cover image

Illustration Courtesy of Insiya Motiwala.

How Academia Aesthetics Adorn Fatigue

The novel aesthetics of ‘dark academia’ romanticize the pursuit of knowledge. But under their surface, one can see a glorification of overworking and elitist values.

Dec 12, 2021

Novel internet aesthetics look to romanticize academic life and depict the pursuit of knowledge as a noble practice that ought to be sacredly honored. The idyllic settings often linked with a decorative aesthetic — lofty architecture, subtle shades, soothing lighting — look to stylistically restructure our approach to academics and our scholarly mindset. But beneath the dimly-lit gothic libraries and buildings adorned with pearly columns lies a trend that tacitly exacerbates academic stress and rationalizes burnout.
This trend compels members to meticulously espouse a style of living that fundamentally uproots the preconceived attributes we often associate academics with. It obliges members to attach a certain degree of formality and sophistication to their study. Moreover, it views note-taking — and more generally the mere act of education — as a form of art akin to calligraphy where precision, time and detail are celebrated.
On one hand, one can easily put forth the argument that this trend can encourage students to persevere in their pursuit of study as it challenges the feeling of tedium that is at the heart of how some view scholarly labor. It promotes the adoption of a daily routine that infuses one’s day with purpose: the maintenance of this way of life and the fulfillment of its demands.
Moreover, as with many trends, people can discover a community that shares in their passion for self-expression. “I think a good part of Dark Academia is aesthetics, but it’s also a community,” said Declan Lyman, 15, who posts Dark Academia videos on TikTok. The particular style that dictates one’s navigation of their life under the “conventions” of dark or light academia invites students to join a movement that’s bigger than themselves and feel galvanized by their unified zeal for acquiring knowledge. This is only facilitated by platforms such as TikTok, Twitter, Instagram, where students can share any outfits, note-taking styles or places they come across that resonate with the movement.
However, at the same time, one can easily misconstrue the trend’s embrace of knowledge acquisition as a glorification of unreasonable and demanding diligence. Students, misguided by the way these aesthetics glamorize academia, can overwork themselves. Moreover, when one welcomes an onerous work ethic that is physically unsustainable in the long-term, they can feel encapsulated with failure when their work habits begin to fall short of the standard they’ve set for themselves. Furthermore, it is significant to note that if students exhaustively internalize the trend’s demands, they may feel imprisoned in an act or performance of some sorts that dictates their approach to academics.
At the same time, the movement promotes an esoteric approach to study due to its Eurocentric roots. The trend finds its academic niche entrenched in the classics and its unequivocal ties to elitism and aristocratic education can be seen in its fascination with predominantly western higher education institutions. Videos subscribing to this aesthetic frequently depict gothic architecture from cities like Oxford and Cambridge and promote the reading of 18th and 19th century British literature. Establishing elitist fields of study — western literature, history and art — as noble pursuits incidentally legitimizes them and canonizes their methods, viewpoints and contributors. To an unwary audience, this may tacitly set the precedent that one’s academic pursuits will always be incomplete and marred if they are not actively engaging with a western, Eurocentric scholarly lens. This drift promotes the glorification of western culture, which has acute implications on the perceptions of younger audiences who are overwhelmingly exposed to it.
Moreover, there is seldom a display of non-western culture in the fashion criterions set for followers of this trend. In spite of attempts to encourage inclusivity in the clothing styles illustrative of the movement, boarding school-like outfits that are non-expressive of the wearer’s cultural identity — and by extension — individuality are predominantly favored and treated as paradigms for the trend’s fashion standards. In spite of making this ‘aristocratic’ lifestyle accessible to a larger audience, it nonetheless dissuades followers from embracing their cultural distinction.
There is no harm in discovering a quasi-artistic approach to learning and allowing your passion to fuel your academic endeavors, but it is important that we, as a student body, promote sensible work styles that carefully tread a fine line between working studiously and glamorizing unhealthy work ethics.
Firas Darwish is a Staff Writer. Email him at
gazelle logo