Friday, June 12, 2020

Book- Leonardo Da Vinci written by Walter Issacson

I looked up to Leonardo for his varied areas of interest. I heard, read that he is a genius and I picked this book to know more about him. Glad I picked up this gem. 
Leonardo di ser Piero da Vinci is regarded as polymath for his extensive work in various areas of interest included, drawing, painting, sculpting, architecture, science, music, math, engineering, literature, anatomy, geology, astronomy, botany, palaeontology, cartography!!

Born out of wedlock, Leonardo was an illegitimate son. If not, he would have to end up being a notary, since the firstborn should become a notary as a norm. “Golden age for bastards,” writes Walter describing how Leonardo had the conducive environment to deal with arts in his childhood. 

Quoting Vasari, Leonardo’s biographer, Issacson began his narrative describing Leonardo’s times.

Revealing his influences and look-up-to people, “Bruneschelli and Albertti.”

Explaining the art of Verrocchio’s “Tobias and the Angel,” I learned a way to observe the art. I never understood how people observe and what do they observe.

Walter words helped me to observe the art closely. Art observation is one hobby I would like to pursue in the future.

Leo’s way of perspectives flipped the progression of paintings for it created the motion on the canvas.
Leonardo played with the perspectives. His famous Arno valley landscape tells about it all.

His motion depiction is discussed in a lot of paintings. The baptism of Christ, the saint Jerome, and many more paintings were explained.

“For the the first time, his chiaroscuro creates throughout a picture, fully 3d forms rivaling the roundness of sculpture. “

Leonardo learned his craft through acute observation and analysis. Some of his advice to himself is,

“Paint so that smoky finish can be seen rather contours and profiles that are distinct and crude.
“When you paint shadows and their edges, which cannot be perceived except indistinctly, do not make them sharp or clearly defined, otherwise, your work will have a wooden appearance.”
Leonardo was the pioneer of the sfumato technique. The sfumato technique is a marvelous one.

How did he become good at what he does?

“When Leonardo wished to paint a figure, he first considered what social standing and the emotion it was to represent, whether noble or plebeian, joyful or severe, troubled or serene, old or young, irate or quiet, good or evil; and when he had made up his mind, he went to a place where he knew that people of that kind assembled and observed their faces, their manners, dresses, and gestures; and when he found what fitted his purpose, he noted it in a little book which he was always carrying in his belt.”

More than 7,200 pages now extant probably represent about one-quarter of what Leonardo wrote.

The obsession and passion says it all about how he put in his time and mind in things he wanted to improve.

His paintings depict the world. He paints the emotions and motions on the canvas through his strokes.

“Let your figures have actions appropriate to what they are intended to think or say, and these will be well learned by imitating the deaf, who by the motion of their hands, eyes, eyebrows, and the whole body, endeavor to express the sentiments of their mind.”

“In painting, the actions of the figures are, in all cases, expressive of the purpose of their minds.”

His observations and analogies were interesting.

“Studying the curls on a beautiful woman’s head he thought in terms of the swirling motion of a turbulent flow of water.”

“To arrive at knowledge of the motions of birds in the air, it is first necessary to acquire knowledge of the winds, which we will prove by the motions of water.”

“All the branches of a tree at every stage of its height when put together are equal in thickness to the trunk below them.”

Besides his father being rich, Leonardo did not have any stake, instead, he had to find his patron. Searching his patronage, he moved to Milan and worked under Ludovico Sforza for a long time.

Leo also worked at court entertaining by pageants and plays. His fantasy got unshackled at the courts.

“When Pluto’s paradise is opened there will be devils who are playing on twelve pots like openings into hell, creating infernal noises. Here will be Death, the Furies, ashes, many naked children weeping, living fires made of various colors. Dances follow.”

Leonardo played out with perspective, fantasy, and nature. The combination is the result of his masterpieces.
He had advice for young artists,

“You may discover in the patterns on the wall a resemblance to various landscapes, adorned with mountains, rivers, rocks, trees, plains, wide valleys, and hills in the varied arrangement or again you may see battles and figures in actions; or strange faces and costumes and an endless variety of objects which you could turn into complete and well-drawn forms. The effect produced by these mottled walls are like that of the sound of bells, in which you may recognize any name or word you choose to imagine… It should not be hard for your o look at stains on walls, or the ashes of a fire or the clouds, or mud and if you consider them well you find marvelous new ideas because the mind is stimulated to new inventions by obscure things.”

He learns geology, anatomy, cartography not for the sake of using it in the paintings but, to learn out of sheer curiosity.

Leonardo reveled the nature and creation.

Leonardo drew a  lot of faces. Along drawing the faces, he was studying anatomy because he was finding ways to relate facial features to inner emotions. And he wanted to know what causes the motion of a muscle and much more.  His extensive work on human anatomy helped him to create the masterpieces.
“Art required a deep understanding of anatomy, which in turn was aided by a profound appreciation for the beauty of nature.”
Apart from his works, his personal life is shared relying on the notebooks. Leonardo seemed elusive for his curiosity and capabilities to work around at various fields.
“Kenneth Clark referred to Leonardo's "inhumanly sharp eye." It is a nice phrase, but misleading. Leonardo was human. The acuteness of his observational skill was not some superpower he possessed. Instead, it was a product of his own effort. That is important because it means that we can if we wish, not just marvel at him but try to learn from him by pushing ourselves to look at things more curiously and intensely.”

Leo was not schooled. He did not know Latin. He knew French. His experience and experiments drove him to the expertise he was in. 

Leonardo claimed himself as ‘a man without letters’ and ‘disciple of experience.’ He was proud of his experiential learning. 
“Though I have no power to quote from authors as they have, I shall rely on a far more worthy thing- on experience.”

There are limitations to experiential learning. He relied on geometry to solve a lot of math problems. He did not learn equations or Algebra.

At first, he preferred to induce from experiments rather than deduce from theoretical principles. “My intention is to consult experience first, and then with reasoning show why such experience is bound to operate in such a way.”

Visualization and drawing became an important component of his process. Over the times, he evolved and came to understand how theory and experiments complement for the learning.
He even came to be dismissive of experimenters who relied on practice without any knowledge.

“Those who are in love with practice without theoretical knowledge are like the sailors who goes onto a ship without a rudder or compass and who never can be certain whither he is going.”

Leonardo worked on the science of arts as well as mechanical arts. He worked extensively as a mechanical art, Hydraulic engineering, friction, machines, perpetual motion, and a lot more.

Why he is not credited to a lot of works he did but credited to the successors’ discovery?

Because he did not share his work. He did not publish his knowledge and people did not study his notebooks soon after his death.  If only, he shared his knowledge, I wonder how the world would be.
Issacson’s is a master storyteller. With extensive research and references, he showed the life of Leonardo in a gripping style.  Worth reading!

At last, Issacson mentioned the learnings from Leonardo.

Be curious, relentlessly curious: Even Einstein said the same, “I have no special talents. I am just passionately curious.”

Seek knowledge for it’s own sake:
Not all knowledge needs to be useful. Sometimes it should be pursued for pure pleasure

Retain a childlike sense of wonder:
At a certain point in life, most of us quit puzzling over everyday phenomena. We should be careful to never outgrow our wonder years or to let our children do so.

Leonardo’s greatest skill was his acute ability to observe things. It was the talent that empowered his curiosity, and vice versa.

Start with details:
Leonardo shared a truck to observe some thing carefully: Do it in steps, starting with each detail.

See things unseen:
Leonardo’s primary activity in many of his formative years conjuring up pageants.

Go down rabbit holes:
 Leonardo recorded 169 attempts to square a circle. 730 findings about the flow of water. Leonardo drilled down for the pure joy of geeking out.

Respect facts:
We must learn to be fearless about changing our minds based on new information. Be open-minded.

Let the perfect be the enemy of the good:
Leonardo took 16 years to finish the Mona Lisa painting. Issacson suggests a middle path. At times, deliver a product even when there are still improvements that could be made. At times, it is nice to be like Leonardo and not let go of something until it is perfect.

Think Visually:
Too often when we learn a formula or a rule- even one so simple as the method for multiplying numbers or mixing a painting color- we no longer visualize how it works. As a result, we lose our appreciation for the underlying beauty of nature’s laws.

Avoid Silos:
Leonardo knew that art was a science and that science was an art. It is important to learn through cross disciplines.

Let your reach exceed your grasp:
  There are some problems we will never solve. Learn why.

Indulge fantasy:
Soar your imagination.

Create for yourself:
This reminds me of Isabella d Este story

Innovation is a team sport. Creativity is a collaborative endeavor

Make lists:
Leonardo’s to-do lists may have been the greatest testaments to pure curiosity the world has ever seen.

Take notes, on paper:
  Five hundred years later, Leonardo’s notebooks are around to astonish and inspire us. Fifty years from now, our own notebooks, if we work up with the initiative to start writing them will be around to astonish and inspire our grandchildren, unlike our tweets and Facebook posts.

Be open to mystery.
Not everything needs sharp lines.

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