Losing touch with beauty

Gene Weingarten from the Washington Post poses a very interesting question in the article, Pearls before Breakfast:

Can one of the nation’s great musicians cut through the fog of a D.C. rush hour? Let’s find out.

A world class concert violinist, Joshua Bell, plays in a subway station during morning rush hour. Will anyone notice? Watch the video, almost no one does. The full article about this insightful social experiment is here, and well worth a read. It begs the question:

IF A GREAT MUSICIAN PLAYS GREAT MUSIC BUT NO ONE HEARS . . . WAS HE REALLY ANY GOOD?

It’s an old epistemological debate, older, actually, than the koan about the tree in the forest. Plato weighed in on it, and philosophers for two millennia afterward: What is beauty? Is it a measurable fact (Gottfried Leibniz), or merely an opinion (David Hume), or is it a little of each, colored by the immediate state of mind of the observer (Immanuel Kant)?

Weingarten rests on Kant, context matters (in this case the am commute vs. concert hall), yet he admits this breaks down when he interviews the few commuters that did stop. They sensed the artistry and beauty to the music enough to postpone their morning commute a few minutes to listen. Yet most walked by like drones, and it strikes a nerve.

The great business mind and blogger Seth Green (author of The Purple Cow) makes the distrubing point that the rest of us would probably ignore him too.

Hmm … it is disturbing. Are we so immersed in efficiency, calculability, predictability and control (i.e. George Ritzer and his McDonalization thesis) that we have no room for art when it’s not pre-programed in? As Weingarten quotes in his article:

What is this life if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare.

— from “Leisure,” by W.H. Davies

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