Monday, November 2, 2020

How to Think Like Da Vinci - Daniel Smith

Somebody whose suggestions I value (I forget who) suggested this book and I bought it. I was surprised to see that the author Daniel Smith had written a series of  'How to think like...' books - Mandela, Sherlock, Jobs, Einstein, Gates, Churchill, Hawkins etc. Smith is definitely thinking well.

Da Vinci is from the place called Vinci, so we are effectively dealing with Leonardo from Vinci, the illegitimate child of Piero, a notary, and what Smith calls - a low class woman. Incredible. Anyway Leonardo is not given much love or anything, nor even the status of his seemingly high class philandering father, who somehow sees promise in Leonardo's paintings and takes him to a well known artist Verrocchio to train his illegitimate progeny. Leonardo learns well in the 13 years he spends there and outgrows his master, who is quite accomplished himself. Leonardo finds great patrons at regular intervals after that and offers them all sorts of expertise - from painting to engineering to sculpture to military design. His patrons include Lorenzo de Medici to the Duke of Sforza to King Louis XV to Francis I. 

Leonardo, thanks to his illegitimate status, does not get formal education so he teaches himself. And he learns all sorts of things - painting, sculpture, maths, science, engineering, architecture, military design, anatomy and some 18 skills. He sells his expertise depending on who he is selling to. Clearly Leonardo's disadvantages of his birth did not come in his way. He was a learner. 

Da Vinci's works were inspired by nature. He loved nature and was known to buy birds just to set them free. He was no romantic and was practical enough to know that when opportunities present themselves he had to seize them. 

Leonardo believed that painting embraces and contains within itself all the things which nature produces or which results from the fortuitous actions of men. Painting is intrinsically related to the divine. He was committed to breathing life into his paintings. and because of this desire to excel he was fiercely critical of his work.

Da Vinci went about his work very methodically. He would gather data, make detailed notes, stock up on ideas to use later, and then construct and deconstruct his creations in a manner that left nothing to chance. It was all process driven. Da Vinci believed that the artist must remain solitary to create his best work else he would be distracted. He also believed that companionship can only be found in the studio. 

The process of learning to him was this - the youth should first learn perspective, then proportions of objects. then copy from a good master to accustom himself to the forms. Then from nature, to confirm by practice the rules he has learned. Then works of masters. Then put his art into practice and work.

He was not all work - he enjoyed play. He dabbled in writing, in bawdy jokes, and was an excellent musician. he had  huge library and devoted an enormous amount of energy to studying and self improvement through a mighty work ethic. nothing was left to chance, everything was carefully analysed. in fact much of his time while working was spent merely watching his subject. He spent time with some of the greatest minds who were part of his inner circle. With this base, he could attempt and imagine the impossible like designing flying machines etc because what was possible in nature could be duplicated by man. He went into the study of anatomy and understood the science behind it, civil engineering, military design etc. 

Da Vinci also knew how to talk and convince his clients - "words which do not sstisfy the ear of the hearer weary him or vex him, and the symptoms of this you will see in their frequent yawns. You therefore who speak before other men whose good you desire, when you see an excess of fatigue, abridge your speech, or change your discourse, and if you do otherwise, then instead of the favour you desire, you will get dislike and hostility.' He was into self-improvement and 'how to influence people and make friends' way before our time. 

Da Vinci believed that one should never let money be their master. 'That is not riches which may be lost. Virtue is our true good and the true reward of its possessor. As to property and external riches, hold them with trembling, they often leave their possessor in contempt and mocked at for having lost them.'

Da Vinci was on a mission to capture his subjects. He endeavoured to add excellence to excellence, perfection to perfection - and in this quest, many works remained unfinished. He kept his friends close and heped those in need. He was inspired by professional rivalries. 

On eating he had this philosophy - "Do not eat when you have no appetite and dine lightly". He could have made a killing on the weight loss market too. Another great habit of Da Vinci was that of keeping notes - 12 manuscripts of his lie in the world, one of which was bought by Bill Gates for 30 million. And he wrote his notes in his unique mirror writing style - you can only read the reflection in the mirror.

The book is an interesting analysis of the man and his habits and how he achieved what he did. a very clear and analytical mind was at the base of his achievements which led him to pursue many subjects with great energy and commitment. His ideas on everything - from eating to painting to charming people are invaluable.  Interesting read and much to learn.

1 comment:

Rajendra said...

He came, he painted, he conquered!Julius Caesar pales in comparison.