28 February 2010

the art of appearance

This is an article written a few years ago about a fascinating experiment with world renowned classical violinist Joshua Bell. Joshua began playing "Chaconne" from Johann Sebastian Bach's Partita No. 2 in D Minor on a cold January morning in a Washington DC subway during rush hour. Bell called this piece "not just one of the greatest pieces of music ever written, but one of the greatest achievements of any man in history. It's a spiritually powerful piece, emotionally powerful, structurally perfect.”

The result was this: in the three-quarters of an hour that Joshua Bell played, seven people stopped what they were doing to hang around and take in the performance, at least for a minute. Twenty-seven gave money, most of them on the run, for a total of $32 and change. That leaves the 1,070 people who hurried by, oblivious, many only three feet away, few even turning to look. This was all videotaped by a hidden camera.

He played this intricate piece on a violin worth 3.5 million dollars. Two days before this subway performance, Joshua sold out a theater in Boston where the seats averaged $100.

Here is another example from Mark Leithauser, a senior curator at the National Gallery, overseeing the framing of great works of art worth millions. He thinks he has an idea of what happened with Joshua in the subway station that morning:
"Let's say I took one of our more abstract masterpieces, say an Ellsworth Kelly, and removed it from its frame, marched it down the 52 steps that people walk up to get to the National Gallery, past the giant columns, and brought it into a restaurant. It's a $5 million painting. And it's one of those restaurants where there are pieces of original art for sale, by some industrious kids from the Corcoran School, and I hang that Kelly on the wall with a price tag of $150. No one is going to notice it. An art curator might look up and say: 'Hey, that looks a little like an Ellsworth Kelly. Please pass the salt.'"

Basically, his point is that we shouldn't be too ready to label the folks in the subway station as uncultured idiots. Context DOES matter.
“Kant said the same thing. He took beauty seriously: In his Critique of Aesthetic Judgment, Kant argued that one's ability to appreciate beauty is related to one's ability to make moral judgments. But there was a caveat. Paul Guyer of the University of Pennsylvania, one of America's most prominent Kantian scholars, says the 18th-century German philosopher felt that to properly appreciate beauty, the viewing conditions must be optimal.”

In relation to this experiment, there is a quote from Seth Godin’s book ‘All Marketers Are Liars Tell Stories. His quote cuts to the point:
“Many things that are true are true because you believe them. …”We believe what we want to believe, and once we believe something, it becomes a self-fulfulling truth.”

I bring this up because this business is LOADED with perception, and it shouldn’t be taken for granted. There are experiments done where in that it is proven a person makes a conscious or unconscious decision about us in the first 3-5 seconds of meeting. One perfect example: if a client walks in my studio and sees, say, huge lights, a big camera, a slew of assistants, and lots of buzzing about, they will think to themselves what amazing images they will get before I even click the camera. Regardless of how much equipment is set up, I will still use mostly or all natural light, minimal equipment, etc. and stick to my successful ways of shooting that I’ve always done. I won’t, however, deny the convincing power of one’s location and equipment and how that can completely change an idea about what you’re presenting or what you’re about to present.

You can read the full article about Joshua Bell here.

You can see the time lapse youtube video here. It's so gorgeous; it'll give you chills.

4 comments:

Hilda said...

I remember reading this article a while ago. It's interesting isn't it, how context in terms of appearance affects peoples' expectations so much. To me, this whole notion goes hand in hand with that of how much people will believe you/accept what you're saying without checking depending on how much certainty you project, in other words "if you can't be right, be sure." Always lovely to visualize or read your posts.

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sarah said...

I find this really interesting. How much of our taste is influenced by the context in which we find ourselves? This experiment would seem to suggest quite a bit of it. It's the whole issue of why we go to see the Mona Lisa, other than that it's famous?
It makes me interested to think more about the things I find beautiful and why I think that they are.
Great post, by the way!

Sabine said...

I saw this news post when it first came out. Apparently only one person stayed for the whole performance and it was only because she recognized him from his Theatre performance 2 days prior. Rather sad because the piece he was playing was just mind-blowing!