Sunday, December 10, 2017

Leonardo da Vinci by Walter Isaacson

Leonardo da Vinci by Walter Isaacson was a solid book on someone with a remarkable range of interests, with Isaacson detailing well how da Vinci found his attention going in addition to art, to the fields of: anatomy, architecture, military engineering and weaponry, geology, birds, flying machines, canals and water flow, the playing and design of musical instruments, and putting on lavish extravaganzas at court.

Isaacson notes how da Vinci was certainly a genius, but also really worked to become that and chronicled his ideas in notebook form, with us today having some 7,200 pages available, perhaps a quarter of what he actually wrote. These notebooks are cited by Isaacson as the foundation of his book and one missive from the notebooks written of as an example of how wide-ranging were da Vinci's interests is his to-do list item to “describe the tongue of a woodpecker,” the output from which Isaacson has as the code of the book.

Isaacson writes of how he was very much an art for art’s sake person, one who preferred the conception of a piece of work to the execution of it, and continually tinkered with his creations, leaving much work unfinished, and kept the Mona Lisa with him till his death. The book details how da Vinci was basically self-taught, and how his painting used shading and blurry edges to show movement and dimension, and sculpture had twists and turns to accomplish the same dynamism. Isaacson writes of how da Vinci was just so curious about how things work and would doggedly pursue the answers, with the method to look carefully at things and separate out each detail. An example of this, which also aided in his artwork, was da Vinci's work in the field of anatomy, resulting in his incredibly precise writings about ratios in parts of the human body. Also, da Vinci worked hard at perspective in his art, keeping in mind people would view large works like The Last Supper from different vantage points.

In the conclusion to the book Isaacson notes da Vinci's ability to apply imagination to intellect and lists out what he views as lessons of Leonardo:

·         Be curious, relentlessly curious.
·         Seek knowledge for its own sake.
·         Retain a childlike sense of wonder.
·         Observe.
·         Start with the details.
·         See things unseen.
·         Go down rabbit holes.
·         Get distracted.
·         Respect facts.
·         Procrastinate.
·         Let the perfect be the enemy of the good. Pursue perfection.
·         Think visually.
·         Avoid silos.
·         Let your reach exceed your grasp.
·         Indulge fantasy.
·         Create for yourself, not just for patrons.
·         Collaborate.
·         Make lists.
·         Take notes, on paper.
·         Be open to mystery.