Stepping away from hustle culture to immerse ourselves in art
I was originally intending to write a post about “the importance of creating things” — but as you can tell from the title, things took a drastic and unprecedented turn.
Instead, I want to look at the opposite side of the spectrum and discuss the importance of appreciating things created by other people. In particular, I want to share my thoughts on the importance of immersing ourselves in art.
Initially, I titled this article “the importance of consuming content,” which I think might have won an award for the dullest, driest title that I’ve ever written.
“Consuming” has become synonymous with sitting and staring blankly at a screen, mindlessly absorbing whatever information comes up in front of us. Likewise, “content” is possibly one of my least favourite words of all time. To quote Om Malik, “a photographer who says that he is creating “content” for his YouTube channel is nothing more than a marketer churning out fodder to fill the proverbial Internet airwaves with marketing noise.”
I’m aware that this article is possibly one of the more controversial things I’ve written, and I understand that it requires some level of privilege to take yourself away from work and responsibilities to sit around and just “immerse yourself in art”.
But I’d like to clarify that “art” doesn’t have to be expensive, and it doesn’t have to be “art” in the traditional sense — it can mean movies, television shows, paintings, theatre productions, concerts, books, magazines, or exhibitions, or even articles you find online from writers that you admire (dare I say, like this one?).
Being from a working-class background, I’d never really appreciated the importance of art when I was growing up. It always seemed like a frivolous pursuit, enjoyed by people with way too much time — and often, too much money — on their hands. This was largely because, from quite a young age, I had internalised the idea that my self-worth was directly related to how much I could produce. “Art” was never an option in my eyes, because it was so difficult to use it to make a living. So I just ignored it.
After hundreds upon hundreds of hours spent toiling away memorising facts for exams that I would forget about the minute they were over, I started working as soon as I left school. Then I went on to study something practical at university, and never looked back…until recently (and after multiple episodes of burnout).
Given how much our culture glamourises “hustling” (I’ve written about this in a previous article, When ‘hustle culture’ goes too far), I don’t think my experience is all that uncommon. In a world where we’re encouraged to monetise all of our hobbies, it can feel difficult to step back and appreciate that we can just enjoy things without having to figure out a way to squeeze money out of them.
This, combined with our hyper-focus on individualism, can make us feel like spending time appreciating art that has been created by other people is a waste of time. We have been fed the narrative that being successful requires outcompeting others in our circle, so it’s hardly surprising that we often feel threatened when other people express their creativity.
Stepping away from work to appreciate other peoples’ creations can feel difficult — especially when so many of us are worried about making ends meet.
But recovering from burnout brought on by trying to produce too much is far more difficult.
I recently went to see a free art exhibition of work by surrealist artist Eileen Agar at Leeds Art Gallery. It was great to spend a few hours appreciating how her style changed over the years as a response to her own personal circumstances and the state of the world around her. My favourite piece was Lewis Carroll with Alice, which led me to read up on how much influence Lewis Carroll had on Surrealism.
Last night, I went to see Alcina, one of Handel’s operas, for £10. It’s the first opera I’ve ever been to, and I was so prepared to hate it I refused to pay for the parking ticket upfront and insisted we paid by the hour because I was expecting to want to leave during the interval — but I was absolutely blown away by how immersive the experience was.
I’ve also been reading The Battle for God: Fundamentalism in Judaism, Christianity and Islam by author Karen Armstrong in an attempt to explore my relationship with faith and spirituality.
I’d love to know what you’ve felt inspired by recently. Send me recommendations for things you love, and tell me why you love them!
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