How do we choose what and who to listen to, which gallery to visit? Do we have a choice? How do we evaluate a work of art? Do we care what’s an art and what’s an industry?
We are living in a world surrounded by “smart” ads. As soon as we open say iTunes, Spotify, we have suggested (or better say advertised) artists & playlists. In other words, we are told or even pushed to listen to certain music. When we used to go to a music shop and buy an album or tickets to a recital / concert to listen to a live performance, on radio or TV, on the cover of the magazines, in the movies, whether we noticed it or not, there were ads – telling us what & who we should listen to, What is good and what’s boring and more.
Gradually, sometimes without even noticing, our musical (or even more generally artistic) taste was made for us. Some have even developed a sixth sense, they can tell whether they like a musician or singer without even listening to them because they can judge them by the way they look!… More or less, the industry has taught us that a good singer looks like this. Therefore, it’s a given that whoever doesn’t look like that is not a good singer.
But what if there were no ads of any kind? Imagine there were no celebrities of any kind – no famous actors / actresses, directors, singers, composers… . What would be our opinion about that movie with our favorite actor / actress? Would we even watch that movie? How would we think or feel about that movie after watching it? How about that concert with that big name? Would we enjoy listening to that person if we didn’t know that he/she is famous (therefore he/she is good)?
What if somebody would play something from your favorite musician for you without you knowing it’s him/her and you hate it? How much can fame affect our decision and vice versa?
Well in 2007, Joshua Bell, a famous and talented violinist performed anonymously on a 300 year old Stradivarius violin which was worth between 4 to 14 million dollars in a Metro station in Washington, during the rush hour – as a social experiment.
Conductor Leonard Slatkin had predicted that “out of 1,000 people, my guess is there might be 35 or 40 who will recognize the quality for what it is. Maybe 75 to 100 will stop and spend some time listening” – and that he would make around $150.
Actually, it didn’t turn out that well. Out of 1097 people that passed by, only 6 stopped to listen for a short while and 27 gave money, some of which just threw the money without even stopping to listen. Interestingly enough, his 45 minutes Bach program received the most attention from a 3 year old boy. Other children wanted to stop and listen but the parents forced them to move on.
Making a total of $52 ($20 from someone who did recognize him) for someone who performs on the greatest concert stages in the world and can make thousands after each concert is not that heartwarming. On the other hand, 2 days prior to this social experiment, he sold out at a theater in Boston with average seats $100. Here is the social experiment video:
This was organized by the Washington Post as part of a social experiment about perception, taste and priorities of people. The outlines were: in a commonplace environment at an inappropriate hour: Do we perceive beauty?
Do we stop to appreciate it? Do we recognize the talent in an unexpected context?
“One of the possible conclusions from this experience could be: If we do not have a moment to stop and listen to one of the best musicians in the world playing the best music ever written, how many other things are we missing?”