A writer friend sent me a description of what happened when the world-class violinist, Joshua Bell, played with open violin case in a Washington, D C. metro station a couple of years ago. He was playing Bach for solo violin, compositions unmatched for emotional and intellectual content. For one hour he played and most people passed by without giving him a glance; one or two stopped for a little while. You can see clips from the observation video on you tube- it is worth watching. I don’t know the conclusions of this study, but I can speculate on what it means.
Don’t we all allow ourselves to be overstimulated at all times? How often is it unavoidable? Are our senses so overloaded that we resist being open to the world around us? My friend asked the question, “If we missed one of the great violinists playing right there beside us, what else are we missing?” I wonder, too, if we’re all so used to consulting the experts and expecting them to do our thinking for us, that we no longer trust our own judgment, especially where the arts are concerned. Maybe we think we need someone to stand there and tell us, “This is a world-class violinist. This is world-class music. This is art.” Then, we’ll believe our ears. In the visual arts, we don’t seem to be able to come face-to-face with someone’s piece of art and re-create in our minds possible scenarios for how and why the thing was made. We feel that we have to have a written label and an artist’s statement before we can begin to look at what is in front of our faces.
There is absolutely no artistic expression that can be appreciated without the audience’s mind being open to possibilities. Openness of the mind and heart invites trust- trust in our own abilities to notice and to make some sense out of the world. Like absolutely anything else, the more we practice noticing and the more we practice thinking, the better we become at it. Sometimes this process involves developing new friends, ones who are also open to exploration, and who encourage us in this pursuit.