Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Context



A long time ago while I was working at a local theatre company, the artistic director told us he had finally cast a role that was difficult to fill. He had found a singer who was performing in a bar downtown so that night I went to hear her sing. Seeing Sybil sing in that bar that night was heartbreaking.

Sybil is an extraordinarily gifted singer and that night I watched her without blinking. She was arrestingly charismatic and she had a rich dramatic voice with an amazing range. I knew that with us, in our show, she was going to bring the house down every night for thousands of people who would be paying hefty admission prices, but that night no one was watching her and no one was listening. She was background music for people who wanted to drink, laugh and socialize.

In our theatre, audiences respected Sybil. They honored her talent with their attention and stood shouting their admiration for her at the end of every show, but in the bar she was invisible.

In 2007, in Washington D.C., a violinist dressed in a t-shirt, jeans high tops and a Washington Capitals baseball cap busked in the L’Enfant Metro Station. He played six pieces from the classical repertoire and, for the most part, passers-by ignored him

The previous night, the busker had sold out the Boston Symphonic Hall at $100 a ticket. His name is Joshua Bell. He is recognized as one of the world’s foremost violinists and that day in the subway he was playing his Gibson ex Huberman that was handcrafted in 1713 by Stradivari. You can see his performance on YouTube (search “Joshua Bell in subway”).

The perception of greatness is assisted by context and this is a very important lesson to remember as you consider where to exhibit your work. Depending on what you seek from exhibiting—respect, fulfillment, sales or a combination of these rewards—where you exhibit your work will affect how it is perceived. Consider these stories when you are searching for opportunities to show.

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