Consuming art takes time. 

Sitting down to watch a film or walking the halls of an art exhibit requires not only patience and engagement in the material; it demands that a person turn over several hours of their day. The pleasure of enjoying a fine piece of art is often compromised by a feeling of wasting one’s time, that the hours spent in the theater or gallery could be better spent on more constructive tasks. Time is something that many Duke students feel they have precious little of, so when it comes to rationing those few spare hours not stuck in a classroom or library, art is often the furthest thing from their minds. But even when it is on their minds, they rarely have enough time in the day to pursue it.

“I definitely have been spending less time engaging in art and media since coming to Duke,” first-year Marley Storch said. “At home, I had more time on the weekends and school nights to read a book for pleasure, to go to the movies with friends and to play instruments. But at Duke, I find myself spending most of my time doing school work and hanging out with friends, rather than taking the extra step to engage with art and media.”

It is no surprise that art — which is often viewed as a leisure activity — is pushed onto the back burner upon arriving at college.  Trying to balance an exhausting academic schedule with other commitments, jobs, and social events is a Herculean task that leaves many students with barely enough time to sleep, let alone pick up a novel or go to the theater.

“It’s a lot harder to read for fun on campus because it makes you feel as though you could be reading something more productive,” sophomore Nicoly Santos said.

There are plenty of students who genuinely enjoy reading and have several books on the shelves in their dorm, but these books go largely untouched throughout the duration of the school year. Even when they do have a free moment, it is exceedingly difficult to abandon the mindset of constant productivity. Why would someone spend time reading for pleasure when they could be catching up on their textbook readings for class?

Some students, like sophomore Anna Northup, try to make the most of their textbook readings and academic work when they find themselves with little time to do much else. 

“I really, really love reading and have had so much less time to read on my own," she said. "Summer was more on my own terms, but I have the privilege of reading and studying well-thought-out, academic subjects and ideas [at Duke].”

Duke does make an effort to provide art for its student body, offering a wide array of events from movie screenings to dance workshops to exhibits at the Nasher. There is no shortage of opportunities to enjoy art and media on campus, and Durham itself has plenty of theaters and galleries. It seems like coming to Duke would be the perfect opportunity to broaden one’s artistic horizons and enjoy the breadth of art offered here. But in addition to the issue of time, there is a pressure to make even these outings and other artistic extracurriculars “worth” the time and energy put into them.

“I am not interested in making my art hobbies my main extracurricular focus at Duke,” Storch said. “Many of the clubs seem too advanced and exclusive, and they require more dedication than I am able and willing to offer. Even though I have only been at Duke for a month, I find that most of my free time is spend studying and staying caught up with work. Focusing on the art that Duke offers would be too overwhelming for me right now.”

There are many artistic organizations on campus, but as Storch mentions, they can sometimes feel inaccessible to those who do not have the resources or ability to dedicate themselves to what is ultimately a distraction from studies and responsibilities. There is a prevailing notion that everything done on campus must be pertinent to one’s major or impressive enough to go on an internship application; it seems nearly impossible to do anything just for fun.

Being disconnected from art and media may not seem like a huge disadvantage to some students, but falling into the drudgery of academia without taking breaks to fully enjoy oneself and indulge in true, ungraded creativity can be damaging. There is nothing wrong with taking the time to go and see a movie or listen to a new album in its entirety or pick up an interesting book and read it. These acts should be treated as important gestures of relaxing, creatively-stimulating self care, not irrelevant luxuries. Time may be hard to come by at Duke, but setting just some aside to enjoy art and truly, meaningfully connect with it will make surviving a rigorous schedule all the easier.