The list of blogs linking to Gene Weingarten's fascinating Sunday story in the Washington Post on the fate of Josh Bell's busking adventure has reached the critical mass when it's impossible to keep up. Two things stand out to me, one, that the point made by National Gallery curator Mark Leithauser basically holds the key to the story, and, two, that many of the commuters who stopped to notice Bell had some exposure to music as children. Leithauser says that the context a work of art is viewed in matters greatly to its perception. A viewer wouldn't think to recognize an Ellsworth Kelly in a restaurant, but will stop to gaze and look at it critically in the National Gallery. Commuters don't expect to hear Josh Bell in the subway, and therefore aren't moved or touched when he's there, and they don't stop to perceive the art that is, literally, filling their immediate environment.
That some notice it at all is a testament to the importance of art education and exposure, and the week that Gustavo Dudamel is appointed music director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic makes the point that much more clearly. Dudamel, as is well-known, comes out of the "System" in Venezuela which starts teaching children orchestral instruments before they start school. Dudamel speaks about this passionately in this radio interview. As important as the music is to these children, it's the "sensibility" that truly matters. (Start listening at 28:30.)
As the Bell experiment shows all too clearly, the students who pick up an instrument are the ones most likely to have an involvement with classical music lasting for their entire lives. "Young people, you know, in the audience, I think that this is very important to have in the future, you know?" said Dudamel.