Channeling da Vinci - Part III
"Study the science of art and the art of science." ~ Leonardo da Vinci
Last week and the week before, I dove into da Vinci's Values as outlined by Michael Gelb in his 1998 book How to Think Like Leonardo da Vinci. I talked about Curiosità, Demostrazione, Sensazione and Sfumato. This week I’m going to finish out these values with:
Arte/Scienza: The development of the balance between science and art, logic and imagination; whole-brain thinking.
Corporalita: The cultivation of grace, ambidexterity, fitness, and poise.
Connessione (connection): A recognition of and appreciation for the interconnectedness of all things and phenomena; systems thinking.
Gelb placed art and science together for the same reasons that da Vinci did—the two go hand-in-hand. Leonardo was a scientist who studied art and an artist who studied science. Leonardo cautioned his students:
“Those who become enamoured of the art, without having previously applied to the diligent study of the scientific part of it, may be compared to mariners who put to the sea in a ship without rudder or compass and therefore cannot be certain of arriving at the wished for port.”
Artists of Leonardo’s time knew the importance of studying anatomy, for example, so they could better depict the human form on the canvas.
But Leonardo took it one step further, Gelb tells us, urging his students to use their imagination:
Do not despise my opinion, when I remind you that it should not hard for you to stop sometimes and look into the stains of walls, or the ashes of a fire, or clouds, or mud or like places, in which, if you consider them well, you may find really marvelous ideas. The mind of the painter is stimulated to new discoveries, the composition of battles of animals and men, various compositions of landscapes and monstrous things, such as devils and similar things, which may bring you honor, because by indistinct things the mind is stimulated to new inventions.”
Gelb suggests that prior to da Vinci, the concept of “creative thinking” as an “intellectual discipline did not exist.” In other words, Leonardo was one of the foremost proponents of brainstorming. And he clearly liked to find patterns and new associations in the things he studied. His notebooks show us many examples of this, including some of the earliest diagrams of what we now call mind maps.
Some of you may know I earned my M.A. in Critical and Creative Thinking, so I find this extra fascinating. Gelb devotes the rest of the chapter to mind mapping, and I myself am a big fan of the tool, particularly for authors. Here’s one I did for my current novel in progress. It’s small on purpose because it’s quite spoilery—even though I swerved a lot from these initial ideas.
Years ago, I wrote a piece for GrubStreet on how authors can use mind mapping to generate ways to flesh out their own stories. Note that these days I use Scapple to create mind maps for all sorts of things.
Ok, admittedly, this is my huge weak spot. I am certainly not the embodiment of grace, ambidexterity, fitness, or poise, whereas Leonardo reportedly had legendary strength and dexterity. He was an expert equestrian and loved to swim and fence. He was also a vegetarian who believed in several key rules to health (some of which may not be the best advice these days!):
If you want to be healthy observe this regime:
Do not eat when you have no appetite and dine lightly.
Chew well, and whatever you take into you should be well-cooked and of simple ingredients.
He who takes medicine is ill advised.
Beware anger and avoid stuffy air.
Stay standing a while when you get up from a meal.
Make sure you do not sleep at midday.
Let your wine be mixed with water, take little at a time, not between meals, nor on an empty stomach.
Neither delay nor prolong your visit to the toilet.
If you take exercise, let it not be too strenuous.
Do not lie with your stomach upward and your head downward.
Be well covered at night and rest your head and keep your mind cheerful.
Avoid wantonness and keep to this diet.
He recorded many recipes in his notebooks, some of which you can check out here. To learn more about Davinci’s thoughts about food and the kitchen, I highly recommend Dave Dewitt’s book Da Vinci's Kitchen: A Secret History of Italian Cuisine.
This final value is what Gelb describes as da Vinci’s ability to find connections and patterns in the world around him. He was a man with incredible powers of observation and a mind that delighted in understanding the origin of things and what makes them tick. One of his notebooks even has a list of things he wants to learn:
“How clouds form and dissolve, how water vapor rises from the earth into the air, how mists form and air thickens, and why one wave seems more blue than another, the aerial regions and the causes of snow and hail, how water condenses and hardens into ice, and how new figures form in the air, and new leaves on the trees, and icicles on the stones of cold places.”
For some reason, the first thing I thought of when it came to the idea of uncovering underlying connections in the world was the movie Pi, which came out 25 years ago. It’s an art film, done entirely in black and white, in which a man trying to discover the secrets of the stock market instead learns the unspeakable name of God. How’s THAT for some connection?
You can watch the full movie on YouTube for free here.
But back to da Vinci. Gelb advocates for developing a master life plan—figuring out the values that drive you and the goals you have for yourself.
And as I’m trying to make sense of how I find connections in the world, I realize that’s the very reason I’m a writer—to uncover connections between people and place, between what is known and unknown, and all the emotions in the middle of it all. And therein is the heart of my master plan…to keep writing, creating, and discovering.
The British Library has digitized one of Leonardo’s notebooks if you want to check it out here. He wrote in mirror writing, a simple form of code.
To map more of your own life to da Vinci’s values and spark your own creative genius, check out Gelb’s book, How to Think Like Leonardo da Vinci, and the companion workbook.
There are two novels I recommend if you want to read more about da Vinci:
Stephanie Storey’s Oil and Marble is about the rivalry between Michelangelo and da Vinci when they both lived in Florence. And Laura Morelli’s The Stolen Lady, which has a wonderful dual timeline—Leonardo creating The Mona Lisa, and the employees of the Louvre trying to hide the priceless painting from Hitler during WWII.
A Passover Recipe
A few years ago, I developed a honey cake recipe for the inaugural issue of the beautiful food history publication EATEN Magazine. The recipe has very ancient roots, taken from two Roman recipes that appear in Apicius. If you are looking for a unique dish to serve at your table this year, look no further!
What’s Bringing Me Joy This Week:
This fun little online game, Car Boot Carnage, in which you have to pack a car.
My husband’s Curio Spice subscription, which I bought him for his birthday. My husband is the chef in our house, and I’m the lucky beneficiary of his culinary goodness. Their spice blends are really wonderful and unique, and they bring a lot of joy to our tastebuds. Best of all, they support small spice farmers throughout the world. They also have a fantastic online recipe collection!
I’ve mentioned that I’m obsessed with Philomena Cunk, and it was delightful to hear Diane Morgan talking to Seth Meyers about how the role is perfect because she finds history boring. And da Vinci’s Last Supper makes an appearance too!
Thanks for joining me this week! If you haven’t read THE CHEF’S SECRET or FEAST OF SORROW, click the links to learn where to buy your copy! 🍒🍗🍷
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Loved this issue Crystal! The whole da Vinci series has been great – it’s wonderful to see his behind-the-scenes thinking. Today’s 3 values resonated with me most. I used to say something similar about art/science when I was in corporate market research departments because they both applied to the practice.
I’m putting both Oil and Marble and The Stolen Lady on my TBR list.