In a world filled with questions about the creative process, professional photographer and Creative Live founder Chase Jarvis has a few answers. In an intriguing blog entry titled “There are No Excuses,” Jarvis reveals his sensitivity to creative angst:
I’ve heard you say that there’s nothing to take a picture of. I’ve heard you say you don’t know what to make, when to make it, how to make it, what to do.
I’ve heard you say that you don’t know how to get your work “out there.” I’ve heard you say that you don’t know what to put on your blog. I’ve heard. I’ve heard. I’ve heard. And I promise you, I, too, have said all these things.
Then, he reminds his readers that such questions are rooted in an earlier time: a time when artists required permission from others for their work to be seen. Permission came in the form of being hired to shoot a news story, to write a magazine feature, or produce a graphic layout for a business.
“They” sat up in fancy corner offices and if you were good — no, scratch that, good and lucky — they would say “yes,” and then you’d be permitted to share your work with the world.
Not any more. It’s the first time in the history of the world that you can share your work without anyone’s permission. What are you waiting for? Spend your own time and your own money. Then hit post; publish; share; send; or whatever makes the software push it out into the world.
Chase Jarvis, on the road to Creativity
According to Jarvis, the emerging paradigm for artists of every sort can be summed up with elegant simplicity.
First, create something: a photo, a video, a poem, or a painting. For that matter, you might create an app, a business model, or a bit of computer software. In a separate post titled “Thirteen Things Crucial for Success (In Any Field),” he adds:
Over-thinking, pontificating, and wondering are tools for the slacker. People don’t care what almost happened, or what your problems are, or why something wasn’t. They care about what is, and what will be.
That requires actually making stuff happen. Pros do. They create and deliver. Amateurs sit around and wonder — or worse, scratch their arse.
Next, share what’s been created. Send it to an editor or submit it to a jury if you like, but don’t limit yourself to such traditional means. Post it on a website or blog. Tweet the link. Link on Facebook. Find editors and publishers who accept online submissions, and email it.
Finally, sustain yourself. Keep a day job until you can quit your day job and devote yourself full time to your art, or keep your day job and continue creating and sharing for the pure pleasure of it all — especially the pleasure of not requiring permission from anyone.
Some decades before Jarvis offered his “create, share, and sustain” paradigm to the world, Florence Foster Jenkins, whose life and remarkable talents became the basis for the eponymous film starring Meryl Streep, was living out that paradigm.
Born into a wealthy Pennsylvania family in 1868, she showed an early interest in music. A successful concert pianist in her youth, she performed at the White House during the presidency of Rutherford B. Hayes.
A young Florence Foster Jenkins
Despite her success, hopes for a musical career were discouraged by her parents. After a failed marriage to Frank Thornton Jenkins and her father’s death, a large inheritance enabled her to move to New York and take up residence in a luxurious hotel. Her mother, more sympathetic to her aspirations, joined her there, and encouraged her to become a patroness of the arts.
Florence Foster Jenkins, 1909
Jenkins added singing lessons to her piano practice, and soon began performing for the clubs and societies she’d joined. Her considerable financial contributions to the groups may have encouraged them to schedule her recitals, but, over time, her performances came to include invitation-only events at venues such as Manhattan’s Ritz-Carlton. Sometimes she traveled to locations as far afield as Newport, Rhode island, and Washington, D.C. in order to sing, and despite their ambiguity, the reviews could only have encouraged her:
Mme. Florence Foster Jenkins was the bright particular star of last evening’s concert at the Ritz-Carlton. She sang an exacting programme, and possesses a marked individuality in style and piquancy in her interpretations… (Grene Bennett, New York Journal American)
“Orchids, minks”…the swankiest audience of the season attended at the Jenkins Recital. Mme. Jenkins sang a varied program in her inimitable coloratura soprano. She is a personage of authority and indescribable charm, she is incomparable, her annual recitals bring unbounded joy. (Robert Coleman, New York Daily Mirror)
Enthusiastic and irrepressible as a person, as a performer Jenkins became known for elaborate costumes, detailed sets, and dramatic presentations. Encouraged by her audiences’ applause and gifts, her ambitions grew ever larger. First, she recorded a few of her favorite pieces: apparently believing that a single take was sufficient for a vocalist of her talent.
Then, in 1944, she personally rented Carnegie hall for an October 25 public recital: an audacious example of “sharing” that might leave even Chase Jarvis breathless.
Writing for NPR Music, Tom Huizenga said:
By this time, her fame in New York was widespread and the hall was filled to capacity, including luminaries like Cole Porter, Gian Carlo Menotti, Lily Pons, Andre Kostelanetz, Tallulah Bankhead and Kitty Carlisle.
However, the reviews following the Carnegie Hall concert were less open to interpretation than those written previously:
The following day in the New York Post, gossip and entertainment columnist Earl Wilson wrote that the concert was “one of the weirdest mass jokes New York has ever seen.”
The problem, of course, was that Florence couldn’t sing. As Alexander McCall Smith puts it, “She was gloriously, spectacularly, irredeemably out of tune.”
Her inability to hear what she was producing may have been due to central nervous system damage caused by the syphillis passed on to her by her husband. It may have been due to the mercury and arsenic prescribed at the time as treatments for the disease. It may have been a result of the tinnitus from which she suffered, or it may well be, as some have suggested, that she just didn’t care.
Whatever the truth, she kept singing, and people kept flocking to her recitals. No one, having heard Florence Foster Jenkins sing, would soon forget it.
Whether Jenkins knew how truly awful she was as a singer has been much discussed. Opinions differ: some say she believed in her virtuosity, while others claim she was having a jolly good time at the public’s expense.
What no one seems to question is that she was a person of generous spirit, and a woman who truly loved her art. In that sense, she lived as the consummate amateur: devoted to her discipline with little regard for outside criticism.
As she once observed, although some people said she couldn’t sing, they never could say she didn’t sing.
Chase Jarvis would be proud.
Comments always are welcome. The reviews and photos included above are taken from a scrapbook held by the New York Public Library Music Division. The photograph of pelicans above Galveston Bay is mine.