How Much Beauty Do We Ignore?


Although the media covered this pretty well back in 2007 (you can read the Washington Post story here), I don’t remember hearing about it. My friend B. recently sent me some email considering its implications.

Apparently Joshua Bell – one of the world’s best violinists – played a 40 minute concert in a Metro station in Washington D.C., posing as a street musician. Only seven people stopped to listen (out of 1097 who passed by), and if you subtract the $20 donated by a woman who recognized him, he earned a total of $39 – actually, not a bad take for a street musician. Still, it raises interesting issues concerning how context can affect perception. Sure, most of the folks in the Metro were in hurry to get from points A to B, but does anyone doubt that if they had noticed the virtuosity before their ears, they wouldn’t have paused at least briefly to appreciate it?

The question is, given how much we all rush about in our lives, how much beauty do we miss on a daily basis?

2 thoughts on “How Much Beauty Do We Ignore?

  1. Context is everything. I heard Leo Kottke once joke about how he would play a show to a sold out house, then go back to his hotel room, still wound up from performing and continue to play his guitar in his room to relax. He would invariably get complaints from other guests who were getting a free concert.

    One of my favorite Woody Allen quotes is “90% of life is just showing up”. I don’t know about the actual percentage, but it seems reasonable to think that we’re probably the one species that has evolved to the point of even being able to take in the notion of beauty and other loftier thoughts, and surely that capacity has a minority vote in our day to day routines and survival instincts.

    What I find more disturbing is this ridiculous trend towards multi-tasking. Twice in the past few weeks I’m come close to being hit by a driver chatting on a cell phone, oblivious to what had just happened. So, while it is sad that we can’t appreciate unexpected beauty, it is scary that we’re now starting to do a lousy job of the “just showing up” part.

  2. John-

    So true about multi-tasking. In simpler times you might have had one voice chattering away in your head; now, for me at least, its more like five, each with their own agendas.

    Since I posted this, it has occurred to me that in addition to ignoring a lot of beauty, our distraction allows us also to ignore a lot of ugliness. That might help to counterbalance the negative effects of ignoring beauty, but it makes for a bland life, and one in which problems that could be solved aren’t.

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