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Learning from Leonardo

January 10, 2018  •  Leave a Comment

This year I’d like to read more biographies.  Wandering through the bookstore a couple of weeks ago, I happened to pick up a copy of Walter Isaacson’s Leonardo da Vinci and glance at the inside book jacket.  Isaacson wrote, in part, “Leonardo’s genius was based on skills we can improve in ourselves, such as passionate curiosity, careful observation, and an imagination so playful that it flirted on fantasy.”  With those words, I purchased the book and was extremely glad that I made this book my first biography of 2018. 

Leonardo da Vinci was a man far ahead of his time and his contributions to art and science are incredible.  Isaacson concluded the book with a list of life’s lessons from Leonardo.  They are:

  1. Be curious, relentlessly curious
  2. Seek knowledge for its own sake
  3. Retain a childlike sense of wonder
  4. Observe
  5. Start with the details
  6. See things unseen
  7. Go down rabbit holes
  8. Get distracted
  9. Respect facts
  10. Procrastinate
  11. Let the perfect be the enemy of the good
  12. Think visually
  13. Avoid silos
  14. Let your reach exceed your grasps
  15. Indulge fantasy
  16. Create for yourself, not just for your patrons
  17. Collaborate
  18. Make lists
  19. Take notes, on paper
  20. Be open to mystery


I can’t help but notice how applicable this is to photography.  Even #10, procrastinate (which is often perceived negatively), when viewed in Leonardo’s perspective, can serve to enhance creativity.  Looking through the contact sheet of my latest self-project Hidden in Plain Sight, I can certainly identify with at least 10 of these lessons.

Each year I start off with a new Moleskine notebook to carry with me to jot down notes, ideas, and ramblings.  This list is on the first page, and I intend to refer to it often.


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