Learn things. Create things. Indulge yourself. That way lies joy.
There are lots of recipes and formulas (formulae?) out there for finding joy; those four sentences sum up mine. And I’m willing to bet that there are a lot of you who feel the same way. We’re in good company, after all: finding joy through curiosity and the creative process reflects the shining spirit of Leonardo da Vinci, a particular hero of Glorious Curious. Painter, sculptor, architect, musician, mathematician, engineer, inventor, scientist, theatrical designer, writer–Leonardo studied and excelled in a plethora of seemingly unrelated areas.
“He was a universal genius whose outline can only be surmised–never defined.”
So wrote the Swiss historian Jacob Burckhardt. Or, to paraphrase Walt Whitman, our man was large; he contained multitudes.
And his curiosity about all things great and small is legendary. Sigmund Freud, in Leonardo da Vinci, his psychosexual analysis of the original Renaissance Man, called curiosity “the one single impulse [that was] very forcibly developed” in the master. Freud cites Edmondo Solmi as noting that Leonardo indulged his curiosity at first by investigating things related to painting, things like light and color and pigment. This led him naturally to study the objects of painting–animals, plants, the human body. And then, just as we find ourselves doing when we spiral down the rabbit hole of the internet, leaping from one story to the next, one website to the next, until we’re so far away from our original destination that we don’t quite know how we got where we are, the study of objects led Leonardo further afield to the study of mechanics, of astronomy, of weaponry, and even of paleontology.
The interesting thing about this rather desultory approach to studying the universe, Freud contended, is that all of Leonardo’s seemingly unrelated investigations led him to adopt a new perspective on his art. His paintings became connected to the universe itself. He viewed them through the filters of all he had learned. He couldn’t possibly isolate them any longer, but neither could he possibly investigate all their nearly infinite connections. Freud claimed that this dilemma is probably what caused the master to leave so many works unfinished–though we have thousands of his sketches, drawings, and designs, we have only about 17 finished paintings by Leonardo. But oh, what paintings they are. Two of them (come on, you know which ones) are widely considered the most famous paintings in the world.
Michael J. Gelb, in How to Think Like Leonardo da Vinci: Seven Steps to Genius Every Day , tells us that
“Leonardo’s childlike sense of wonder and insatiable curiosity, his breadth and depth of interest, and his willingness to question accepted knowledge never abated. Curiosità fueled the wellspring of his genius throughout his adult life.”
Gelb quotes the scholar Kenneth Clark, who said that the master was
“…undoubtedly the most curious man who ever lived….He wouldn’t take Yes for an answer.”
Leonardo’s approach to art and life rests firmly at the other end of the spectrum from that of an artist such as Edward Hopper, who famously said, “Maybe I am not very human–what I wanted to do was to paint sunlight on the side of a house.” Hopper narrowed his focus (to beautiful effect, we might add). Leonardo broadened his. Two different approaches to mastery, to making sense of things, to creating joy. (Understand, please, that I’m not trying to compare the talent or output of these two men–just their approaches, to their art and to the world.) Though I appreciate the intense focus on one subject that many artists engage in, I celebrate the way Leonardo cast his net wide and drew in all the things that fascinated him.
That’s why Leonardo stands as a Hero of Great Stature here at Glorious Curious. Walt Whitman is another hero around here, contradicting himself and being large and containing multitudes and all that. There are other heroes, too–I’ll write about them from time to time. I’ll also write about food, music, theatre, beauty, mindfulness, and a pile of other subjects that intrigue me. Take a look at the site’s Raison d’Etre page to read more.
I began publishing this blog today, March 20, for a reason: today is the UN’s International Day of Happiness. It seemed like an auspicious day to begin a blog dedicated to joyful things. I hope your own curiosity and your own quest for creative, brainy joy will keep you coming back to see what’s going on.