Efforts to understand, improve, or do less harm to the world around me.


Thursday, January 28, 2010

Difficulty noticing the awesome

Recently the Washington Post did an experiment where people ignored a fantastic musician with a top quality instrument in a DC metro station. Although the comments at the end of the article were harsh about people and humanity, there are some other reasons he could have gone unnoticed:
  1. Listening to some music while doing other things is difficult because too intricate and detailed. One of my favorite CDs is a Bach album by Yo Yo Ma I have literally listened to 100s of times. Without fail it gets better every time I listen to it but I *cannot* do anything else (even driving). It feels like a fly buzzing around me.
  2. Emotional pull can be a negative when you are actively avoiding emotions. I actively hide myself from others when I'm in public, as the DC metro folks probably did. Aphex Twin, called a genius by everyone from Radiohead to Rolling Stone, has a broad music collection I have a very difficult time listening to passively because its so emotionally moving, especially his ambient work. Sometimes I just can't take it.
  3. Music of the best quality seems to require a certain amount of familiarity. Many of my now favorite albums are music selections I did not enjoy the first time I heard them.
  4. Great instruments don't mean great sound. The acoustics of the DC Metro station might not have brought out the best in a 3.2 million dollar violin. If you pipe his performance into the train station through crap speakers, nobody's going to notice it then either.
What we all really wanted to read about in this article was an old man walking by and beginning to cry without reason like the woman hearing a poem in Fahrenheit 451. However, real art might require both a positive situation and a ready observer. That said, it is without a doubt it is a very sad thing when a great artist goes unnoticed. Quoting the 1996 Basquiat movie, "no one wants to be part of a generation that ignores another Van Gogh."

(thanks Kim)

1 comment:

Kristy said...

But one has to ask what "noticing" looks like and how would it be defined. What if I am listening and intensely moved by the music though I only listened for a few brief moments and looked at the musician perhaps only in passing? Does my experience need to be publicly noticeable for it to be real? Furthermore, how long would I have to stand and listen to be considered "noticing"? A minute? Two hours? At what point can we say I have appreciated the art?

There is so much more to experiencing art than how long one spends in front of it.