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The World as Art, 2021

It isn’t only the birds that sing when the sun rises. It isn’t only the sky that glows with the warm yellow ochre of a painter’s palette when that golden evening light falls over the countryside. Our daily lives are filled to the brim with sounds and colours both subtle and overwhelming, colours and sounds which tell us about the world and our relationship to it. Take a moment to stop, to look around, to listen, and realise that the world is an unending exercise in improvisation, an ever-changing composition of colour and sound as grand and compelling as any great work of art.

We all often fail to notice it, so caught up in the humdrum of everyday life that we ignore entirely the impact that the subtle colours and sounds of the world have on us. We don’t appreciate enough the lush greens and browns and everything in-betweens of the countryside; nor do we fully appreciate the vibrant red of its poppies, the bright buttercups sparkling with dew after the rain of a cool spring night, nor the towering oak trees brown and grey in their old age. The soft humming of a bee is obscured by the roaring of cars down a bumpy road, while the sweet birdsong and gentle flowing of the stream, so characteristic of the natural world, are too often taken for granted. These are the sounds and colours which have inspired artists from the dawn of time, but it seems that they go largely unthought of by the average person. Although we may not think to appreciate them, without the vivid hues and gentle music of the wild, the beauty of the countryside would be lost entirely. Time spent in nature would have none of its captivating properties.

Sometimes the colours which surround us are not only indicative of what is here currently, but what used to be, or what could have been. The buildings of Dublin city are grey and dusty brown with age, faded from decades of human interaction (decades of public celebrations, decades of protest); the paint peels from the walls of houses pink and white and cream in the suburbs, revealing their age in an otherwise modern metropolitan world; the doors of old terraced houses shine with fresh layers of sparkling cadmium red, deep forest green and the yellow of a field of a thousand daffodils (somebody somewhere at some point in time cared to repaint those old doors...). Sparks of green in the form of trees and patches of grass punctuate the city and surround the motorways, reminding us of what was here before we arrived. Moss sprouts between the cracks in footpaths, reminding us that we can never fully detach ourselves from the natural world.
Even the dreariest of places can be made beautiful with the colours of everyday. The glass windows of typically bleak suburbia turn fiery in the piercing rays of the setting sun. Sometimes, they reflect the soft coral pink of the evening sky, shining iridescent like a thin sheet of mother-of-pearl, shifting shades with a turn of the head and creating from each angle a new work of art. A world otherwise cold, empty and grey is renewed in the warm colours of dusk.

The quiet artificiality of the city is contrasted starkly with the noise of human activity, filling its cold grey buildings and hard cobbled streets with life. We are reminded of the multiplicity of things: a stroll through any major city exposes the listener to a variety of accents and languages, a vast array of lifestyles and modes of expressing the self. We pass hundreds of strangers, overhear snippets of conversations both life-changing and frivolous. The roaring of a bus’ engine comes to a halt as it stops to pick up a dozen passengers, the quiet tinkling of a cyclist’s wheels catch the ear like a windchime, the bell of a shop’s door sounds sweetly as a customer enters. The city is busy with the chatter of our fellow men and women, busy with the clicking of heels against the paved ground, busy with the distinctive rolling of heavy suitcases as some young couple begins a new life in a new country; the streets are alive with the sounds of civilisation. Although we may not recognise the human comfort of a busy town as we pass through, when there is no one around, the silence of empty footpaths, dark shopfronts and faintly glowing street lamps is overwhelming.

Perhaps the most important sounds and colours are ours. They are the dusty pink blush that blooms on our cheeks like ink on blotting paper when we laugh, the faded blue denim of trousers worn when we made our greatest memories, the deep purple bruises of childhood adventures gone awry. The warmth of your best friend’s laugh, the sweet whistling of a stranger passed on the street and never to be seen again, the cheering of a crowd as victory is finally theirs. They are the richness of a waltz pouring like treacle from the window of a music school as a pianist-to-be perfects his playing for an upcoming exam; the soft singing of a busker at the side of the street, humming and lightly strumming her guitar for the pleasure of everyone and no one; the excited chatter of young children skipping to school for the first time, ready to begin the lifelong journey to becoming a complete and fulfilled human being.These are the sounds and colours which make us human, the sounds and colours which show to our friends, families and neighbours that we are happy, or that we are sad, or that we are feeling something all too complex for words alone to convey

It is far too easy to ignore the effect that these sounds and colours have on us as people, yet their impact certainly does not go unfelt, only unrecognised and underappreciated for what it is. There is a good reason that we turn to visual art and music when we cannot express our thoughts and feelings through language. We were born to connect with the world around us through our eyes and ears.