From the 16th to 18th century, Leonardo da Vinci’s grotesque sketches from the High Renaissance period in 1493 were his most emulated and celebrated works of art. Wrote art historian Kenneth Clark: ‘For three centuries they were [seen as] the most typical of his works. Today we find them disgusting, or at best wearisome.’
The beauty is in its strangeness. Why did we ever lose our taste in monstrosities?
Two things stuck out at the most in the above conversation:
Even Leonardo da Vinci left projects unfinished. He didn’t have the luxury of a Steve Wozniak to execute all his ideas. Nevertheless, the art of delay means that procrastinators can still be finishers.
Some say the Mona Lisa is really just da Vinci in drag. Leonardo was gay, and Florence, where he resided, was a safe haven for homosexuals.
“I can carry out sculpture in marble, bronze, or clay, and also I can do in painting whatever may be done, as well as any other, be he who he may.”
So wrote Leonardo da Vinci in his resume to the Duke of Milan. Your future employer cares less about what you’ve done and more about you’re going to do for them. Da Vinci mastered the art of selling himself through his resume. Might we learn from him 500+ years later?
The philosopher William James once said “What holds attention, determines action.” He lived mostly in a world of silence, before the instant distraction of buzzing cell phones and pop-up messages. You can throw your phone into the ocean, or you can search for silent areas such as the business-class lounge in the airport. In short, “Silence has become a luxury good.” Or as Chad Wellman recently wrote in his 79 Theses on Technology. For Disputation,
“We should evaluate our investments of attention at least as carefully and critically as our investments of money.”
If time is money, distraction is the accumulation of pennies.
Einstein was a genius, no doubt. He also happened to have crazy hair and a “way with words.” But how much of his celebrity was due to his timing with the proliferation of mass media: newspapaper, radio, and TV? Marie Curie won two Nobel prizes and was equally genius but she was a woman.
“Had he lived in another era, Einstein might have been a decent physicist, but he wouldn’t have been the Einstein we know.”
According to data blogger Martin Bellander who downloaded and studied about 130k thumbnails, the color blue became a popular painting color in the 20th century. He notes one possible reason for the rise in blue.
“Blue has historically been a very expensive color, and the decreasing price and increased supply might explain the increased use.”
Blue was my favorite growing up. As the Observatory podcast explains, the color blue is soothing like a Tiffany’s box, or hospital scrubs.
“I roamed the countryside searching for answers to things I did not understand. Why shells existed on the tops of mountains along with the imprints of coral and plants and seaweed usually found in the sea. Why the thunder lasts a longer time than that which causes it, and why immediately on its creation the lightning becomes visible to the eye while thunder requires time to travel. How the various circles of water form around the spot which has been struck by a stone, and why a bird sustains itself in the air. These questions and other strange phenomena engage my thought throughout my life.”
Most people confuse procrastination with doing nothing. But for Leonardo, daydreaming was work. As Walter Isaacson’s mentions about Leonardo in his new book, “procrastinating like Leonardo requires work: It involves gathering all the possible facts and ideas, and only after that allowing the various ingredients to simmer.”