I just finished “How to Think like Leonardo da Vinci: Seven Steps to Genius Every Day” by Michael J. Gelb.This is a fantastic book, one that all should read. The information is useful no matter who or what you are. Leonardo’s life lessons are timeless and learning about how he looked at life how he saw life was fascinating. I will be looking up more books concerning his life. Managers, Teachers, Parents and everyone else needs to read this book, we need to return to being renaissance men and woman once again.
So what is a renaissance man? And why do we need them again?
As to the first question, what is it:
The common term Renaissance man is used to describe a person who is well educated or who excels in a wide variety of subjects or fields. The concept emerged from the numerous great thinkers of that era who excelled in multiple fields of the arts and science, including Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, Galileo Galilei, Copernicus and Francis Bacon; the emergence of these thinkers was likewise attributed to the then rising notion in Renaissance Italy expressed by one of its most accomplished representatives, Leon Battista Alberti (1404–1472): that “a man can do all things if he will.” It embodied the basic tenets of Renaissance humanism, which considered humans empowered, limitless in their capacities for development, and led to the notion that people should embrace all knowledge and develop their capacities as fully as possible. Thus the gifted people of the Renaissance sought to develop skills in all areas of knowledge, in physical development, in social accomplishments, and in the arts. The term has since expanded from original usage and has been applied to other great thinkers before and after the Renaissance such as Aristotle, Johann Goethe, and Isaac Newton. (source)
Basically, it is a person well versed on many fields of study, what we would call today, a well rounded education. But really it is more than that. It is more than just getting your Liberal Arts degree.Well at least how we in modern times view it:
The phrase liberal arts (Latin: artes liberales) refers to those subjects which in classical antiquity were considered essential for a free citizen to study. Grammar, Rhetoric and Logic were the core liberal arts. In medieval times these subjects (called the Trivium) were extended to include mathematics, geometry, music and astronomy (which included the study of astrology). This extended curriculum was called the Quadrivium. Together the Trivium and Quadrivium constituted the seven liberal arts of the medieval university curriculum.
In modern times liberal arts is a term which can be interpreted in different ways. It can refer to certain areas of literature, languages, philosophy, history, mathematics, psychology, and science. It can also refer to studies on a liberal arts degree program. For example, Harvard University offers a degree of Master of Liberal Arts, which covers biological and social sciences as well as the humanities. For both interpretations, the term generally refers to matters not relating to the professional, vocational, or technical curricula. (source)
The classical Liberal Arts is the definition of a Renaissance man, it is the study of Leonardo and many others. It is the study we need to return to, it is the study the will teach us to think. Modern-day Liberal Arts, modern-day education is not setup to teach thinking, it is set up to teach remembering. Students are not encouraged to think freely, but rather to retain what was told to them. The modern-day education system is one based on indoctrination not liberation. Leonardo’s education was geared towards discovery, experimentation and liberation. His disciplines ran across many areas of study, but he, as many renaissance men, had the ability to see the connections. The lines between art and science are blurred as are the lines between religion and science. The cross training and encouragement to push the envelope was the hallmark of renaissance training.
So why do we need a Renaissance man today? We have people who specialize in areas of study, so why should a rocket scientist care about the science of art? Why should an artist care about religion? Why would someone need to know about logic and rhetoric when they push a broom for a living?
Because life is connected, because the betterment of all starts with the betterment of one. Because life is more than what you do, it is who you are. And who you are is shaped by what you know. One of the main principles of Leonardo is connectedness, Leonardo saw the connections between seemingly non-connected objects. For example do you see the connection between a frog and the internet? Think about it… There is a connection. The frog has webbed feet and the internet is also called the World Wide Web. So both frog and internet have some sort of web. It is this connection, relationship that Leonardo saw, and it is this connectedness that we are missing in our lives.
Leonard saw the world not separate from humanity, but just a part of it. He saw the flow of the rivers to be the same as the flow of blood, the grass as the skin and the rock as the bones, he was a oneness between humanity and nature. Leonardo understood the connectedness of the clouds to the rain to the oceans, he saw the dependence of one upon the other. Leonardo is considered a great artiste, the Mona Lisa and the Last Supper among the greatest art works in all of humanity. Yet he was much more than that, he was a scientist and inventor, a caterer and party planner. Leonardo used his talents to enlighten and entertain, he was known for a beautiful singing voice and accomplished musician. He understood that a holistic lifestyle was a healthy life style. Leonardo understood the body and mind connectedness, he was physically and mentally fit, because Leonardo knew that one could not be truly whole if a part of him was left to waste.
The Renaissance man of antiquity needs to be restored. We need to nurture and grow our children with a desire and fascination for learning. To question and explore their surroundings and to see the world, the universe with the eyes of openness and wonder.
We need more Leonardo’s’ in todays world, we need men and woman who are willing to expand their horizons, to cross over disciplines and to not fear failure, for through failure comes discovery. We need to foster the exploration of connectedness, we need to discover the universe anew.
Leonardo, where are you? Where have you gone. When did we decide that men such as Leonard are obsolete? Why did we decide they are of no use? the enlighten of man has many casualties, and this is one. But all is not lost, we can return, we can learn to think like Leonardo, we can create a new Renaissance, we just have to try.