I am going to begin this post with a couple questions. How often are you running late? How often are you rushing to get somewhere without the slightest acknowledgement to what is going on around you? Do you get irritated when the person in front of you at Starbucks is taking a slightly longer amount of time then you have the patience for? How many of you are going through the motions of your day without really enjoying each and every moment? If you heard or saw something incredible, but that would interrupt your day, would you stop? Would you even know it was incredible without someone knowledgeable there to tell you? Has our obsession with work and money and “saving time” overpowered our curiosity and ability to relax and enjoy something truly special?
These are the types of questions the Washington Post challenges us with in an article published back in 2008 titled “Pearls Before Breakfast.” I came across this article during an art article share for my Photographic Exhibitions class. Joshua Bell is arguably one of the best violinist players of our time. He plays regularly to sold out shows, and his tickets don’t sell for cheap. On January 12, 2007, he conducted an experiemnt. He dressed in street clothes and went down to the metro subway station L’Enfant Plaza in Washington D.C. He played his violin for 45 minutes, playing some of the most beautiful music ever written. The entire performance was recorded on a hidden camera. Even he was surprised at the results.
Out of the 1,097 people that hurriedly walked by, only 7 stopped to listen. He made $32.17 cents from only 27 passerby’s. Only one person recognized him, (as I said he is THE MAN when it comes to the Violin) and that person donated $20.
This entire experiment deeply intrigues me. First, throughout the entire video you can see the kids that walk by with their parents, all trying to stop and listen. The primal instincts recognized the greatness and purity of Joshua Bells music. It was the children, who have no concept of time, no urgency to get to the next place, whose little eyes and ears can wander and soak in all the wonders around them, that could recognize the sounds of a “genuis.” I also can’t help but wonder, were 1,070 people really in such a hurry to get to their next destination that they didn’t have time to stop for two minutes to hear the sounds of someone who many would pay hundreds to hear? Or, is the real problem with the situation the context of the location and the lack of guidance? Does the space and context of the art determine the worth and impact of the piece? Other words, if I hung an original photograph by Robert Frank in my neighborhood coffee shop, would people admire and be impacted by it as much as if it were hanging on the walls of The Met? Do we only worship something because we are told it’s important, or do we truly go off our instinct? I think we all know the answer, but I would read the article here, and decide for yourself. And if you do come to the same conclusion as me, that maybe we all have a problem with patience, time, the ability to observe and absorb our surroundings not on a daily basis, but per moment, then I hope that you, like me, have the ability to change. Let’s forget about liking something, because we are told we should, and begin to fully trust our senses and support our instincts.