Welcome to the post-greatness era

Batuhan TAKIŞ


Every evening stroll evokes introspection. Confronted by the darkness and tranquility, the mind springs into action, filling the voids. Ideas, thoughts, dilemmas and memories pour in. The head is cleared, imagination runs wild and creativity is stimulated while calories burn. It is no wonder that many great minds throughout history were obsessed with the act of walking – an act hailed by Hippocrates as “man’s best medicine.” Aristotle is known for conducting lectures while walking the grounds of his school in Athens. His followers (who quite literally followed him as he walked) were even known as the “peripatetics” – Greek for meandering or walking about. Ludwig van Beethoven, in his biographies, is depicted as a passionate walker. Legend has it that he would often walk for miles around Vienna, composing music in his head as he went. In 1888, in “Twilight of the Idols,” Friedrich Nietzsche would say, “All truly great thoughts are conceived while walking.”

Last Tuesday, I went to Suadiye, a lovely waterfront on Istanbul’s Asian side, and took a leisurely stroll along the promenade with “La Sagrada Familia” playing in my AirPods. This song, which has been a constant auditory companion for me for quite some time, is a true masterpiece by the British progressive rock band, The Alan Parsons Project. It was released in 1987 as part of the album titled “Gaudi.” The album was inspired by the life and works of the renowned Catalan architect Antoni Gaudi, specifically his unfinished magnum opus, the Basilica i Temple Expiatori de la Sagrada Familia in Barcelona, Spain.

The song serves as a musical homage to Gaudi’s iconic architectural creation. His vision, creativity and devotion to his craft are echoed in the lyrics and melodies. The Sagrada Familia’s grandeur is mirrored in the atmospheric soundscapes that the band is known for.

During my walk, it was this very song that immersed me in contemplation about the concept of a magnum opus. Suddenly, I found myself pondering why we seem unable to produce extraordinary works in the 21st century. We live longer, we know much more, we have advanced tools, we have AI, we have this, and we have that. Even if there is nothing else, we have the internet. As I reflected, various “masterworks” of today crossed my mind.

“Harry Potter? No.” “Burj Khalifa? Not the answer.” “Oppenheimer? No chance.” “Coca Cola? No.” “Girl with Balloon? Negative.” “Apple? Definitely not.” “‘Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It)’? Sorry, Beyonce.”

I just couldn’t find it.

Once upon a time…

Magnum opus is a Latin term that translates to “great work.” “Magnum” is for “great” and “opus” means “work.” It refers to a masterwork or a highly regarded achievement in a particular field, often associated with literature, art, music or any creative endeavor. A magnum opus is considered the pinnacle of an artist’s or creator’s career, representing their most important and impactful contribution to their craft. It is a piece that demonstrates exceptional skill, originality and expression. The concept of magnum opus embodies the idea of creating a work that surpasses all others and leaves a lasting legacy.

Long ago, there existed a time when extraordinary works were born, hailed as magnum opuses. These masterpieces endured the test of time and were revered by generations. However, we find ourselves in a different era now, where such achievements are no longer attainable.

Several factors contribute to this perspective. One significant reason is the escalating complexity and fragmentation of our world. The artists, writers and musicians of bygone eras could dedicate themselves to a single craft, producing works that were not only cohesive but also profound. In our modern, fast-paced existence, sustained concentration proves elusive. We are in a rat race, where individuals or groups spend their lifetime only engaging in frenzied competition, often in a corporate or professional setting, to achieve financial security, recognition and advancement.

We are trapped in a never-ending cycle of work, striving to get ahead and outdo our peers – a lifestyle that starkly contrasts with that of our ancestors. This lifestyle is associated with the idea of sacrificing personal fulfillment and well-being in the pursuit of external markers of success.

During the Renaissance period, notable artists such as Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci and Botticelli encountered various social, political and financial challenges and obstacles too. They, for example, relied heavily on the support and commissions from affluent patrons, including the Medici family, to become timeless.

Historians, however, widely acknowledge that the prevailing zeitgeist of the time greatly differed from today’s context. From the patronage system to the approach to innovation, diversification and expectations, numerous aspects set the Renaissance apart as a distinct era in history. The artists struggled, albeit in a distinct manner.

Likewise, we are bombarded relentlessly with information and distractions, leaving little space or time for the creation of something truly remarkable. We find ourselves caught in a perpetual cycle of urgency, constantly juggling numerous tasks and obligations. For example, the average person checks their smartphone 262 times per day. This means we are targeted with notifications, updates and alerts. A study by the University of Chicago found that people who are constantly checking their phones are more likely to have difficulty focusing and making decisions, while a study by the University of Pittsburgh revealed that people who are multitasking all the time are less productive and more likely to make mistakes. There is no need to list more data as all of us are exposed to this fact on a daily basis.

Gone with the wind

Some argue that the very notion of the magnum opus is outdated. In the past, monumental endeavors promised immortality, a concept that is no longer valid. We live in an age where everything seems to have a short lifespan. A novel becomes a bestseller and is quickly forgotten. A song climbs the global charts only to fade away immediately. Sculpture is not alive. Painting is under the occupation of pop art nonsense. Cinema lived very shortly. Theater attendance is almost nonexistent. Architectural works, marble statues or other artistic expressions no longer hold the same enduring importance. The drive to create works that will endure for centuries has waned. Our focus has shifted toward leaving a mark in the present, where our influence can be more immediate and impactful. If you can create something that goes viral for a few days, you’re considered great. If it manages to sustain attention for a month, you’re hailed as a star.

The advent of social media and digital platforms has accelerated this phenomenon, creating a hyper-connected world where trends come and go at lightning speed. The value of longevity has been supplanted by the allure of immediate impact and widespread recognition.

Judgement anxiety

Thirdly, we have become victims of our own self-consciousness. In days gone by, creators reveled in the freedom of uninhibited and spontaneous expression. Sadly, in the present age, our work is subjected to constant scrutiny. Fearful of failure and adverse to taking risks, we capitulate to mediocrity and conformity. The realm of social media and online platforms plays a role in it too.

The fear of judgment has paralyzed creativity. This fear looms large. In this climate, many find themselves opting for safer and more predictable choices rather than embracing the uncertainty of experimentation and innovation. I’m talking about social media lynching of course.

The pressure to conform to popular trends and meet the expectations of an ever-watching audience further exacerbates this issue. In an era dominated by viral sensations and fleeting moments of fame, the pursuit of instant gratification often takes precedence over artistic integrity. The fear of being overlooked or dismissed drives us to create within the confines of what is already popular and accepted, discouraging us from forging our own unique artistic path.

More reasons can be listed to support the piece’s argument, but the overall conclusion remains unchanged: Magnum opuses are a thing of the past. The future holds no revival of this reality. Society’s focus on immediate gratification and fleeting trends leaves little room for the resurrection of magnum opuses. It may be disheartening to accept, but it compels us to redefine greatness in the context of our time. The magnum opus concept is dead, it will remain dead, and we are to blame for killing it.

Source: Daily Sabah

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Follow us on Twitter


Follow us on Twitter