After reading ‘Leonardo da Vinci — The biography’ by Walter Isaacson, I was astonished by Leonardo’s life (also by Walter’s writing). He achieved exceptional things, but he had flaws too. Being born in the 15th century was substantially different from now, but we can still apply the learnings of this genius to our generation.
Leonardo was a genius, but more: he was the epitome of the universal mind, one who sought to understand all of creation, including how we fit into it. — Walter Isaacson
Leonardo is mostly known for drawing the Mona Lisa, but he has a mind-boggling list of interests/hobbies including invention, drawing, painting, sculpture, architecture, science, music, mathematics, engineering, literature, anatomy, geology, astronomy, botany, paleontology, and cartography. How was he able to do all these things and be great at them? The answer to this question is a mixture of things I will explain in the following points, but it is also of the unexplainable brain of the genius himself.
A point from one of Leonardo’s to do lists: “Inflate the lungs of a pig and observe whether they increase in width and in length, or only in width.”
1. Be curious.
Skill without imagination is barren. Leonardo knew how to marry observation and imagination, which made him history’s consummate innovator. — Walter Isaacson
Leonardo was insanely curious. During his stay in different cities like Milan, Vinci, and Florence, Leonardo wandered around and was just observing everything around him, like a newborn baby opening their eyes for the first time. He looked at birds and questioned their flying techniques. He looked at the way buildings were constructed. Every little detail mattered to him. And these are just some small examples.
The main question in his brain was probably: ‘How does that work?’, which creates a fun way of living; you will learn and respect the little things in life more. As a child, we’ve been the most curious in our life, trying to figure out everything. That was until we learned that there is too much to learn, but that should not stop our curiosity. As Walter Isaacson wrote:
Seek knowledge for its own sake. Not all knowledge needs to be useful. Sometimes it should be pursued for pure pleasure.
With the current information overload on the internet, it is good to set boundaries for what you let in your mind, but that should not stop us from being curious and creative. Einstein once wrote: “I have no special talents; I am just passionately curious.” And I know it is hard to believe because he most-definitely had special talents, but his curiosity led him to be one of the most important physicists in history.
2. Leonardo is a self-taught, created genius. Not a god.
In one of his notebooks, Leonardo wrote down 730 findings of the flow of water. He also wanted to know every measurement of the human body inside and out, and the list goes on.
At the start of this article, I indicated all of Leonardo’s interests. But they were not only his interests; he was outstanding in all of them. Putting that much patience and time in many pursuits is something unknown to us. We get easily distracted and most people are great at 1 or maybe 2 things. Leonardo could be distracted as well, not by games or drinks, but by his other interests.
“Talent hits a target that no one else can hit, Genius hits a target no one else can see” — Arthur Schopenhauer
While being busy with a statue, Leonardo could leave the task and dive into mathematics for weeks and write 500 pages about it (he had so to speak ‘good distractions’). But when Leonardo was working on something, he would fully dedicate his time to it and nothing else. Excelling at your career or hobbies takes hard work, focus, curiosity, and an open mind, which Leonardo showed. See the geniuses of the past as a source of inspiration, not discouragement.
3. Surround yourself with like-minded people.
Leonardo was surrounded with other brilliant minds and in his notes are to-dos about asking certain things to them, like: “Get the measurement of the sun promised me by Maestro Giovanni Francese, the Frenchman.” Just a normal thing to ask someone. Anyhow, this impacted the speed of learning of Leonardo greatly. (But by now we should all know this step from the countless articles, books and presentations on this topic)
4. Don’t be too big of a perfectionist. Finish your work.
Did you know Leonardo did not finish almost any of his paintings? He carried them around with him when moving. He often let people down because he took too long to finish them. These paintings could take multiple years to make, so having to wait 8 months longer on your painting could make someone go insane, especially in this day of age. His response to this was that creativity cannot be pushed; it should happen naturally.
So, he took his time. Staring at a painting for 3 hours, adding one stroke, and going home was not uncommon for Leonardo. Sometimes he would add a drop of paint 15 years later because he wanted to readjust something. But when you need to put food on the table, then there isn’t an option to wait for creativity to come up. So, you will have to break the perfectionist in yourself to be able to finish more work. If it is a hobby, then you can decide how much time you will spend on something.
I can relate to this. I produced music as a hobby and I probably had around 30 or more projects that were half done. Sometimes it is just more fun to start with new ideas, but you got to finish your projects to truly improve.
5. Keep notes and journals.
How was Walter Isaacson able to write a full detailed book of approximately 600 pages about Leonardo? Because Leonardo kept notes for literally anything. Important and non-important. The notes included pages about his personal life, but also his research. 10s of thousands of papers full of the most random stuff.
I think this also helped him keep his mind clear. I like to journal too. I write in a notebook and I feel like this is the only time in the day I’m relaxed and disconnected. It also helps me clear my mind. By putting everything down before going to bed, I have less to worry about while laying in bed.
Journals are valuable. I have been journaling since February and I write down my learnings of that day, what I have done that day and what I’m grateful for. Occasionally, I like to skip through my journal to see how I’ve been feeling and to see my learnings. Sometimes I stumble upon new writing ideas too.
6. Stop worrying too much.
Leonardo did not care if he got paid less (or nothing at all) if he failed to meet the deadline. He did not worry when he was trying to divert a river while he should have worked on a statue for the duke of Milan.
Of course, that kind of no-stress level is a bit much. In some situations, it is necessary to worry. If you do not worry about losing your job while you only have one chance left, and you genuinely like that job, then you become lifeless.
There is no doubt that Leonardo sometimes worried, but he kept himself busy all the time, so he had no time to worry about the small things. Worry can keep you stuck. It can take you out of the present. It can hold back your creativity.
Sometimes you must allow yourself to worry, connect with yourself, check what can be done, and move on.
Thanks for reading. It has been a while since I posted an article and I’m excited to start working on new ones again.
If you would like to know more about the biography of Leonardo, you may like the book review I wrote here. Have a nice one.