The French have a wonderful way with words. It’s a beautiful language I don’t think I’ll ever be able to learn beyond a little memorization.
Oeuvre is one of those wonderful words. It’s soft and seductive and mysterious, not unlike the concept it denotes.
Oeuvre is the total body of work of an artist or writer. I probably use the term synecdochically (another great word), but when we consider a body of work we have to consider the theme and overall feel, the context, and the genius of it.
Genius is such an overused and broad term that it almost doesn’t mean anything. But a general sense of awe still pervades us when the term is used. And that makes Oeuvre both powerful and dangerous.
Oeuvre is powerful because it’s what makes a person into a legend. It’s when we look at the whole body of what someone has done that it looks like a truly Herculean effort. And that’s good, because often it’s true.
Oeuvre is dangerous because that legendary status puts the creator of that body of work up on a platform. We see it and think to ourselves that we couldn’t possibly do that. It causes paralysis. We forget that paintings are built one stroke at a time, books one word at a time, programs one keystroke at a time, often over and over and over again.
Oeuvre is the kind of thing we should think about as little as possible. If we think of it everyday, our will to keep working will be ruined. Those Herculean tasks really are insurmountable on an everyday basis, strictly speaking. You can’t create a body of work in a day.
Think about the big picture of your own work as little as you can, and each day keep working hard on the little thing you’re doing.