The Death of Hobbies
Artisans do not have short attention spans
I enjoy completing 1000-piece puzzles, even though there are times when I get frustrated. Whenever I’m stuck in one of these moments, I would wish that the pieces could just figure themselves out. But then I’d think to myself, “if these pieces magically fell into place, the puzzle won’t be fun anymore.”
Fun = right amount of skill + right amount of frustration
Skiing, chess, playing the piano, and solving math problems are no different: We can enjoy these activities only when our competency matches the challenge.
There’s a significant difference between pleasure and enjoyment.
Pleasure is passive and consumed, whereas enjoyment is active and created. Enjoyment demands you to participate and invest in the process of something in order for joy to be reaped: the word enjoy comes from enjoir, Old French for “to give joy to”. In other words, to enjoy something means to give joy to—an activity is only enjoyable if you can make it so.
Pleasure and enjoyment both feel good, but pleasure is something that feels good regardless of whether or not you actively pay attention to it. For example, sugar will taste good no matter what. The animal brain is wired to be thrilled by sex, massages, greasy foods, and spoon-fed entertainment. That’s why these things are easy to crave.
On the other hand, the good feeling that comes from enjoyment should make you feel tired, in the same way that an a**-kicking workout makes you feel worn-out yet relaxed and strong. Board games, playing an instrument, solving puzzles and riddles, playing a sport—these activities take mental effort, concentration, and practice in order to be rewarding. You know you enjoy something when the frustration builds up your skill over time.
Scrolling through an endless trail of short videos and watching cooking shows is pleasurable because it feels good, but it would be wrong to say you actually enjoy it. It would be much more enjoyable to learn how to cook and roll up your sleeves in the kitchen. When we participate in the motion, we turn from a consumer into a creator. And the act of creation is vital to us because we all unconsciously strive to seek meaning beyond the material world:
There is something divine about creating. To bring forth something out of nothing, to have something exist because of you, to leave your mark on the world. Every creative act—from developing a software to writing a book to making a large bowl of salad—is a miniature Genesis. Being able to create is what makes us people. What makes the human animal a person is the desire to innovate, invent, and create so that how we live tomorrow can be a little more beautiful and enjoyable than yesterday.
What concerns me the most about modern times is that my generation seems to have no hobbies, and too many pastimes (which literally means to pass time). We don’t have a skill-based activity that we can pour ourselves into so wholeheartedly that we lose track of time—and this is as vital for our mental being as nutrition is for the body. In Megamen, Weak Mimesis, Jokers Wild,writes:
I want to go to bed exhausted at the end of every day because I poured myself out for great things; not because I’m tired from having done busy work all day.
Where are the artisans of today?
I believe that one main reason why recent times have produced so few artists that are considered timeless and classical is because fewer people are truly dedicated to a craft.
Online creators have popularized the saying, “play in decades”, which does encourage one to think in longer terms. But even this can be too narrow-minded: we may think in terms of our own lifetime, but the people who built cathedrals, for example, had their great-great-great-grandchildren in mind. The men who sketched the first blueprint and the laid the first brick knew they would not live to see the completion of the building. And when they died, their children picked up where they left off, knowing that they themselves would also not be the last. Yet, they built anyway.
Extraordinary projects like this makes you think what drove these people to dedicate their lives to something like this? And the answer is that it must’ve been something transcendent. I believe that the people who have dedicated their entire lives to a craft are not “playing in decades”—in fact, they’re not even thinking within their own timelines, they’re thinking on God’s timeline. They know that the beauty and the significance of what they’re doing will outlive them, both in terms of time and importance.
The artists that we deem classical today created from the starting belief that what they’re doing is beyond worldly measures and rewards. Take music, for example, most of which produced today are not intended (most of modern creative work is intended to make as much profit as possible in the shortest time, such as pop music and reality T.V.). Pop music also does not inspire beauty—it can sound good and be pleasurable to listen to, but it is not enjoyable. It is sensational, but not beautiful.
I’ve heard people call classical music boring, but I’ve never heard anyone call it unpleasant. Beyoncé is easier to find catchy than Bach because pop music has much simpler musical structure, requiring less skill in order to be truly enjoyed.
We’ve watered down art and even the word “enjoy”. True art and beauty are meant to act as a portal between the mortal and the immortal, letting us see what is beyond worldly culture. As Beethoven puts it, “Music—the one incorporeal entrance into the higher world of knowledge which comprehends mankind, but which mankind cannot comprehend.” True beauty should terrify you, it should stun you by reflecting back at you how inadequate you are compared to what can be perfect, and it should inspire you to create, not consume.
To become an artisan, you have to not just think beyond decades, but beyond time completely (hence, “time-less”). Truly good work takes time, is slow, and demands your dedication.
Thank you for reading,
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