Skip to content

Art as a mechanism for self-development

Seb Davies reflects upon the restorative power of literature and its impact on him throughout the past year.

By Seb Davies, Third Year, Philosophy

Moving into a new year is a two-way process. It is a time of optimism and brings a desire for new starts, as well as being an opportunity to reflect on the year gone by. With this in mind, I want to reflect on the outgoing year and how it was books that brought me comfort during the more difficult periods of 2023.

I feel there is always more to reflect upon within the outgoing year and that sometimes one can forget how much has actually taken place within that long period of time. A year ago, the prospect of graduating from university was merely a distant thought, waiting for me to process at some later date. But as this thought became ever more prominent in my mind, with it came more difficult internal challenges, the likes of which suddenly made the year seem a whole lot more arduous than I predicted it would be.

Coming to university forced me to read more again as result of my studying, and it made me realise how much I love reading. As I navigated the more difficult parts of the year, however, I learned that reading was much more than an enjoyable pastime; it was a source of comfort for when things felt too tough to deal with.  

I began to recognise that if I pushed myself to spend a part of each day reading something that I enjoyed, it was a way for me detach myself from the world and simply enjoy what was taking place on the pages in front of me. It may sound like an easy realisation to come to, but understanding that literature gave me a way to deal with the issues I was facing enabled me to make great internal progress within my life. It allowed me to detach myself from my phone, the stresses of university and the pressure of job applications, but most of all it was a comfort when my mental health got worse.

Looking back upon 2023, one book stands out to me as really allowing me to detach myself from my external circumstances. I finally got round to reading Atonement by Ian McEwan, after a great number of recommendations from various people. The way in which McEwan writes the novel, with the first 100 pages feeling much more similar to a Jane Austen novel than one published in 2001, makes it a joy to read. Its writing was incredibly immersive; I found myself feeling as though I was watching the events of the Tallis family play out in real time, as opposed to being sat in my cold Bristol bedroom, worrying about uni work.

I know that the next stage of my life is going to be a strenuous period; firstly with finishing my last term at university and secondly with the ensuing stresses of post-graduate employment. Yet there is also a comfort in knowing that I have found something to sustain me through the difficult periods of my life. Aside from providing me with a means to alleviate my mental state, this recognition of literature’s effect on me has given way to a new stage in my life of wanting to write more, besides solely writing essays. I thought that if reading literature provided a mechanism for distancing myself from my struggles, then perhaps writing could be the way that I could confront what I was dealing with.

Realising that reading was a way to deal with the issues I was facing didn’t suddenly solve all my problems, but it was comforting to know that it provided me with a means to tackle internal conflict and that it could push me to challenge myself and explore things that I was otherwise reluctant to.

Featured Image: Jaredd Craig / Unsplash

Has art helped you through a difficult period in your life?