Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Just moving you along...

I try to write my own stuff here rather than passing you off to another site. But I read a really interesting piece at washingtonpost.com yesterday that has sparked a lot of discussion around our house. The article begins thusly...
HE EMERGED FROM THE METRO AT THE L'ENFANT PLAZA STATION AND POSITIONED HIMSELF AGAINST A WALL BESIDE A TRASH BASKET. By most measures, he was nondescript: a youngish white man in jeans, a long-sleeved T-shirt and a Washington Nationals baseball cap. From a small case, he removed a violin. Placing the open case at his feet, he shrewdly threw in a few dollars and pocket change as seed money, swiveled it to face pedestrian traffic, and began to play.
So what's the deal here? This street musician just happened to be Joshua Bell, one of the most prominent concert violinist in the world. The violin was his 3.5 million dollar Stradivari.

The experiment - is art and/or culture the same everywhere? Or is something really "art" only in context? Do we need to approach something with a certain mindset to really see it as art?

The experiment was videotaped. Passersby were later interviewed. Bell was interviewed. And the resulting article, written with a nice sense of humor, does a fascinating job of exploring people's reaction (and non-reaction) to an encounter with a world renowned master of his art.

The reporters draw their own conclusions. And discussing the article has certainly led to other conclusions in our house. Is some "art" classist? Are such things as opera and classical music so specialized that only those with easy access (meaning the ability to pay to see these folks) can learn to appreciate it and recognize it as different from just music in general? What would have happened if this had been a professional jazz musician? Or a professional country music artist? Would I have stopped and listened or rushed past with barely a notice?

I just thought it was an interesting experiment and an interesting article. If you wander over to their site, I hope you enjoy it. And I would be curious to know your thoughts.

11 comments:

dawn said...

Interesting I read the same article and coming from NYC we see musicians all the time and most time don't pay attention because everyones always in a rush. I don't think it's classest I'm not sure of the word you used.

Jocelyn said...

I heard about this on NPR; someone joked at the end that since Bell had made around $40-$50 that hour, the IRS needs to look into buskers' earnings.

You open up a great discussion with these questions. So much is tied into our perceptions, eh?

Pendullum said...

Years ago...i was in a bar...
And this guy started to talk to me as I waited formy friends and his to arrive...
We talked about the book I was reading and he was charming, funny and shy.
My friends arrived and then his band mates arrived... He got up on stage and started to perform.
It was Bob Dylan... But through out the nights my friends kept saying he was the worst Bob Dylan impersonators... and I protested and said It was the real McCoy so to speak...(Even though he introducedhimself as Robert to me)
Well, the next day a huge write up on Bob...I had heard him truly sing...while my friends, never truly heard a word...

Crashdummie said...

beauty lays in the eyes of the beholder... guess the same thing could be said abt hearing to huh? ;)

Cheers!

Ruth Dynamite said...

I think art is classist to a large degree, but the most "popular" art (or music or literature) is accessible to the most people - which doesn't necessarily mean that it's "the best."

Very interesting!

Rebecca said...

This is very interesting. And I can't say for certain if art is classist. I think that it is to a degree. A musician in the subway, in a place where people are in a hurry to get someplace else might not be appreciated, no matter how talented he is. On the other hand, going to a concert where one expects to sit, relax and be entertained is a different situation. Of course, most concerts are expensive, which would make it classist by default.

Dorky Dad said...

I read that story. OK, I read the first part of that story. It was AWESOME. I love Gene Weingarten. He's one of my favorite writers.

whimsicalnbrainpan said...

I actually saw a piece about this on the evening news last week and almost cried.

I think our culture has forsaken art as something useless and pointless. The truth is that we would not be where we are today as a scociety if it wasn't for art (I'll spare you the full lecture).

The thing that makes me the saddest is that it was mostly the kids that wanted to stop and listen and the adults wouldn't let them.

SzélsőFa said...

They should have called the article pearls before swines...
blah..I'm so sad.
partly b/c people are so ignorant, partly b/c people's lifes are so packed where peace and music (real music) just does not seem to fit into the CONSTANT rushing, and partly b/c knowing myself...well I would probably rush just as much as the others...

Winston said...

I went and read almost the entire report. Yes, what an interesting experiment. In a way, it was also an experiment on the musician, observing his reactions to bare acknowledgment vs. the acceptance he is accustomed to. I wonder if the results might be different if not at rush hour, maybe in a crowded mall on a weekend.

Thank you!

heartinsanfrancisco said...

This was one of the most fascinating articles I have ever read. I have followed Joshua Bell's career from the beginning, and feel disappointed and sad that most people are so bound by responsibility to their jobs that they cannot afford a few minutes to smell the roses.

It is also terribly sad that for many years, our schools have been dropping the arts whenever it was necessary to cut expenses. If this continues, most of the experiences that elevate the spirit will be unavailable to people in our culture. In fact, if that time comes, we should really consider changing the word "culture" to something else.