The Presumption of Artistic Types

A much-shared picture appeared on Facebook today,with a lovely little story attached. I’ve reproduced it below:


“A man sat at a metro station in Washington DC and started to play the violin; it was a cold January morning. He played six Bach pieces for about 45 minutes. During that time, since it was rush hour, it was calculated that 1,100 people went through the station, most of them on their way to work.

Three minutes went by, and a middle aged man noticed there was musician playing. He slowed his pace, and stopped for a few seconds, and then hurried up to meet his schedule.

A minute later, the violinist received his first dollar tip: a woman threw the money in the till and without stopping, and continued to walk.

A few minutes later, someone leaned against the wall to listen to him, but the man looked at his watch and started to walk again. Clearly he was late for work.

The one who paid the most attention was a 3 year old boy. His mother tagged him along, hurried, but the kid stopped to look at the violinist. Finally, the mother pushed hard, and the child continued to walk, turning his head all the time. This action was repeated by several other children. All the parents, without exception, forced them to move on.

In the 45 minutes the musician played, only 6 people stopped and stayed for a while. About 20 gave him money, but continued to walk their normal pace. He collected $32. When he finished playing and silence took over, no one noticed it. No one applauded, nor was there any recognition.

No one knew this, but the violinist was Joshua Bell, one of the most talented musicians in the world. He had just played one of the most intricate pieces ever written, on a violin worth $3.5 million dollars.

Two days before his playing in the subway, Joshua Bell sold out at a theater in Boston where the seats averaged $100.

This is a real story. Joshua Bell playing incognito in the metro station was organized by the Washington Post as part of a social experiment about perception, taste, and priorities of people. The outlines were: in a commonplace environment at an inappropriate hour: Do we perceive beauty? Do we stop to appreciate it? Do we recognize the talent in an unexpected context?

One of the possible conclusions from this experience could be:

If we do not have a moment to stop and listen to one of the best musicians in the world playing the best music ever written, how many other things are we missing?”

Now, stuff like this gets on my tits. I usually ignore it, but I’m not well today and in a bad mood, so they got both barrels…

Wow. Talk about a mind-numbingly stupid experiment just to prove an agenda!

People don’t go to underground stations to ponder and enjoy the finer things in life, they go there because they are on the way to somewhere else spending the minimum possible time doing it. This experiment would have exactly the same meaning if it was conducted in the middle of Spaghetti Junction.

Sadly, they rather under-analysed the result, choosing to simply dismiss the public’s reaction as a deficiency in “perception, taste and priority”. Had they actually thought about it, they could have reached some more meaningful conclusions about appropriateness of venue, about context of performance and about however valued a performer might be to their core audience, there are billions of people out there who neither know nor care about them.

So instead of learning about humility and professionalism, it was incorrectly dismissed as a failure of the audience.

As much as anything, it was the arrogance of the presumption that just because he was playing an apparently difficult piece of Bach (a vastly over-rated composer, in my view, being the Andrew Lloyd Webber of his day) on an expensive violin, that this made what he was doing more important than what the other people were doing.

That reality-gap is a common failing in “artistic” types. It’s exactly – *exactly* – the same as a Trekkie standing in the middle of Oxford Circus Tube in London, reading aloud the script of “Yesterday’s Enterprise” and expecting to be taken seriously.

Caring, Sharing Keith Vaz, Hero of the people.

Missive to The Independent after they wrote a rather understated piece on Keith Vaz:


You stated that Keith Vaz “enjoys the limelight” which is a little like describing Jim Davidson as “a little unfunny”.

This media whore MP is an embarrassment to Parliament. An ambulance-chasing self-loving publicity opportunist who would trample over an old lady to get closer to a camera. There will never be a bandwagon too small for Vaz to jump onto if there is the slightest chance of a few seconds TV time or a centimetre or two of newsprint.

He tries to sound sincere and worldly, but the truth is, “Caring Sharing Keith” is a parody of Spitting Image proportions being played out to people with dysfunctional brainstems who can’t separate truth from fiction.

Why anyone thinks this avatar of a man should be taken seriously is quite beyond understanding – his sincerity is tissuepaper-thin, his actual power is mostly an illusion and his motivation is totally self-serving.

I would look forward to his retirement, but I know he will simply re-model himself as an elder statesman and seek out even more media coverage for his irrelevant opinions.

He is one of very few people that make me wonder if we wouldn’t be better adopting a North Korean style of political management…

Standard completely blinkered about cyclists

The Evening Standard has gone all soft in the head again about cyclists on London’s roads. This time, they’re pushing a front-page story whinging that only four drivers have been prosecuted over forty cyclist deaths: Original article

Once again your critical analysis has failed when it comes to cyclists.

Why should there be more than four jailings of drivers in incidents that result in cyclist deaths? It has been long documented, including in safety campaigns run by The Standard, that cyclists’ behaviour is the major contributing factor in road incidents involving them. Frankly, I am surprised that there are as many prosecutions of drivers as there are. Hopefully improved CCTV and the growing use of dashboard cameras will reduce wasted police and court time.

Your assumption that the cyclist is always the victim and is always blameless is becoming intensely irritating because it is a completely inaccurate view of reality as any road user, pedestrian or police officer will tell you.

Please provide a more accurate balance in future.

They won’t publish it, of course, they never do. It spoils their world-view of cyclists as martyrs…