How good are we at perceiving beauty? That was the focus of a Washington Post social experiment that sought to test people’s ability to identify great art. This involved dressing up world famous violinist Joshua Bell as a common subway performer:
The musician did not play popular tunes whose familiarity alone might have drawn interest. That was not the test. These were masterpieces that have endured for centuries on their brilliance alone, soaring music befitting the grandeur of cathedrals and concert halls.
Almost no one stopped to enjoy a free performance by a virtuoso who can sell out a symphony hall in seconds (give or take). Reading the story is surprisingly emotional. Watching the performance below begs the question, how could people not stop? But then ask yourself, would you have stopped?
For me, one of two explanations make sense in this case. First, literally one in a thousand people like classical music anymore. Or second, people were presented with beauty in an environment where tuning out is the norm. As a veteran Metro warrior I think it’s the latter.
The DC Metro is all about getting from A to B without getting crushed by the masses of people trying to push their way to work. I have made entire commutes without remembering a thing, and, I am ashamed to say, have contemplated shoulder checking women and small children in order to make my Red Line connection.
So it is no surprise to me most people not only didn’t care but couldn’t comprehend beauty in the subway.
What’s the correlation to aging you ask? The beauty of aging, growing, and becoming an elder is obscured in a societal environment that emphasize youth, adulthood, and productivity. As long as that environment remains unchanged few will be able to appreciate the beauty of old age.
Creating a new environment for life-long growth is our mission at Changing Aging.