Do People Recognize Beauty in Everyday Life?

4 Aug 2013 /

This is a few years old now, but I just saw it today. (Please read Gene Weingarten‘s Pulitzer Prize-winning story from the Washington Post for the full details.)

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hnOPu0_YWhw]

The premise is that Joshua Bell, international virtuoso, one of the best violinists in the world — maybe the best violinist in the world — dresses in jeans, T-shirt and a Washington Nationals baseball cap, and for 45 minutes plays several renowned classical pieces (on a good fiddle — the Gibson ex-Huberman Stradivarius of 1713, purchased by Bell in 2003 for $4 million) in a Washington, D.C., metro station, during a Friday morning rush hour, with a violin case open in front of him for donations.

Do people recognize beauty in everyday life?

[SPOILER ALERT]

No. They don’t. Stacy Furukawa, a demographer at the Commerce Department, is the only person out of 1,000 or so passers-by who recognizes Bell.

“It was the most astonishing thing I’ve ever seen in Washington,” Furukawa says. “Joshua Bell was standing there playing at rush hour, and people were not stopping, and not even looking, and some were flipping quarters at him! Quarters!”

(Some people gave less than that, including pennies. Bell’s total take was $32.17.)

Furukawa enters the video around 1:35, stops 10 feet in front of Bell and listens smiling to the rest of the performance while everyone else in the place goes on about their business.  It’s heartbreaking to watch . . . because of the one person who stopped or the thousand others who didn’t, I’m not sure which.


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