Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Do We Still Recognize Beauty When We Encounter It?

I think the following social experiment (by The Washington Post) will surprise many. Tell me what will happen if you add this up:

An beautiful and difficult piece of music 
a $3.5 million violin 
a free performance in a train station.

What do you think would happen if he played for 43 minutes with his violin case open for donations?
If you answered he would make money, you are somewhat correct. He made $32.17 ($20 from the one woman who recognized him).
-But, his concert three days before the experiment sold out Boston's Symphony Hall where the cheap seats were $100.

If you answered people would stop and listen, you are somewhat correct. Out of over 1,000 people that passed, only 7 stopped for a short time. There was never even a small crowd that formed.
-2 weeks later his concert was standing-room only in a nearby city.

Why can we not recognize beauty any longer? I believe it is for these reasons:
1 - We are too busy. 
We think that there are other more "important" things to do. Yet how many hours are wasted on TV, Facebook, phones, etc.?

2 - We are too clouded in our thinking. 
Our culture holds up the feeding of all of our appetites as the recipe for happiness. Think of what we are being sold on a daily basis - porn, materialism, relativism, etc. We have stifled the three things that lead to true happiness - truth, beauty, and goodness.

3 - We navel-gaze too much. 
Navel-gazing = the are caring about ourselves alone. This means we are not a loving culture, because to love we must go beyond ourselves.

4 - We have lost the virtue of leisure:
Leisure isn't just mindless pleasure outside of work. It is the act of thinking about things as they truly are. It involves contemplation and deep-thinking. Since we are a shallow people who do not pray, there is very little true leisure.

To stop and think about what is true is a great thing.
To stop and recognize beauty is a great thing.
To stop and find goodness is a great thing.
Don't let another opportunity to do so pass you by.

Here is video of people passing Joshua Bell by:

To read the article on the social experiment - click here.


Gert said...

Could it be that some people really do have a train they have to catch?

Jane said...

Well, that's an interesting experiment, but I'm afraid that I have to respectfully disagree with your assessment of its meaning. I don't think "we have lost the ability to see beauty" is a fair assessment. This situation could just as easily be interpreted as a case of people choosing to fulfill their duties (i.e. earn money for their families) instead of indulging in sensual pleasure (i.e. listen to the pretty music).

I used to work in DC, and frankly, many times have done the exact same thing these people did: averted my eyes and walked right past the man playing beautiful music.
There is an unwritten code for DC commuters: don't make eye contact; don't ever take notice of the other humans pouring past you; don't ever admit you have money to the street people.

To me, this speaks less of any increase in cultural boorishness and more about the nature of the modern city: a place of fear and alienation. I know that's a terrible cliché, but I think it's true.

Somewhere in every human heart is the instinct, born of the self-knowledge of our own sinfulness, that human beings are dangerous. In the city, you are surrounded by literally millions of these dangerous mysteries. Without the framework of a community, the fear rises to the surface, engendering a habit of acting as if the people around you do not exist. Without any way to evaluate the relative safety of another person and an order for interacting at a predetermined level of intimacy, what other recourse do we have?

That said, thank you a thought-provoking post.

siothrun said...

To look at many of the people, they didn't even glance at him. It was only when there were people standing, watching that others noticed there was something going on....

And by the looks of them, no one was running desperately to catch their train...

But understandably its not everyone's cup of tea - perhaps they prefer the musical stylings of Lady Ga Ga.