Tuesday, January 03, 2012

Yer Expertise...Is Less Than Impressive

In scientific, double-blind tests, expert musicians couldn't differentiate the sound quality between a Stradivarius violin and a modern instrument.

It's often the case that, when experts are subjected to such testing, that the results are less than impressive, and that most of the "expertise" results from luck or superior knowledge only, not superior skill, whether it is in playing a musical instrument, tasting wine, or what have you.


Walt Taylor said...

This is the first time I've heard that superior knowledge alone couldn't qualify you as an expert. My dictionary, in fact says "knowledge or skill".

Bob said...

@Walt Taylor: What would you say of the "expertise" of an artist who makes thousands of dollars selling his abstract expressionist "art," yet can't draw a simple still life of a basket of fruit upon request? Or the expertise of the wine "connoisseur" who can speak informatively of terroir and other wine esoterica but, in a blind test, can't distinguer between different varietal wines?

And did you notice how huffy the musicians got when confronted with their inability to distinguish the Stradivarius from the modern instrument, blaming it on the accoustics of the testing room? Puh-leeze.

Walt Taylor said...

I would emphatically say that the expertise of an abstract artist has absolutely nothing to do with his or her ability to draw a basket of fruit! I personally know such artists. Some of the most insightful and influential writers on art were not themselves artists at all. Would you demand of Leonard Cohen that he be able to perform Brahms' German Requiem before you'd grant him any expertise in music?

Bob said...

@Walt Taylor: I think that there are levels of expertise, Walt. While Leonard Cohen couldn't, with a few minutes' study, perform Brahms, Brahms could, with a few minutes' study, perform a Leonard Cohen song. This doesn't invalidate Cohen's status as an artist, it just quantifies it.

Likewise, I heard a live Johnny Cash song one time where Johnny couldn't tune his guitar, and had to hand it to the guitar player to tune for him. Johnny's expertise, then, was limited to singing/songwriting, not so much guitar playing.

The story I linked, though, was about professional violinists unable to distinguish the sound made by a masterpiece hand-crafted violin from a factory-made violin. What is your reaction to that?

Walt Taylor said...

It's clear from the article that the objections raised to this study were entirely based on its conditions, not on the expertise of its subjects. I don't know what you're going on about.

It's perfectly reasonable to me that a one-time exposure in a hotel room would yield the same results every time, even with subjects that you would deem legitimate "experts", whoever they might be.