (as Inanna predicted). And unlike music or art, where people often feel some awe for the great artists, everybody thinks they can write because they need to be able to function in the language of their land. Competence in the tools is a long way from mastery. But what difference does it make amid the avalanche of publications?
There’s a part of me that says it’s a good thing that more people have an equal access to the means of production. How can that be bad? But the part of me that has for so very long honed my craft cries out
The lyf so short, the craft so longe to lerne.
Th’ assay so hard, so sharp the conquerynge…
And I feel somewhat adrift in a world full of Flos all trumpeting their ‘successes’; but I go on because I can’t not do it. But I sometimes give in to despair about it.