Beauty Ignored

I just read this fascinating article by Washington Post reporter, Gene Weingarten. Weingarten asked Joshua Bell, one of the world’s most famous violinists to play at a metro station in Washington DC during the morning commute. Bell played for 43 minutes and only a very few people gave him any money, yet alone stopped to listen. The author writes:

No one knew it, but the fiddler standing against a bare wall outside the Metro in an indoor arcade at the top of the escalators was one of the finest classical musicians in the world, playing some of the most elegant music ever written on one of the most valuable violins ever made. His performance was arranged by The Washington Post as an experiment in context, perception and priorities — as well as an unblinking assessment of public taste: In a banal setting at an inconvenient time, would beauty transcend?

This was an exploration into the meaning of beauty and how it is appreciated. The author of the article uses Kant to explain that beauty is:

What is beauty? Is it a measurable fact (Gottfried Leibniz), or merely an opinion (David Hume), or is it a little of each, colored by the immediate state of mind of the observer (Immanuel Kant)?

The article ends by stating that we may not be able to see this as people’s failure to appreciate art and beauty, because there is something called optimal viewing and when you are in a hurry to get to work you are not in the optimal mindset to appreciate beauty, but the author does question Americans ability to enjoy life. He writes:

“This is about having the wrong priorities,” Lane said.

If we can’t take the time out of our lives to stay a moment and listen to one of the best musicians on Earth play some of the best music ever written; if the surge of modern life so overpowers us that we are deaf and blind to something like that — then what else are we missing?

I strongly recommend reading the entire story, but that will require you to take time out of your busy day and this experiment shows how hard it is for us to “stop and smell the flowers.” The author won the Pulitzer prize for this piece of work and I think it is well deserved.

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