When the Scottish poet (and Glasgow Uni alumnus) Donny O’Rourke guest-taught my high school English class for a few periods last November, he bookended each lesson with the same idea: creativity is everywhere. He was a firm believer, he said, that everything in life was art in some form. I thought little of this observation at the time, but I was reminded of it a few months back, in the midst of Scotland’s 3-month lockdown. I had spent most of it in my bed, staring at the same four walls. The initial idea of having months of no real obligations sounded like a creative haven – I could write everyday, learn to paint landscapes, perfectly curate my Instagram feed. In reality, it was something straight out of Groundhog Day: the same thing, day in, day out. A waking nightmare.
After a while, I mustered the courage to go on a walk, some rare sunny day, and settled down onto a bench in my local park to watch the world pass by. A group of young girls trudged up the hill before me, soaking from falling in the burn yet still giggling relentlessly. An elderly man in a flat cap, newspaper under one arm, grunted as his dog ran laps around him. The cars whizzed past each other on the road far down below, the houses behind them, the streets snaking their way up the hills. Everything so beautifully mundane. And I realised: Donny was right.
What is art, really? My favourite definition is that of the 18th century Romantics: not just something done skillfully, but done in order to portray the artist’s emotions and to pursue beauty in all its forms. From this viewpoint, does art always have to be something you slave over, dedicate your life to; this tangible thing you create in a burst of productivity then it’s done? Those passionate about the arts may tend to burn out easily, or feel a lack of involvement in terms of consuming or creating art, which is where my case comes in: art (to shamelessly paraphrase Love, Actually) actually is all around.
Do you never find yourself crouching over a toilet in a public restroom and admiring the poetry crudely written on the walls; never find yourself wondering who it was that found themselves in the same position as you, deciding to pour their heart out on the walls of a toilet cubicle in ASDA? With Glasgow City Council’s commission of street art throughout the city centre over the past decade, the city has opened its arms to the idea of (legal) graffiti as an artform; the general consensus amongst the community is that the murals have injected a bit of life back into some of the drabbest parts of town, or areas that have been hit hard in recent economic crises. Just looking up at Australian-born artist Sam Bates’ (known as SMUG) iconic St Mungo mural on High Street (as pictured above), or Mark Worst’s new St Enoch mural just off London Road, it’s clear you’re in the presence of something great, even if you’re still just standing in the middle of Glasgow city centre.
Maybe we all participate in the arts each day without even realising: that faded poster in your bedroom from that gig you went to a few summers ago, adding an extra chain to your jean pocket, or another flick to your eyeliner before you rush out the door to get to the Union. Makeup itself is an artform practised by millions of people around the world each day; Glasgow makeup artists like Jamie Genevieve have built entire careers on their talent for the art, encouraging amateurs to express themselves through their own makeup.
It’s the same story with clothes, music, fashion; all are a way to express ourselves artistically each day. Yes, we all know that the alt kids who sit in front of the GOMA on the weekends express themselves through their (intimidatingly cool) clothes, but that can’t be all. Surely everyone carries a little piece of themself in their clothes, in their music, in the way that they see the world. Is a tattoo not art, an extension of the self; does the personal story behind it not make it a masterpiece? Tattoo artists such as Richard Richardson, based in Hepcat Tattoos on High Street in Glasgow, provide lifelong artwork for the community in the shape of body art. While wearing something on your skin everyday for the rest of your life may mean to some that it somehow loses its value or beauty over time, I respectfully disagree. Carrying a piece of yourself with you at all times, whether that is in the form of a tribute to a lost one, a favourite line of poetry, or just an “ironic” drunk tattoo of Doodlebob from Sprongebob, is surely one of the highest forms of self-expression.
We are, intentionally or not, willingly or not, constantly creating and consuming art every day. Next time you take a stroll through Kelvingrove, stagger through the city centre in your heels at 2am, or even fall down into your bed at the end of a long day of Zoom lectures, take a second to look around. Think about what Donny said: everything in life is art, somehow, in some form. I think there’s something quite comforting about the idea that even the smallest moment can be a masterpiece.
[Bea Crawford (she/her)]
[Mural (shown in picture) by Sam Bates]