Leonardo: the Renaissance Man
“Principles for the Development of a Complete Mind: Study the science of art. Study the art of science. Develop your senses especially learn how to see. Realize that everything connects to everything else.” Leonardo Da Vinci
The Renaissance men were masters of many arts, particularly Leonardo Da Vinci, who was knowledgeable in many subjects, which included painting and drawing as well as topography, anatomy, engineering, science, and music.
He invented the helicopter decades before it became a reality and he designed weapons of war. He provided topographical drawings for military campaigns and made sculptures as well as meticulous drawings of the workings of the human body. And he also found time to paint the Mona Lisa.
Walking the Rhizome line between art, crafts, science, philosophy and writing, in many of its forms, is what I do. I have such varied interests that I rarely complete what I start, and am very easily side-tracked into another area of study. This was Leonardo's problem as well.
All his biographers bemoan the fact that he did not concentrate on his art and instead let himself become side-tracked on his other researches. Whilst I don't claim to be a Leonardo, or anything remotely close to his genius, anyone who has too many interests is in danger of constant diversions, though to some this may be very pleasant, it makes it hard to focus.
However there is a plus side to this situation and that is the gift of Rhizomatic thinking. The Rhizome is like the World Wide Web; a connection of nodes, a mesh of ideas all interlinked. Bridging the gaps between those ideas helps to make new connections previously unseen or undreamed of. This is the essence of creative thought.
The notion of the Rhizome was first posited by Deluze and Guttari in their philosophical work A Thousand Plateaus, and is one of the seminal works of post-modernist thinking produced in the last few decades, which have seen the de-construction of thought, in order to restructure it in new models. This can, however, destabilise cherished beliefs or reconfigure heroes into anti-heroes, and villains into demi-gods.
The best use of Rhizomatic thinking is to make connections, rather than break them. However, it is important to, first, deconstruct a thought before it is reconstructed in a new, and more creatively Rhizomatic model. It is in this manner which I propose to explore this concept.
The Neck and Shoulders of a Man
The study of many arts, as understood in the 15th century, was the study of Humanity and of life; why we are here, and the meaning of it all. (Which is why we still call certain subjects Humanities, today). This process involved asking deeply philosophical questions and even studying Mankind himself (epitomised by Leonardo's famous Vitruvian Man, or Perfect Human, the result of his many anatomical studies made whilst dissecting corpses). This is something we are still trying to understand and, perhaps, always will. It is the study of ourselves.
Whilst the commonest argument against this practice today (apart from the lack of readily available corpses), is that knowledge has increased so far in all areas of study that it would be impossible to carry out any meaningful research, across such a broad spectrum of disciplines, and achieve any useful results. However there are still many people who can, and, do interest themselves in numerous fields and achieve fame and fortune in many areas.
People live longer and change jobs more frequently than they did in the past. And the internet has opened up vast new areas for research. There are distance learning courses available on all or most subjects. It is now more common for regular people to interest themselves in many topics and be able to pursue them into profitable side-lines and gain considerable knowledge and understanding on a wide variety of, often, very niche subjects.
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There is a wealth of information out there. We live in the information age. In fact, there is so much data available that sometimes we just don't know where to start. We can find out anything we want to know simply by doing a quick online search. The number of results is often so staggering that we haven't the time to wade through them all, and it can be a very mind-numbing experience to be confronted by millions of pages of text and to try sifting through them.
Which is why everything is instantaneous now. And why, soon, implants might feed us this information directly into the brain. This idea has been put forward as one possible way to increase learning in the near future.
We are becoming one with the machine. And this is a scary thought. However, if computers and the knowledge of the internet can be used to further research and understanding amongst us (as, it has shown, can be done) then it appears we may be entering into a new Renaissance. An age where new connections can be established between ideas, and across disciplines, in order to create new sciences and new arts.
Vitruvian in the Machine
Art and Science
We are ushering in an age when new connections can be established between ideas, and across disciplines, to perhaps create new sciences and new arts. Arts, no longer divided into Fine or High Art, and the lower orders of crafts, but a unified ensemble of makers and creative minds inspiring each other across and between the arts.
And amongst the sciences; science mingled with philosophy, even (dare I say it) with religion and spiritual insight. For, in the beginning, science looked to understand the mystery of our being through religion.
When computer software developers collaborate with artists who knows what can be achieved. When engineers join forces with science fiction writers we can reach the stars!
To better understand our world we must look at it, sometimes, through the eyes of artists. And to understand the creative process it is often necessary to analyse it scientifically. The two go hand in hand. And always should.
Nadia Davidson (author) from Nairn on June 12, 2017:
Thank you. Leonardo is a real inspiration for me.
Amber on June 08, 2017:
A wonderfully well written article on a very interesting subject. Kudos.