22 April 2007

Beauty and attention

I was visiting a favourite blog which I haven't read in a long time. I came across this intriguing post about this article in the Washington Post. Ann of Holy Experience writes:
It was 7:51 a.m. on Friday, January 12, the middle of the morning rush hour, and a fiddler played before his open case. On that morning in January, life had no gilded, glinting frame; life was just happening, as it so often does, one part fading unnoticeably into the next. In the next 43 minutes, the violinist performed six classical pieces and 1,097 people passed by; who had time to stop and stare? Life was happening, full of care…and with no frame to punctuate the laudable moments.
I highly recommend the Post article, which can be found here.

I had just finished reading it when the announcer at the classical music station I listen to began to speak of the same article. He interviewed the musician. As the musician spoke, I transcribed some of what he said:
"I knew that I would be ignored...it's tough to take... but it was fascinating. ... We forget that music is a participatory experience be more aware and be open to beauty... [as artists,] that's our job, in a way: remind us of the beauty around us... maybe we could be more aware of the beauty that's around us all the time."
Now, it could be argued that it wouldn't matter WHAT was going on, one wouldn't expect busy New Yorkers to stop for anything on their way to work ... in that sense, it was a setup, and almost cruel ... suppose someone did want to listen, they really could not, without suffering consequences out of proportion to the gift of music at that time.

A couple of minutes into it, something revealing happens. A woman and her preschooler emerge from the escalator. The woman is walking briskly and, therefore, so is the child. She's got his hand.

"I had a time crunch," recalls Sheron Parker, an IT director for a federal agency. "I had an 8:30 training class, and first I had to rush Evvie off to his teacher, then rush back to work, then to the training facility in the basement."

Evvie is her son, Evan. Evan is 3.

You can see Evan clearly on the video. He's the cute black kid in the parka who keeps twisting around to look at [the violinist], as he is being propelled toward the door.

"There was a musician," Parker says, "and my son was intrigued. He wanted to pull over and listen, but I was rushed for time."

So Parker does what she has to do. She deftly moves her body ... cutting off her son's line of sight. As they exit the arcade, Evan can still be seen craning to look.
I don't think it's fair to imply that people don't respond to music in such a situation. It was too early, and the music was presented in a cacaphonic, hectic environment.

The experiment does show something, however: it shows the importance of a frame for art. Yes, we should all be alert to beauty, but we're not always going to be. That's why we need cues to help us know when something is beautiful and worth our attention.

Musicians need to perform in areas conducive to thoughtful listening. Artists need to present their work in areas where it can be savoured. Writers need books - still the best way to read. And worshipers need places to think of the greatest Artist of all. Even the plainest church can, and should be, beautiful.

We cannot always wander around, rapt in the beauties of life all around us. "Life is real, life is earnest," my grandmother used to quote. I have come full circle from going through life without looking, to living in quiet appreciation of all I could absorb, to what I hope is a place of balance. I need to be open to the Beloved as He shows me His gifts to me, but also I need to concentrate on the task at hand, finding in its performance a beauty all its own.

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