Thursday, April 24, 2008

The World is Full of Magic, and We Are All Zombies

Pretty Lady is not at all suprised by this story of the virtuoso at the train station:

In the three-quarters of an hour that Joshua Bell played, seven people stopped what they were doing to hang around and take in the performance, at least for a minute. Twenty-seven gave money, most of them on the run -- for a total of $32 and change. That leaves the 1,070 people who hurried by, oblivious, many only three feet away, few even turning to look.

No, Mr. Slatkin, there was never a crowd, not even for a second.

It was all videotaped by a hidden camera. You can play the recording once or 15 times, and it never gets any easier to watch. Try speeding it up, and it becomes one of those herky-jerky World War I-era silent newsreels. The people scurry by in comical little hops and starts, cups of coffee in their hands, cellphones at their ears, ID tags slapping at their bellies, a grim danse macabre to indifference, inertia and the dingy, gray rush of modernity.

Pretty Lady herself has been Openly Mocked, here in New York, for glorying in the daily miracles which surround her--the afternoon sunlight cascading across an ancient stone high-rise, fluted with mythic carvings; the jazz saxophone echoing off the urban canyons at dusk; the layers of intricate graffiti peeling in rusty tatters on an ancient fence; the riotous umbrellas of extravagantly pink flowers, mimosa and cherry and dogwood and tulip magnolia, improbably festooning the Brooklyn avenues in April. There have been times when she was innocently sitting on a train, and a young Opera Singer strode magnificently onto her car and treated her to an aria. There have been days when she nearly gave herself heart failure, dancing on the sidewalk to the pipings of Peruvian musicians. She has nearly been run over, pausing on the street to gape at a particularly expressive gargoyle. Heady perfumes of bakeries and crysanthemums and sugar-roasted nuts and Chinese laundries all mixed have nearly sent her swooning. She deliberately walks through sprinklers and loose fire hydrants in midsummer, and will gladly bicycle seven miles so that she might jump into the ocean at Brighton Beach and cycle back, cool and sunburnt and salty.

These myriad miracles are everywhere, darlings, and most of them are absolutely free. Although the opera singer and the violinist could use your tip.

With all of this tragic oblivion in the mass of humanity, is it any wonder that artists nearly starve? Pretty Lady used to sell her work on the street, and she can tell you that this is not a way to make a living. Art is the one commodity where the law of Supply and Demand has no bearing, as Supply is nearly infinite, and Demand is entirely determined by Context. She once had a gentleman stop at her table in Soho and declare, "look, Margie, these are just as good as the ones we saw in that gallery over there, for four thousand dollars."

Pretty Lady replied, "Indeed they are, and you may purchase them for forty!"

The fellow laughed and walked away.


Desert Cat said...

Openly mocked? But those are the very reasons to be. The rest is just crap we have to go through to get from one moment of magnificence to the next.

Bob said...

The fellow laughed and walked away.

Wow PL, if that ever happened to me I would have to conclude that both the $4,000 and the $40 art offerings weren't worth a tinkers damn. And I've had some of my artwork used for U.S. Post Office cachets. At least that allowed me to sell prints of said cachet art for twenty bucks... for a short time.

I'vd sold my "art" on T-shirts, tote bags, coffee cups, ceramic coasters, whatever would stir up a sale.

But I'm no artist, never claimed to be. Making a living was much more important.

Pretty Lady said...

So Bobert, you define value entirely upon the basis of the unthinking opinion of one total stranger? That explains a lot...

Bob said...


Don't be soooo touchy.

I do my "art" as a hobby.
Some of it has been good enough to make some money with, so I define the value of my artwork by its ability to be bought by total stangers. If they were to all walk off laughing, I'd be quick to re-evaluate what I considered sellable art.

There are more than enough "artists" baring their souls on canvas to last the next 10,000 years.
They're also all starving, unless they have a real job.

Pretty Lady said...

My patrons do NOT all walk away laughing; some of them drop a couple thousand dollars and continue thanking me for it, years later. So there.

Bob said...

You feel I was critiziing your art.

Never... I was relating what my reaction would be to such an incident, should it happen to me.

If I understand anything about humans, it's this:

Gather up ten people and you will have ten different opinions on just about anything. (that would be ten people who don't get their daily opinions from CNN or the NY Times)

That goes double in the personal preference to art.

Chris Rywalt said...

Of course no one stopped -- it was in D.C. If Bell had played in New York City, he'd have drawn a crowd. Maybe not a huge one, maybe not one befitting his stature, but a crowd nonetheless. I've seen people stand three- and four-deep to watch Native Spirit in the Times Square subway station; I've seen gatherings around African-American acrobats at the edge of Central Park.

The last time I was in the city I was thrilled to be reunited with the old Chinese guy who plays the erhu in the subway station on the Upper East Side. This time he had a guy playing the accordion with him; at the end of their performance, packing up their instruments, I overheard the two of them planning their next show despite the fact that neither of them are apparently fluent in English and had no other languages in common.

Did they draw a crowd? No. But plenty of us listened before our trains arrived.