Never Have a Magnum Opus

In yesterday’s post, I said,

“I’ve also found that viewing a post as the beginning of my own understanding of the topic, rather than my final word or magnum opus, is intellectually enriching and produces a wealth of new ideas down the road.  But more on that later…”

Now is the later.

My son spends hours every day producing artwork.  Sometimes he will go for several days on a single theme: a new super hero or comic book he’s created.  He is lost in the world he creates as he produced dozens and dozens of drawings, each with elaborate back stories.  Inevitably, whatever theme he’s on comes to a sudden and unexpected (for me, anyway) halt.  He gets a new idea, abandons his previous project, and moves right on to the next.

As a father, of course I find his creations delightful and I have a strong urge to capture them as whole works and preserve them.  He asked me once to help him turn his book of 30 different wizards and sorceresses (“Wizopedia”) into a website.  I was excited to help and began digitizing his drawings and typing in his dictated details on each character…for the first two characters.  Then he got bored and abandoned it for new ideas.

At first, I saw this flightiness as a weakness in him.  Perhaps it is to a certain extent and he’ll need to learn to see some things through to completion.  But the more I think on it, the more I see it as a strength, and the more I want to develop the same tendency in myself.  My son is not concerned about an artistic legacy at this point.  He’s not concerned about a shiny, neat and clean completed work to present to the world so he can bask in his accomplishment.  He’s not trying to create his magnum opus.  He creates for the sheer joy of it, and when he doesn’t feel that joy in a particular project, he moves to where he does.

When I think about the most interesting people, who’ve created the most interesting art or analysis, so many of them produced things until the very moment they passed.  Some of the greatest academic minds produce interesting ideas into their 80’s and even 90’s.  Contrariwise, there’s something sad about a person who produced a magnum opus, and then spent the remaining years living on that legacy, protecting it from being misinterpreted, and making sure the world was aware of its brilliance.  It seems perhaps the best thing to do after creating is to let your creation out into the world and, in a sense, walk away from it and start creating something new.

When I think about my life, I try to imagine it as an upward trajectory through time, rather than a great peak followed by a slow decline in my twilight years.  I want my greatest ideas, moments, experiences and creations to be those at the end of my life.  It seems natural that this should be the case, at least until the physical body’s aging prohibits it, as we accumulate more knowledge and perspective through time.  That is, if we don’t stagnate.

Rather than a single epic project, it seems a more interesting and challenging goal to see one’s entire life as a great work.  Let your whole catalog of creations, from beginning to end, be your magnum opus.  Never peak until you die.