On Leisure

The best quote that I’ve seen that actually explains what is meant by using one’s leisure to create culture is by John Adams [1735-1826]:

I must study politics and war that my sons may have liberty to study mathematics and philosophy. My sons ought to study mathematics and philosophy, geography, natural history, naval architecture, navigation, commerce, and agriculture, in order to give their children a right to study painting, poetry, music, architecture, statuary, tapestry, and porcelain.

I interpret that to mean this: once the fundamental building blocks of a nation are established, it is the privilege and duty of future generations to pursue the activities necessary for developing its arts and culture. There was once an immense gravitas and standard of excellence to these pursuits that I think have been so eroded as to put much of the liberal arts under fire today as being frivolous.

An earlier reaction to this quote:

Maybe, just maybe, the fine and liberal arts are not merely a frivolous distraction from the serious affairs of the world, but the products of our highest faculties and refinement; a rejoicing in our existence, and a beacon to help us find our way out from the midst of barbarism and ruin.

And some thoughts about leisure and earning a living:

To earn enough money through work to have expendable income leftover, is one of the greatest privileges in the world. This is because expendable income has the potential to wield enormous purchasing power. Work is therefore a means to an end: a means to acquire expendable income, whose end is to be spent, and spent well. The better the money is spent, the more rewarding the work becomes. To me, expendable income that is brilliantly spent makes taking even the most menial jobs supremely attractive. I am trying to do this myself, by working as a busboy and amassing a museum-quality art collection using a moderate budget, internet savvy, and thrift.

It is a careful balance, however, between earning and spending money. I follow the adage, “Work hard, play harder”, and this means I only spend about 35 hours a week working, and spending most of the remaining time doing what I consider to be play: extracting rare masterpieces of art out of a sea of mediocrity. I think it would be very difficult to spend money brilliantly if you were working all the time. It really requires deep thought and research to cultivate extraordinary ways to spend money. As a collector, I hunt down what I want, and when I don’t know what I want, I put myself in situations where something I might want would likely appear. In my case, work has little to do with what my greatest passions are–it is simply what I need to do to enable me to collect art. It would be counter-productive to climb a career ladder, because that would mean working longer hours, and taking on more burdensome responsibilities.


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