Reflections on ‘How To Think Like Leonardo da Vinci’

After reading the 322 page How To Think Like Leonardo da Vinci book written by Michael Gelb, I felt a new world of insights rush into me.  I fell into an in-depth appreciation of Leonardo da Vinci’s genius!

Although many critics say that Leonardo da Vinci was a failure particularly due to the fact that a lot of his works were left unfinished, I believe otherwise.  He was a great man who attempted to delve into a multitude of fields.

He was an architect, sculptor, painter, inventor, tactician and strategist, mathematician, and a scientist, but only to mention some.  His ideas were truly far beyond his time, and if only his ideas were properly publicized it would have made a greater impact earlier on in history.

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The Seven Da Vincian Principles were enlightening.  Through the exercises provided to develop each principle, I was able to get in touch with myself again, my beliefs, my dreams, and in the process of being connected with myself, I was given a chance to view my career as an art teacher in a refreshing perspective.

The Seven Da Vincian Principles:

Curiosita

Curiosita is an insatiably curious approach, and this continuous quest for learning is the powerhouse of the Da Vincian spirit.  I realized how important it is to always ask why, why, and why.  Following the exercise, and after listing down questions that are significant to me and contemplating on them, I realized I have a lot I want to learn, and a lot I still want to understand.  I was once again contemplating the meaning of life.

In the study of art, I believe the spirit of curiosita is important in the quest to improve one’s skills.  I thought about some questions.  What is aesthetically pleasing?  Why?  And most importantly, how can I make art that is truly aesthetically pleasing?

Dimostrazione

Dimostrazione is a commitment to test knowledge through experience, persistence, and a willingness to learn from mistakes.  The exercises in this section led me to recheck my beliefs, why I believed them, and whether they are valid or not.  Are those beliefs truly mine, or are they simply influenced upon me by society?  Are these beliefs actually wrong?  For that matter, are the standards I have for measuring art truly mine or merely dictated upon me, are they truly the best standards to measure art?  These are the questions that were brought to me.

Senzazione

Sensazione is the continual refinement of the senses as the means to enliven experience.  Leonardo stated that the average human ‘looks without seeing, listens without hearing, touches without feeling, eats without tasting, moves without physical awareness, inhales without awareness of odour or fragrance, and talks without thinking’ and I believe that this is true, to some extent, it even applies to myself.  The exercises here provided a very enjoyable experience.  In this section of the book, it is shown how important it is to be aware of the minute details that our senses tell me—the feel of clothes against my skin, the taste of something really delectable melting in my mouth, the soft sound of heartbeat in my ears.  Beauty can be found in such experience, though how simple the experience may be.  It is from the appreciation of such experience that wonderful ideas of art can come from.  I especially enjoyed delving into the exercise of answering the question ‘if you could bite into the music, what would it taste like?’  as this tries to express one type of sense in terms of another.

Sfumato

Sfumato develops a willingness to embrace ambiguity, paradox, and uncertainty.  Sfumato literally means “turn to mist”, which describes the hazy quality of paintings of Leonardo.  From here, I learned that it uncertainty is not necessarily a negative aspect.  In fact, it can be used to enhance art, as Leonardo did.

It was in this section that Gelb mentioned how Leonardo would spend his day apparently doing nothing, instead of painting what was tasked to him.  In Leonardo’s words, ‘the greatest geniuses sometimes accomplish more when they work less.’  This is called incubation, and I believe this is true as I have also experienced something similar.  Incubation is most effective when alternating, as Leonardo did, between periods of intense focused work and rest.  Without periods of intense focused work, there is nothing to be incubated.

Arte/Scienza

Arte/Scienza is whole brain thinking, and the development of the balance between science and art, logic and imagination.  It is important not only to explore the art, but also to learn the science behind the art.  Thus, development should not only be in the side of creativity, but also on the side of logic.

Corporalita

Corporalita is the cultivation of grace, ambidexterity, fitness, and poise.  It is here that Leonardo emphasizes for us to be healthy.  He warns against anger, and tells us to avoid grievous moods, to rest our head and keep our minds cheerful, to be covered well at night, exercise moderately, eat simple and chew well.  When we are fit, we are at our full potential to be creative.  Also, it is important that we develop not only one side of our body, but both.  In painting, it may be a useful exercise to try to paint with the other, less dominant hand.

Connessione

Connessione is a recognition of and appreciation for the interconnectedness of all things and phenomena.  It emphasizes a systems way of thinking.  A number of scholars have criticized Leonardo for the disorder of his notebooks because he scrawled notes in a random fashion.  But Michael Gelb believes that Leonardo’s sense of connectedness was so all embracing that his observations were equally valid however they were related to one another.  He saw how everything connected to everything else.

I believe this was part of his creativity.  He did not let himself be limited to any rule or order in writing his notes, so he was free to jot down his ideas without anything to hinder him.

References

Gelb, M. (1998).  How to think like Leonardo Da Vinci:  Seven steps to genius every day.  Dell

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