We've been blessed throughout history with so many great artists. Some of my favorites include Vincent van Gogh, Rembrandt, Vermeer, Monet, Picasso, Diebenkorn, James Caldwell and Magritte. Your favorites will of course vary from mine.
What do these artists all have in common?
That they all spent the greater part of a lifetime trying to perfect their painting skills and techniques is not in dispute. They spent far more than the "10,000 hours" that Malcolm Gladwell describes as being necessary to become truly proficient at a new skill.
And many of them died deeply frustrated at their failures to reach their personal artistic goals. Van Gogh always intended to revolutionize the painting of portraits. But despite his landscapes of jaw dropping splendour, comparatively few portraits of his survived.
But what if you could paint masterpieces as a hobby, in your spare time, casually, when the mood struck you? What if you could paint masterpieces as a sideline, while keeping your day job as an architect, an anatomist, a designer of weapons, a civil engineer and philosopher?
That would be quite a feat. And this is exactly what Leonardo da Vinci did. Leonardo never regarded himself as a painter; rather he regarded himself as a scientist, an architect, an engineer and more. Painting was just one of those things he did on occasion. He enjoyed it, but by no means did it define his entire life.
How is it that Rembrandt and van Gogh and Picasso spent lifetimes trying to perfect their art, whereas da Vinci routinely painted masterpieces in his spare time?
In my parlance, the reason is that van Gogh and the others pursued their painting as an "artist" would; i.e. the beauty comes first, sacrifice all for the beauty, follow the beauty wherever it goes, etc.
I don't think that's how da Vinci went about painting his masterpieces. If you recall his drawings and workups prior to his actual paintings, they were very much studies in engineering; a series of symmetrical shapes, arcs, cotangents, etc. all meticulously measured and laid out much like a blueprint.
Da Vinci approached painting as an engineer would, in an extraordinarily disciplined, rigid and systematic fashion.
And he painted masterpieces as a hobby. Hey look, I painted the Mona Lisa. Wow, I painted The Last Supper. Do you like it?
For the first part of my life, up until May, 2013, I approached everything in life as an artist would. I wasn't focused on accumulating hoards of cash or material trappings; rather I was focused on the creation of beauty in its various forms, be it through the creation of music or the cultivation of learning.
But in May, 2013, I realized that for me this was an inferior approach. I wanted something better.
Drawing on my insight about Leonardo, I decided to approach everything I did as an engineer might; break it down into its component moving parts; analyze it carefully before jumping in; a meticulous attention to analytical detail, etc.
And my life improved dramatically. In six short weeks I progressed from being terrified at the thought of creating 3-D graphics for my film to pioneering some 3D techniques in Adobe After Effects and feeling comfortable creating rotating video cubes with a different video on each facet that would move within a large 3D theatre illuminated by many different videos on each of the theatre walls.
I learned how to "learn how to learn" as an engineer would.
Life was good. The transformation from artist to engineer went well.
The transformation later from engineer to surgeon was even better.