Sunday, April 15, 2007

Context isn't everything -- but it is a lot

The other day I read a lovely, long long long piece in the Washington Post, which Ace at AoSHQ recommended (and so, I discovered later, did half the blogosphere), about renowned violinist Joshua Bell playing at the subway station near where my seester works... and about his having been heartily ignored by the cubicle drones.

The conclusion made was that American workers (or, perhaps he implied all us proles) wouldn't know art if it bit 'em on the a...nkle, were it not in its proper place, time, and frame. Context, it seems, is everything.

Except that it's not always that way. For starters, there is the basic fact of life that there are people going out of their way to bring fine art to mundane settings, as David Shribman points out (HT: Scott Johnson @ Power Line). Second, there are people willing to stop everything, even in the middle of the morning crush, to absorb the experience -- and others finding beauty in the oddest places (why else would Charles Sheeler have been so successful photographing and painting industrial scenes?).

Sometimes, we just sits and thinks, and sometimes we just sits. But we're not all oblivious to rainbows and windsong. I've seen farmers stop their tractors just to stare at the way the late afternoon sun shines through rough clouds onto a lone tree, or to smile over the voluptuous deep-brown corduroy hills of spring. I've known a trucker or two to pull off to the side of the road to take in a field of rudbeckia hirta, and they grin as they retell of the gold-black-and-green vistas. I, myself, have been late to jobs where I was expected to punch a timecard, purely because there was a person playing a flute at the end of a pedestrian underpass, and I had to stop next to the end of the urine-soaked tunnel to hear him finish his excessively whimsical take on Humoresque. It was art -- deliberately absurd art, but art nonetheless, and I could not pass it by unnoticed.

Context is not about time-and-place, about venue and frame. Sometimes, the real context lies in the person's willingness to take a moment's breath and see, hear, feel the beauty, even at the top of an escalator in a subway station.

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