The human experience is one of life’s most mystifying phenomena. Each person is a universe unravel ling, expanding, and contracting. We are all travelling distinct paths from one another, loving different people, believing different things, and eating different foods. So, how do we convey what it is to be human? How could we ever possibly narrow these perspectives down enough to claim to know what it’s like to be alive in this way?

Other than the ability to reason and form coherent thoughts, complex emotions are perhaps the most characteristic thing about us. The ability to feel joy, anger, disappointment, nostalgia, or excitement defines many of the events that any one person will live through. Regardless of our economic standing, nationality, age, or capacities, we all go through powerful emotional journeys. 

Yet, I would argue that we’re more disconnected than ever. 

I believe that we’re missing the space and resources that could allow us to brave introspection. In a world of constant stimuli and distractions, we are rather estranged from ourselves and, consequently, from authentic connection with others. However, these emotional resources are not only available if we’d like them to be, I would also claim that they’re fundamental to our philosophical understanding of what it is to be

For quite some time, I felt like something was missing in my life. Despite finishing all my schoolwork, sleeping enough hours, and eating a healthy-enough diet, I had this deep feeling of dissatisfaction. I would spend the time before going to bed questioning what it was I could do to scratch that growing mental itch. 

One day, in the way a scientist screams “Eureka!” upon making a civilization-altering discovery, it became crystal clear to me what that yearning was: creative expression. I realized that it had been months, perhaps years, since I had created something just for the sake of it. The last time I had picked up a paintbrush was two summers ago when prolonged boredom had compelled me to rekindle my love for portraiture. However, as soon as school started, I forgot why I had even taken that up.

Coloured pencils, crayons, and acrylics are essential materials for early childhood development. As children, we sat down in front of blank pieces of paper, a cheeky grin on our faces, a force to be reckoned with. We’d draw disproportionate animals, surrealistic depictions of our family members, monsters, flowers, and houses; anything our tiny heads could conjure, limited only by the boundaries of our imagination. What happened to the countless hours we spent making messes?

Splashing paint, playing instruments, dancing. These things are tightly intertwined with the experience of existing in a state of self-awareness, a hunger to communicate our inner chaos. 

The ability of humankind to reason has launched us into centuries of scientific discoveries and technological advancements. Still, there are so many questions that go unanswered that are perhaps the bane of our conscious existence. Why are we here? Where do we go when we die? We’re not close to understanding what these mysteries are, and maybe that is for the best, but trying to understand them in whatever capacity has arguably fueled many of the greatest works of art. 

Beyond trying to answer intangible philosophical dilemmas, art is also a means to understand that which is very much earthly. War, injustice, and tragedy are realities of this life that are, at times, undigestable and provoke disbelief and anger. Feeling small and insignificant in the face of suffering can eat away at you. 

Although turning to art in times of hopelessness may not solve global issues, it can ease the pain of feeling deeply. Are we not making this world a better place by taking care of ourselves?

It is clear that expression through artistic means is intrinsic to our ways of being, and somehow,

these days, it seems we don’t do things if there’s not an obvious incentive. Why write if we don’t have any pending essays? Why paint if we’re not selling our work? We equate the value of our time to the gains we receive. The activities that fill our day are just means to the many ends that adult modern life asks of us. 

Of course, neglecting to pursue seemingly pointless endeavours is not our fault. Productivity is at the core of everything we do; efficiency is synonymous with fulfillment. As humans, we are constantly fighting the deep-rooted dissatisfaction that comes from not living in the present and optimizing the hours in the day to get more things done creates the illusion that we’re seizing the moment — according to capitalism, of course. 

It is not a surprise that we feel like we have to make every second count when the standard work shift is from nine to five. As university students, we understand the burnout of taking in caffeine and pushing out work. Days drift into one another as a huge proportion of our free time must be dedicated to maintenance, shopping for groceries, cooking, cleaning, and showering. The little energy and time left in the day is understandably not going to be put into grabbing a white canvas and having a moment of artistic ecstasy, let alone a pedestrian scribble or doodle.

However, there is something deeply sad about a society that finds no value in inefficiency. There is an abundance of endeavours that are not calculated in the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and that are no less worth pursuing because of it (maybe more so because of it?). It seems rather foolish to think we are born into a world of infinite possibilities just to produce, contribute to an endless cycle of economic growth, and not think twice about our creative capabilities.

Ultimately, it is not that we do not want to pursue the things that we used to enjoy, but rather that choosing to do so is swimming against the current. This struggle becomes clear when people abandon the hobbies that they can’t turn into a business or side hustle. 

There should be no other reason to create other than the joy and freedom it gives you. 

Quite serendipitously, I was scrolling through YouTube when I encountered a video essay about the importance of having hobbies. The creator of the video mentioned that she was currently in university and had abandoned many of the things she used to enjoy: painting and playing video games. She realized that it was important for her mental health and sense of purpose to get back into the activities she used to do, and she felt a calling to share it with others. As I read the comment section, I was astounded by the amount of comments from fellow students who had not realized how many of the things they loved doing they had given up. This led me to question why this transition to adulthood is particularly damning to creative expression. 

Perhaps one of the reasons why we don’t feel compelled to write poetry or paint is because we’ve grown to become detached from an artistic identity. The moment I got accepted into a Bachelor of Science, I felt like it was uncharacteristic to use my watercolours or to analyze film. If I was to become a science student, I had to wrap my head around the fact that there was no space for me to enjoy the arts above what I was studying. 

This commitment to embody any particular character can be extremely limiting. If each person is an entire universe of complexities, interests, and creative potential, it is a shame to think we must be contained in a single box. We have the foolhardy notion that personality traits are mutually exclusive. Surely, we can’t study math and love fashion design, right?

We often prevent ourselves from developing aspects of ourselves that are latent or re-discovering things we forgot we loved. Overall, what ends up happening is that a part of us withers as we neglect that longing for expression. We turn excessively to passive forms of consuming content. Although watching a good movie or series or playing a video game that makes us happy is as important for our enjoyment as anything else, there might be an imbalance in compulsively watching content to become distracted from the exhaustion of modern life.

The key to solving this issue might be to prescribe creative expression as we would an exercise regimen to promote art as a necessary condition for fulfillment and personal growth. We must not divorce ourselves from the unifying and intrinsically human experience of creating. 

It is also worth noting that the nature of this life is impermanence, and so it follows that we are bound to change and evolve through time. What better way to get to know ourselves than through art? By journaling, sculpting, oil painting? Are these not the perfect vessels for us to reflect our inner state? 

We are eager to learn everything there is to know about the world, whether it be anthropology, the hard sciences, psychology, or literature, but what of ourselves? As the great Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu once said, “Knowing others is intelligence; knowing yourself is true wisdom.”

If you’re reading this, I urge you to think of a creative activity you liked doing at some point in your life and try it again. No expectations at all; just try it and see what happens from there. 

You might see there was a small part of you waiting to come alive again.