Friday, October 18, 2013

This Is The End

No, alas, I'm not going to try to one-up the Rogen/Goldberg movie.  Their budget is bigger than mine.

I did see another movie this week: "The Art of The Steal" by Don Argott.  Though not a business themed movie in any traditional sense, it conjures up the issue of legacy in a way that is both poignant and directly relatable to small business.

Argott's story is a recounting of how Albert Barnes amassed what is arguably the world's finest collection of post impressionist art, and then sought to own/protect it indefinitely via a carefully constructed will. Barnes' eye for art was impeccable.  His desire to preserve the collection for educational purposes was noble.  Moreover, Barnes' right to direct the future of his property was unquestionable: the collection was his.  He paid for it in cash.

But like Icarus, Barnes' success-inflated ego made for a fall whose height was not only matched but defined by the scope, magnitude, and value of his collection.  As Argott tells the story (in tragic tones), fifty years after Barnes' passing, a group of wealthy art-oriented business people managed to ride roughshod over Barnes' will and repurpose his art collection, now worth an estimated 25 billion dollars.

The point Argott makes is that Barnes' collection was stolen from him.  From a legal perspective, that conclusion is inescapable.  But the Dark Side of that judgement, discussed nowhere, is that perhaps Barnes' desire to control the living from beyond his grave was a leap of ego-fueled delusion...that legacy is controllable only for so long.  Adding insult to injury, I think there may be evidence that the grander one's legacy, the more rapid and more certain it is to succumb.

We are here, and then we are gone.  To spend our days and energies shaping lives of beauty is a uniquely human path.  Our sense of meaning drives our energies.  We build families.  We build friendships.  We build homes.  We amass art collections. We build businesses.  We build nations.  When we lie on our deathbeds, I would imagine, we take comfort in what we have done with our lives.  Our accomplishments are evidence of our participation in the human endeavor...that we have wrung meaning out of the mysterious void around us.

But the flip side of humanity's beauty  is that, by definition, it ends.  Like Andrew Moore's (beautiful and highly recommended) photographs of  industrial decay in Dearborn, Michigan, we should be reminded that the ongoing energies we expend to build our lives are an express guarantee that our constructions will be undone with our passing. The only thing that holds our lives together is our energy.  And in the absence of our energy, the people and love and stuff that we have assembled and collected and shaped will unglue and dissociate.

When our metabolic fire is extinguished and our blood ceases to flow, our bodies begin to decay.  Likewise, someday, our human energy will dissipate, and our precious personal achievements will return to the lawless earth to be recycled.

And this is not sad.  Like the beauty and misery of motorcycling in the rain, it is part and parcel.  This is how life is.

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