A couple of days ago I read this article about Josh Bell busking at one of the subway stations in Washington DC. There has been a lot of buzz about this. He played and made a paltry $35. But more than that barely anyone even noticed this violin virtuoso playing Bach. A lot of people are reading into this as a sign that people are uneducated about classical music (well that's true...), can't hear greatness or are just too involved with their busy lives to notice great art before them.
Then I read this response by a street musician from New York and went ah ha. It is complicated when you take great art - be it aural or visual - and put it in a different context. Great street musicians are great at playing for their audience. They also have to be great musicians but they need to have the skills to interact with their environment. As someone said of Josh Bell, if he was a good busker he would have chosen the correct time to play when people weren't rushing to get to work and by doing so would be respecting his audience.
I also liked hearing that busking made Josh nervous. Playing for people that had not already bought a ticket to hear him meant he had to validate himself with his playing and that made him nervous. Maybe its just me but playing to the expectations of people who have paid a lot to hear me would freak me out way more.
By the way Josh played the Mendelssohn violin concerto this past Fall with the Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra at Tulane. He played for a tiny fraction of his regular fee as a way to give back to this city and its orchestra.