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Lifestyle to Man’s Receptivity to Beauty

Joshua Bell, a 39 year old internationally acclaimed classical musician, should not go home with a broken heart when his brilliant performance at the Washington Metro did not command a crowd. His lack of audience does not in any way imply his lack of talent. What happened to him on the morning of January 12 was an inevitable demonstration to the tragedy of modern life. Modern lifestyle engages man in perpetual motion, tossing him to and fro in a fast pace so that he barely have enough time left to stop for a moment and relax and notice the beautiful things in life, much less appreciate it.

Joshua Bell played brilliant classical pieces in the rush hour of the morning at the L’Enfant Plaza. His targeted audience is the busy individuals, mostly bureaucrats, who are on their way to work. To state it simply, he was trying to capture the attention of the people who are on the “rushed”, a word highly symbolic of the modern way of life. Bell was in an incognito performance, with the goal of determining whether people will recognize “beauty” amidst an ordinary everyday setting. “Beauty” is to be presented in the form of a brilliant classical music performed by an equally brilliant artist.

Joshua Bell is regarded to be one of the finest classical musicians of modern times. His audience includes the crown heads of Europe and he filled concert halls in standing ovation. He used one of the most valuable violins ever made and played with passion coupled with athletic and acrobatic gestures. His rendition of the classical pieces like “Chaconne” by Johann Sebastian Bach and “Ave Maria” by Franz Schubert in the L’Enfant Plaza was as superbly done as if he was in a real performance inside prestigious concert halls (Weingarten pW10). But Joshua Bell had failed to even attract a small crowd that day.

It seemed that a good artist like Bell could not command a crowd at all times in all places. Were the people at the Plaza incapable of appreciating a brilliant musical piece? John Lane, a British author, gave a helpful explanation into what happened to Bell at the L’Enfant Plaza. According to him, people ignored Bell “not because people didn’t have the capacity to understand beauty but because it was irrelevant to them”. In his book, “Timeless Beauty: in the Arts and Everyday Life” he talked about modern man’s loss of appreciation for beauty.

For modern man, beauty is not as important as the accumulation of wealth. The people who passed by Bell that day were a representative of the modern man; they were on their way to achieve certain monetary goals in the exclusion of everything else. Their eyes were set on money not on beauty. To focus on beauty is to be hindered, it means to loss precious times that could have been spent in the accumulation of wealth. Even if they have enough, they would still want more. Lane points out that “this is a case of wrong priorities” (Weingarten pW10).

Time is an essential factor in the appreciation of beauty. In order to appreciate something as beautiful one has to first perceive that it is there. But how can one perceived that something is there unless he takes a moment to look or listen to it? In the appreciation of beauty one does not merely have to look or listen, he must be able to see and hear with an undivided attention. Modern man may characteristically be able to look but never really see, his eyes are on an object but his mind was of somewhere. It is like a case of seeing and yet never able to see, of hearing and yet never able to hear.

The mind was always engaged into something, as if the whole world will stop if they leave it blank. So many things get their attention, it seemed that they like to get everything that their hands can lay hold on. The persons who were able to appreciate Joshua Bell’s music took the time to listen in spite of the fact that they were busy. John David Mortensen, a project manager for an international program at the Department of Energy, stopped to listen to Bell. George Tindley, a croissant and coffee shop attendant at the nearby mall, took the time to walk to the very edge of the store to listen to Bell.

John Picarello, a supervisor at the US postal service, positioned himself at the end of the arcade to listen to Bell. Janice Olu, a public trust officer of HUD, stayed in a coffee shop as long as she dared to listen to Bell. Edna Souza, a shoeshine lady at the Plaza, refrained from calling the police to listen to Bell. They later commented, “whatever it was it made me feel at peace”(Mortensen), “ you could tell in one second that this guy is good”(Tindley), “ I’ve never heard anyone of that caliber”(Picarello), “ I really don’t want to leave”( Olu), “He was pretty good, that guy”(Souza)(Weingarten pW10).

The actions and the comments of the individuals mentioned above clearly illustrates that man need to spend time to appreciate beauty in whatever form it is presented. But sad to say, modern life has taken so much of man’s time. They are always busy and with the advancement of technology they become much busier as their dreams and goals took a complex turn. It is not surprising then that no crowd gathered around Joshua Bell that day. It is significant to note that the people who were able to appreciate Bell’s music, although did not form a crowd, were not necessarily artist themselves.

Mortensen does not even know what major or minor keys are. Edna Souza was just an ordinary street shoe shine lady. And the most remarkable of all are the kids who tagged along mom and dad and showed interest in Bell by trying to stop and watch but were promptly scooted away by their “rushed” parents. According to poet Billy Collins “babies were born with knowledge of poetry, because the lub dub of the mother’s heart is an iambic meter… then life slowly starts to choke the poetry out of us”(Weingarten pW10).

In relation to music, what Collins is trying to say is that all men have the innate capacity to appreciate musical beauty but the cares of life had taken precedence over his interest in the form. As Welsh poet W. H. Davies aptly put it “What is this life if full of care, we have no time to stand and stare”. Man’s loss for the appreciation of beauty is rather a tragic state to be in. The loss of appreciation for the beauties of life is an indicative of the diminishing quality of man’s way of living.

Souza had commented that it was not surprising that people ignored Bell, a man had once died in the station and theoretically those same people never even bothered to look at the dead man. She had observed that these people led a stressful, “mind your business” life. Stacy Furukawa, one of Bell’s audiences who recognized him, was alarmed at the thought that people were not stopping to listen to a beautiful music played by a brilliant artists. She found herself thinking “Omigosh, what kind of a city do I live in that this could happen?

” It is pretty not hard to assume that if people missed to listen to a beautiful music ever written played by the best musician on earth, then they probably missed a whole lot more of the beautiful and essential things in life such as good relationships and real happiness. Beauty is very much therapeutic; there is something about it that lifts the soul and dispels the chaos and gloom that resides in the recesses of man’s heart. When listening to Bell, Mortensen had later remarked that “he feels at peace”. Picarello added that “it was a treat, just a brilliant incredible way to start the day” (Weingarten pW10).

If modern man lost the meaning for living, he should listen to Joshua Bell the next time he comes in town! Questions for the essay: 1. What is the effect of modern lifestyle to man’s receptivity to beauty? 2. Does a good artist command an audience at all times and in all places? 3. In order to appreciate beauty, does one needs to be an artist? 4. What is the tragic effect of man’s loss of appreciation for beauty?

Work Cited

Weingarten, Gene. April 8, 2007. Pearls Before Breakfast”. Washington Post. Magazine. Accessed 16 October 2007 < http://www. washingtonpost. com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/04/04/AR2007040401721. html>

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