You have great reason for thankfulness to your kind perservor, who hath again carried you through many dangers, preserved your Life and given you an opportunity of making further improvements in virtue and knowledge. You must consider that every Moment of your time is precious, if trifled away never to be recalled. Do not spend too much of it in recreation, it will never afford you that permanent satisfaction which the acquisition of one Art or Science will give you, and whatever you undertake aim to make yourself perfect in it, for if it is worth doing at all, it is worth doing well.
Abigail Adams to John Quincy Adams
Braintree, March 2, 1780
The Founders on the Founders (2008), ed. Kaminski, p. 4-5
What is the difference between recreation and “Art or Science”? Here Abigail Adams distinguishes art and science from recreation as that which improve our virtue and knowledge, and as that which are worth doing well.
This is why I like playing sports, but not with most people. Most men who play “recreational” sports, for example, have made a science out of the one or two that they excel at; they have devoted significant portions of their lives to analyzing their performance and analyzing others’ performance. They are pros in their own minds. Since I don’t take their obsession very seriously, I’m not only not on the team, I’m not even in the league. They don’t want to play, they want to win, just for once in their lives. Good for them, but I don’t want to be around them; their priorities are upside-down and backwards, and as long as that is true, they will always be losers.
Likewise, I make a science out of reading, and this annoys most people. They don’t want to read the actual words; they don’t care what they actually mean or whether they make sense. They hate editors and they hate rules. Partly that is because some editors make up their own rules, and partly that is because some editors are made up only of rules, most of which are arbitrarily made-up. As a consequence, most authors before the 1990s were fortunately never published. Now, unfortunately almost all of them are published. The fiction authors are bad because they are squishy and temperamental and self-righteously expressionistic; the next worst are the deliberately obscure and insecure academics; and the worst of all are the mindlessly herdlike political bloggers, oozing with the drunken rage of demonically possessed swine. At least the academics will pay to be edited, though.
The takeaway for me is that art and science exhibit purpose, and my activities should be purposeful, so most activities should be pursued as an art or a science. The exception is where the purpose of an activity is social; in that case it need not necessarily be performed as an art or science. Recreational activities that are not artistically, scientifically, or socially purposeful, then, are dissipative and narcotic.