Gold foil illustration of stars


The Brilliant Artistry Hidden All Around You

It’s fun to think of your favorite musicians, back when they were just starting out. Setting up to perform on a street corner, at a time when nobody had any idea who they were. It makes you wonder: If you had been there, passing on the sidewalk as they played an early masterpiece, would you have noticed? Would you have stopped to listen?

How strange that something so vibrant as art is so nearly invisible. Strange how rarely we look up at the architecture, or savor each bite of a meal cooked with care, or stop to pay attention to the music playing in the background, that’s far better than it has any right to be. It’s only after someone points it out, that you finally catch the tune.

It makes you wonder if there’s brilliance all around you, hiding in plain sight, just waiting around to see if you’ll notice. Who knows how many Van Goghs you might be walking past, busy doing their work, just a few years too early to recognize? Maybe the next Emily Dickinson is living just down the street, sitting on an unpublished masterpiece; maybe she doesn’t even suspect it, any more than we do.

We assume that if a piece is any good, surely it’ll find an audience. But maybe it’s mostly luck. Luck that they’re not already famous. Or luck that the right person just happened to look up. In art as in love, one never knows how two people find each other, if they ever meet at all.

Just imagine how much courage it must take, to set a guitar case down on the cobblestones and make that first move, hoping it’ll resonate with someone passing by. To keep pouring your heart into something, even if it falls on deaf ears. Reaching out in the face of indifference, just trying to give people permission to care.

Indifference is easy. It takes a lot of courage to fight back against it. So maybe we should stop and count ourselves lucky that there’s still someone out there, fighting the good fight.

From silent + brilliance. In a 2007 experiment, violin virtuoso Joshua Bell tried his hand at busking in a subway station, playing for nearly an hour on his priceless Stradivarius. In the end, only seven of a thousand passersby stopped to listen. No applause. He collected $32. But as Washington Post writer Gene Weingarten observed, “Every single time a child walked past, he or she tried to stop and watch. And every single time, a parent scooted the kid away.” Pronounced “sil-ee-uhns.”