Michael J. Gelb,
How to Think Like
Leonardo da Vinci

(Bantam/Doubleday, 1998)

Inside you, there's an artist you don't know about....
-Rumi

All you have to do, according to author Michael J. Gelb, is say yes. And not just yes, but Yes! with enthusiasm, and you can embrace that inner artist.

Smart man.

I received both this book and the accompanying hardcover workbook as a gift last year for my birthday. I smiled politely and set them aside to play with my digital camera, having been firmly entrenched in the idea of another creativity process based on The Artist's Way. I didn't want to muddle around with Leonardo da Vinci while still playing with Julia Cameron.

A few months later, I picked up the book during a dry spell. I started with the workbook and quickly found myself entranced. Gelb has developed a system around the principles of daVinci that are concrete and measurable, as well as interesting. The principles, outlined below, are each given a chapter in the workbook, and a corresponding chapter in the book itself.

What I liked the most was that each chapter was independent. You could read the sixth chapter before the first and not lose any of the information in the process. This isn't to say that each doesn't build on the last, but the concepts are kind of like Legos -- no matter in what order you put them together, you will still get a glorious tower at the end.

Added at the end of the book itself was a drawing course by a relatively famous teacher. Under the description and with the tools given, even people who can't draw a stick figure can improve, if not become impassioned sketch artists. Like anything good, it takes some practice, but the instruction is very clear and easy to read.

Also nice is the section on the sense of taste are some fantastic Italian recipes that are easy enough for the most labored of cooks. Under Gelb's tutelage, the very act of cooking is raised to art, which makes cooking just that much more fun.

If it wasn't for the drawing course included in the main book, you probably wouldn't need it -- and thus, save yourself a whopping $25 cover price. The workbook is only $15, gives or reiterates most of the main points in the book, and has a section in the back with quotes and space for your own notes and sketches. If you can find another how-to-draw resource, I'd recommend buying just the one, and passing on the other.

One also has to wonder about Gelb's tone sometimes. He seems to be just a bit artsy-fartsy here and there -- a little pretentious and far removed from the common man. (Who, of course, can not relate to the virtuous and brilliant da Vinci, you get the feeling from time to time.) I had to skim past some of these parts until I found a section that wasn't so subtly condescending.

Gelb says that the brilliance of da Vinci is based on specific principles or areas that make him one of the first and only true Renaissance men. He goes into great depth about each, giving examples and activities for the reader to follow along with and do, in order to foster that kind of intelligence in your own life.

The principles are:

Curiosita: The divine curiosity to the world around you.

Dimostrazione: Willingness to learn from mistakes and continually test theories.

Sensazion: Using the senses to connect with the world around you.

Sfumato: Getting comfortable with contradictory ideas.

Arte/Scienza: Embracing both art and science simultaneously.

Corporalita: Taking care of the physical body.

Connessione: Becoming one with the flow of the universe.

As you may be able to tell, though the book's information is very useful, its presentation is often a little high and lofty -- something that made me put the book down on more than one occasion.

The information in this book very well could lead you to a life that's closely in tune with the Renaissance men of old. It can help you identify trouble spots with your own levels of varied kinds of intelligence. It can probably unlock a lot of the mysteries of creativity and creation, and you very well may be able to do a lot of things with a lot more skill and mindfulness than before you read the book.

However, it can do none of these things if you're so disgusted by the tone that you throw the book aside with great force. My biggest suggestion is to skip the in-depth main book and pick up the workbook -- the tone, as it was written later, is somewhat less pretentious, and much more brief. If you find that you like that, picking up the book itself is always an option. Understand, before you do, that much of the information is repeated, and only expanded in the main book.

[ by Elizabeth Badurina ]



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