Conventional wisdom would say that consuming a diverse array of content – writing, film, art – is better than not doing so. Exposure to a breadth of ideas is never a bad thing. The notion of re-reading, re-watching, and re-admiring previously consumed works, however, is often overlooked. I think what contributes most to this is the fact that these endeavours are often relegated to recreation time. It is a natural reaction, if I had a free evening, low on the list of priorities would be to reach for something I have already consumed before.
Consuming something for the second (or third) time necessarily allows our minds to focus on things we might have missed. Case-in-point, I often identify actors and actresses I recognise in the smaller roles that I often overlook in the first showing of a film. While that is a fairly trivial exercise, it does well to illustrate the point that our minds do not have to work as hard to keep up with what is happening. With our familiarity of the broadstrokes, our focus in naturally drawn to what seeps through those cracks. It is often in the second run through that I slip into the mind of a critic or an analyst. Instead of wanting to be entertained, I instead to adopt the frame of mind of the artist: why did they choose to present this idea in this way?
Just as it takes something like 67 days to solidify a habit, It takes multiple efforts to internalise our learnings. Growing up, we learn about clichés by virtue of hearing the same idea over and over again. An example being “time heals all wounds”. While they are often sensical, I would argue that we don’t really internalise them such that they inform our behaviour until we have an experience that cements this. If we really did believe “time heals all wounds” in our adolescense, then it would be nonsensical to moan and cry about every little wound we find on ourselves. Whether it be social rejection or literal wounds, the true internalisation knowing “time heals all wounds” would result in perhaps a little sorrow followed quickly by a good dose of moving forward. The same applies to the ideas we learn from consuming art, repetition is necessary if we want ideas to sink in.
As much as it is important to focus on what you’re consuming, the context with which you bring to it is equally if not more important. The palate of human experience is incomprehensibly vast, and not something that can be accurately mapped as it is a confluence of a million and more big and little factors. With every day and every new experience our sensibilities, tastes, preferences, and ambitions are updated. Our responses to a piece of art, therefore, will differ. No matter, how small or large that variance, it will affect the way something looks to us, and allow the possibility for greater empathy with the artist and their creation(s).
All of my teachers used to preach that depth is equally important to breadth. That is probably the part that re-reading plays in all of this, it is the shortest route to depth.