Thursday, October 04, 2007

Quality Control

I'm grateful to Gillian Oliver, the Church of England's Head of Communications Development, who I met recently. I was impressed that, in a busy week reporting on the Diocese of Bath and Wells alleged communications systems she found time to chat to me before a meeting, think of an article relevant to our conversation and remembered to copy it to me with a note on her return to her office. Probably why she's a Head of Communications and I'm still an amateur blogger.

She copied me this article by Richard Morrison in the Times from April 17th this year. If you haven't time to go read it yourself you need to know that it concerns the reaction to a virtuoso violinist when he busked in the Washington subway rather than played in the concert hall.

The gist of the article is that we recognise greatness by context and most of us can't tell greatness and averageness apart, especially in the performing arts.

It's a good question. How duped are we? Could you tell an old master from a forgery, a £5 bottle of wine from a £50 or a vintage Stratocaster from a 2007 Tanglewood? In other words, do we rely too much on people telling us what is any good rather than trusting our senses? In the world of art our opinion is everything and nothing. I have seen the Mona Lisa and it didn't move me nearly as much as The Wedding at Cana on the opposite wall. But what do know? I also like Jack Vettriano but experts tell me he is poor.

If Joshua Bell, the violinist in question, came to play in Nailsea High Street with his £2 million Stradivarius I'd have no idea if he was any good. I don't live in that world. Would you? And what difference would it make if someone told you who it was and what he was playing? Would you like it more?

Intellectual and emotional honesty are precarious and precious commodities are they not? So how sure are you that you like things because you like them and not because someone else says so?

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