Things are not always as they seem. On a cold January morning in 2007 near the Washington DC Station a young man with a violin played six Bach pieces for about 45 minutes. During that time around two thousand people went through the station, most of them on their way to work. They rushed by as if he were a mannequin. After about three minutes a middle aged man noticed the musician playing. He slowed for a few seconds and then followed the rush.
After four minutes the violinist received his first dollar. A woman threw the money in the hat and without stopping continued to walk.
Six minutes passed, then a young man leaned against the wall to listen to the violinist play. His hesitation was brief, he glanced at his watch and was gone in a flash.
Ten minutes into his playing a three year old boy stopped his mother, but his mom yanked his arm and tugged him along. The little kid stopped to look over his shoulder at the violinist, causing his mother to pull harder. This action was repeated over and over with parents and children. The more interested the child was, the greater the force exerted by the parent.
After forty five minutes of the musician playing continuously, only six people stopped and listened for more than two minutes. About twenty gave him money, but they continued to walk at their normal pace. He collected a total of $32.
After an hour he finished playing and silence took over. No one noticed. No one applauded, nor was there any recognition. No one knew, but the violinist was Joshua Bell, one of the greatest musicians in the world. He played one of the most intricate pieces ever written on a violin worth $3.5 Million dollars. Just two days before Joshua Bell played to a sold out theater in Boston, where the price for an average seat was over $100. Joshua Bell playing incognito in the metro station was organized by the Washington Post as part of a social experiment about perception, taste and people’s priorities. The question the Post wanted answered, was in a common place environment at an inappropriate hour, do we perceive beauty and greatness? Do we really recognize talent in an unexpected context?
No one would expect the best in the world to be doing a free concert for pennies thrown in a hat. Many times greatness is about us and we can’t see the tree for the forest. I know one artist on eBay who is a very famous portrait artist. He decided to do an eBay experiment and see if greatness could be discovered among the mundane art of the masses. I can’t tell you his name or what his eBay user name is. I will say he does stunning abstracts and people all over the world are buying them for a small pittance. I want to shout to the world, you have an opportunity to buy greatness and you are haggling over should they bid more than $25. I remember the first dozen or so he auctioned off went for $1. I don’t know how long he will continue the test, but I’m sure he feels like Joshua Bell standing on the corner with people dragging their kids away from him.
I mention this because there was a time when you could have purchased a G. Harvey painting by buying him a meal. He was ignored in the art world and yet he plodded on. At his last show in Scottsdale $1.5 million of his art was sold.
You never know you are in the presence of greatness many times if the props and signs are not there. I’m reminded of the time Gary Cooper, the great actor, no relation that I know of, saw an old couple broken down beside the road. He stopped and helped the old man change his tire. The old woman insisted he come home for supper. She fed him a modest meal. They had no idea who was eating with them and Gary had enough grace not to remind them. It wasn’t until months later when the old man saw a movie poster did he realize who the tall young man that helped them was.
Who knows, if you saw some of Will Cooper’s major works in one of the top art galleries in New York or Santa Fe your perception of me would be much different. You would suddenly see me as a fine artist with great talent. On eBay I’m perceived as a broken down cowboy who dabbles with paints. I think your eBay portrait is probably closer to the truth, but perceptions can fool you.
Be careful and don’t miss greatness because you are in such a rush. Slow down enough to enjoy the things God has provided. You may run into a Joshua Bell and be too busy to capture the magic of the moment.
That’s all for tonight. Thank you for reading my blog. Will Cooper