Perception of value
Artist and writer Jack White tells this story and it gives me goosebumps. There are all sorts of tricky (mostly a bit pretentious) questions asked and debated about art. Or ‘art’. In the Dark Ages, when I was at art college, we used to have long seminars debating a variety of art issues.
But let me tell you the story (which I’ve edited a bit just to make it shorter). Jack writes:
A thin young man wearing a baseball cap, black sweater, grey slacks and ordinary shoes removed his violin from its case in a Washington D.C. Metro Station. He began to flawlessly play six of Johann Sebastian Bach’s most complicated pieces. He never spoke a word, happy to let his violin fill the air with the beautiful music. The young man played a solid 45 minutes without a break while an estimated 2,000 people rushed past.
After about three minutes, a middle-aged man noticed there was a musician playing. His fast pace slowed for a few steps and then he quickly shuffled on as if he were late for an important meeting.
About four minutes later someone dropped a dollar in the hat on the floor in front of the violinist.
Eleven minutes into the impromptu concert, a young man leaned against the wall to listen. Looking at his watch, he turned and dashed away as if he had to catch a train.
Fourteen minutes passed before a three year old boy stopped, but his mother tugged him with a jerk. The little child broke free, running to watch the young man playing the violin. His angry mother grabbed him with a firmer grip and pulled the youngster away.
After 45 minutes of nonstop playing, six people had stopped to listen for a couple of minutes, twenty people gave him money. The donations added up to almost $32. When he finished no one applauded, there was no recognition at all. One young girl watched as he put the violin back in the case, then ran to join her friends. To those passing by he was just another starving musician playing on the street for tips.
In truth, he was the world-renowned violinist Joshua Bell, one of the greatest musicians on earth. He played some of the most difficult pieces ever written on a violin worth 3.5 million dollars. The Washington Post organized this event as part of an experiment on perception, taste and people’s priorities. Joshua had played the night before in Boston to a sold out, standing room only audience where ticket prices started at $100.
What can I say? Did you get goosebumps too?