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DaVinci's Genius Habits
By Linda Dessau | Updated September 16, 2018
“Clever people seem not to feel the natural pleasure of bewilderments, and are always answering questions when the chief relish of life is to go on asking them.” Frank Moore Colby
Creativity asks of us a certain level of curiousity. Every new piece of art, music or writing is unknown when we sit down (or stand up) to create it.
When we approach that blank canvas, empty stage or notebook paper in a state of curiousity, we're truly opening the door to the muse to our “inner artist”, our “higher power” and the creative flow of the universe.
In How To Think Like Leonardo da Vinci, Michael Gelb tells us just how curious Leonardo was. In fact, curiousity is one of the “seven steps to genius” that Gelb walks us through in this fascinating book.
Da Vinci suggested three different ways of looking at your own creative work, so that you can approach it objectively and with curiousity.
First he suggested you look at your work in a mirror, so it seems like someone else created it.
This changing of perspective is a very effective avenue into curiousity. I often suggest coaching clients imagine that someone else (a good friend or family member) is coming to them with the very situation they're having trouble with, and I ask them what they would advise this person. Immediately they're spouting all sorts of wisdom that they just couldn't see when it was their own life they were looking at. They needed to see the situation from a new perspective, and to get curious about it.
Secondly, he suggested that you walk away from your creative work and come back with fresh eyes. In the meantime, while you're away from it, you're out interacting with the world, engaging with nature, people, sights, sounds and smells from the familiar and comforting to the exotic and unexpected.
I believe this is what Julia Cameron was hoping for us when she suggested we make regular “artists' dates” with ourselves. By filling up with new experiences, we have so much more to offer our creative work when we come to it. One short day out in the world changes us, sometimes slightly and sometimes significantly.
And lastly, da Vinci suggested you study the work from a distance. This is similar to another tool I use in my coaching. I invite my clients to imagine they're atop a great mountain, looking down at the timeline of their life, or maybe at one specific situation. Observing a situation from this unique vantage point, far removed from the reality of the situation, often reveals fascinating and extremely helpful information.
“You cannot create experience. You must undergo it.” Albert Camus
I think we spend most of our life trying NOT to be curious, but instead, to have it all “figured out.” We'd rather have our experiences be laid out neatly, like a screenplay, than actually strap ourselves in for the inevitable surprises, bumps & bruises, embarrassments and pain that accompany a life fully lived.
It feels much safer to assume that we KNOW what's going on, what's going to happen, what to do when it does, and what other people will do.
Yet this leaves us in constant battle when people and things don't behave the way we thought they would (or should).
We spend so much time thinking ahead, or thinking back and evaluating, that we forget about being present in the moment and experiencing life as it comes.
People who are trying to be curious seek out other opinions and perspectives. People who are overly attached to their own assumptions about life avoid other opinions and perspectives, particularly ones that might challenge their assumptions.
How willing are you to be wrong, for the sake of your creativity?
How can getting curious help you express yourself creatively and be more prolific as a creative artist?
Imagine starting the day with one of these two thoughts:
How am I ever going to get all of my work done today?
I wonder how much work I'll get done today, where that work will take me, what surprises I'll encounter along the way, and how my work will fit into the world.
The first thought is very limiting. It shows that I have a very set idea of what I want to (or think I SHOULD) accomplish in the next 24 hours. The underlying anxiety of it shows that I doubt I can do it, and that I see anything unexpected or seemingly unrelated to my work as an unwelcome distraction or hindrance.
The second thought begins with the words “I wonder” and invites curiousity, openness, flexibility and creative flow. How will you invite more curiousity into your creative life today?
©2005 Linda Dessau. All rights reserved.
Creativity Portal's Learning from Leonardo series is based on the seven principles in Michael Gelb's How To Think Like Leonardo da Vinci: Seven Steps to Genius Every Day.
Inspiring practices for artists, scientists, and inventors modeled by DaVinci.
Davinci made the most of the left- and right-sides of his brain as seen in his note taking, likely inspiring Tony Buzan's technique of mind mapping.
Davinci's genius was enhanced by his willingness to be open to anything and embracing ambiguity, paradox and uncertainty.
Davinci jumped right into the moment of his experiences, challenging long-standing beliefs and opinions.
Davinci knew his body was a strong house for his creativity and took care of it by practicing the cultivation of grace, ambidexterity, fitness, and poise.
Davinci's continuous refinement of his five senses enhanced his ability to work and think.
Davinci's appreciation for the interconnectedness of all things enabled him to see and use the larger picture to his advantage.
DaVinci cultivated an insatiably curious approach to life.