The Element of Surprise

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“I thought you were just knitting while you waited for the bus, but apparently [glancing over at the hose reel full of knit rope] it is your life!  Wow,” said a man on a bicycle as he crested the hill, and then turned and rode down again.

“What you are doing is also very specialized…” said the natural gas inspector in his neon vest as he crossed the street.

I love the element of surprise in life and art.  Public spaces like street corners and sidewalks lend themselves best to the frisson that is only possible when one stumbles upon the unexpected.  The person who walks into a gallery or museum, on the other hand, enters with a baggage cart stacked full of expectations.  “I paid $20 to get in here, this better be good!  I’m about to see the Mona Lisa, the painting everyone has told me about since I was 3, I better like it.”  In such a setup, the work of art has very little chance to deliver the goods…It’s said that most museum goers spend less than 30 seconds in front of each painting, and I am sorry to admit I often fall into this camp!  A typical museum is simply too much to take in all at once, has too many rooms packed too full, with too many labels to read.  The fact that I have ever had a moving encounter with a work of art in this set up is miraculous but I am glad to say I have…The artist of the street, on the other hand, has a much better chance to have an impact, to provide the passerby with a real, life-giving encounter.  Rather than the fixed terms laid out by the museum model, one arrives in the free space offered by the artist in an exchange in which anything could happen.

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