Do we only enjoy art because the context allows us to?

Here’s an article from 2007 about an interesting social experiment where a famous classical violinist took his art to the busy subway to see if the passing hordes would stop and appreciate his music in a mundane setting.

It was 7:51 a.m. on Friday, January 12, the middle of the morning rush hour. In the next 43 minutes, as the violinist performed six classical pieces, 1,097 people passed by. Almost all of them were on the way to work, which meant, for almost all of them, a government job. L’Enfant Plaza is at the nucleus of federal Washington, and these were mostly mid-level bureaucrats with those indeterminate, oddly fungible titles: policy analyst, project manager, budget officer, specialist, facilitator, consultant.

Each passerby had a quick choice to make, one familiar to commuters in any urban area where the occasional street performer is part of the cityscape: Do you stop and listen? Do you hurry past with a blend of guilt and irritation, aware of your cupidity but annoyed by the unbidden demand on your time and your wallet? Do you throw in a buck, just to be polite? Does your decision change if he’s really bad? What if he’s really good? Do you have time for beauty? Shouldn’t you? What’s the moral mathematics of the moment?

On that Friday in January, those private questions would be answered in an unusually public way. No one knew it, but the fiddler standing against a bare wall outside the Metro in an indoor arcade at the top of the escalators was one of the finest classical musicians in the world, playing some of the most elegant music ever written on one of the most valuable violins ever made. His performance was arranged by The Washington Post as an experiment in context, perception and priorities — as well as an unblinking assessment of public taste: In a banal setting at an inconvenient time, would beauty transcend?

Do we only enjoy art because a convenient and conducive context ‘allows’ us to?

What is the real value of art then? 

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3 thoughts on “Do we only enjoy art because the context allows us to?

  1. Isn’t rush hour = rushing to work, meaning that this experiment didn’t consider the fact that most people would not have the time to stop and admire?

  2. Same Sentiments as the previous comment.

    I believe people want to listen to the music or appreciate the arts. However, sometimes due to the rush that we experience we are unable to stop and appreciate it the way proponents of art wishes to embrace.

  3. I think that is the point. People are busy so they do not appreciate art. That is exactly what the experiment is trying to prove. People only appreciate art when they have time, properly dressed and have paid appropriate amount of money.
    I think if the music is really fascinationg, and actually worth 200 pounds as Mr. Foo has said, people who know how to appreciate music would actually stop and listen “at least for a while”. I think they are just indifferent. There are things that you cannot ignore even when you are really busy.

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