Tuesday, May 23, 2006


Leonardo da Vinci has always fascinated me. Such a global thinker. So interested in everything. And he nicely wrote things down, along with his sketchbooks so that we can see the way he thought. I was cheered to read Robert Glenn's newsletter today where he lists Leonardo's Seven Virtues (which I heartily applaud):

"Curiosita"--an attitude of curiosity and continuous learning. What, when, where, why, and how?

"Dimostrazione"--an ability to learn and to test knowledge by experience. Experimental nature.

"Sensazione"--a development of awareness and refinement of sight and other senses. High sensitivity.

"Sfumato"--a tendency to embrace and accept uncertainty, ambiguity and paradox. Free thinking.

"Arte/Scienza"--a development of balance between science and art, logic and imagination. Whole-brain thinking.

"Corporalita"--a calculated desire to achieve poise, fitness and ambidexterity. Physical action.

"Connessione"--a recognition that all things are connected. Systems thinking.

I love these and have been pursuing many of them (with various degrees of success. My little brain still struggles with 'ambiguity and paradox' for instance, but hopefully that becomes easier as one becomes more integrated in general...?) Art is not a discreet activity, separate from the rest of our lives. It is (or should or can be) the way we *think* and approach everything. That's one of the reasons why I admire William Morris as well - the attempt to meld form and function. *Everything* can be beautiful. Everything can be art.

As I continually tell my students: As in art, so in life... I just always want to be more conscious, more purposeful - like the "Connessione" above, recognize and act as if all things are connected... Maybe I shouldn't worry quite so much about my lack of focus on illustration alone. My life can be a work of art... (Hmmmm.... Warning - Musing out-loud here:) My drive and passion seem to revolve around beauty and creation. Illustration is just one outlet for this... Of course, I would get better at it, and be more 'succesful' (in recognition, monetary terms, and facility) if I focused more closely on illustration alone, but thus far I haven't been able to do that except at the expense of the other aspects of my life. I *love* teaching. I love interacting with my yard and gardens (they are a constantly evolving work of art themselves) and with nature in general. I love spending time with my children and family. I love the emotional places that music takes me to. I love making things with my hands - not just illustrating... I love reading and exploring new ideas. I would like to be better at all of these things - but the way I seem to be approaching them is in a very gradual, holistic way, where none are focused on to the exclusion of the rest (and therefore I don't reach 'greatness' at anything. But maybe that is not the point).

Maybe the point for me, is that "life is art" - not 'life is illustration'....
(Gretel - feel free to weigh in here at any time! :-)


Maya said...

Highly inspirational post you wrote Tara..! I only can dream to ever live up to those virtues...What a rich life that would be. :)
I too believe that in everything around us there is beauty if you take the time to observe and open your mind.Drawing from life is what opened my mind to that, and for that I am forever grateful.
*weird alert ahead*
I have this thought I bring to my mind when I am sad. I Think of the troubles passing my life as "shadows"...then I remind myself that shadows have the colour blue in them...I think specifically of a deep ultramarine colour...In real life I love that colour...So that thought makes me smile :)
*weird alert over*


Ulla said...

Once an Artist, always an artist, its a way of life!
Wonderful writing, very stream of conscious... Thinking about it is half the battle, now just live and be!

p.s. The picture you chose is one of my favorite Leonardo drawings! Look at Duer's work too...

lorna said...

Lovely post Tara. Something to chew over and think about. I've really noticed some people doing the "Life is illustration" thing recently, and putting Illustration on a pedestal but without the "Life is Art" to back it up. Your words really struck a chord. :o)

PG said...

I seem to remember Vasari critised Leonardo precisely because he did 'dabble' in so many things, instead of concentrating on his painting. I will dig out my book and see if I can find the quote. I've been composing that e-mail in my head to you Tara, for days now. But really the bottom line is always - if one really, really wants to aim for a standard which one knows is going to need some kind of sacrifice, and if it is the most important thing in your life, then you will do it. You simply will do it, no matter what. But you have to be very driven. I personally am, but I do know that for many women, having children and a broader, holistic approach to life is the prime consideration. This is not a bad thing, on the contrary it is a healthy approach to living and they are happy with it. I was unhappy with it - I felt as if I was heading to be a 'jack of all trades and master of none', which wasn't making me fulfilled or happy. Having children has never been as important to me as being an artist. But many years on, now that I have reached a more comfortable stage with my art, I am gradually finding the time to include a couple of things that I used to love, such as lino-cutting and writing. And I am putting the weekend aside to get to grips with what we laughingly call a garden. (but resembles a small jungle!)
For me, all the other crafty things I did gave me pleasure, but didn't fill the void I get when I don't paint. The bottom line is - how badly do you want it? I will always admire the achievements of women over men; William Morris was a rich, middle class man with money, servants and time. He didn't have to bring up children, clean the house, do his own garden...Da Vinci devoted himself heart and soul to his discoveries and his career, he wasn't worrying about the school run.
Sorry, you did invite me to weigh in...:)It is a very interesting discussion. And now, as the supreme sacrifice, I will tear myself off the internet and get on with my next deadline...:-)

Jo Gershman said...

I think the answer is to discover your synthesis of artistic goal and openess to exploration, without being TOO distracted by the many, many tempting paths along the way.

Occasionally, an artist discovers a new medium that really redefines them and moves them onward--two people in our group, Kathleen being one, have done this. She started with watercolor only two(maybe less?) years ago and it has actually changed her style--we all sit in awe of what she has taught herself and her dedicated perseverance in a new medium, in order to follow her artistic goals. This has happened to two people in a group of eight, both with astounding results.

Every few years, I find the need to haul myself up ruthlessly, because I find that I spread too thin in too many directions. I have to decide what is really the most important thing to work on and let go of areas I might love, but that are not taking me in the direction that I feel I need to go. For example, I usually bang my head against the wall of children's trade book illustration for a few years and then I just have to step away. Two summers ago I agonized about two diffeent types of paintings, not sure which body of work to develop for a possible show and publishing. I ended up making the right choice, but it took a long time to work on the new pieces and I had to choose one direction, hoping that (as Tara told me) what made me feel best was the right choice. It's not always easy to recognize when I am at the point where this is necessary, and sometimes the choice can be really painful, but I think it is necessary if there is an overarching goal you are aiming towards.

On the other hand, how sad it would be to never be distracted by creative impulses, to not have a file of things, mentally or on paper, of all those projects we would like to pursue given the time and the money. Some people are confined to their goal by the need to make money, to make a name for themselves, etc. But hopefully even the narrower focus includes the desire to grow and nurture your creative abilities. Either way, it's hard work, isn't it?!!

Gina said...

Art as it were, in my earlier years was a natural inclination but held as it's most important resource, expression. It was something that I had needed in that classic therapeutic sense of turning emotions into a beautiful palette of paints to portrait a new and beautiful self interpretation.
Beyond those early childhood and teenage angst years, as a content adult (with beautiful things inside of myself and in my world) my art has become my productive self. As profound as it is (similar to your interpretation), it is myself. An unyielding drive seemingly out of my own control, one creation leading to another. From each new artistic project I gain new skills, the sense of accomplishment and new ways of communicating and problem solving. This enables me not only the confidence to enter into new projects but my mind seems to utilize it's new ways of resolving things in a way that I can come to expect now. It all seems to propagate itself and within limits, I do not limit myself. If it isn't rocket science I assume that I can figure something new out (I just jump right in full throttle), and if I am worried about time, I act as if I can find the time. It's really about trusting myself, as I move along I see that I can, even if I didn't start out that way. I do cover diverse projects, and to keep myself spread evenly, I allow myself to get one out of my system, perhaps for a week, maybe two or more, what ever it calls for to get some satisfaction from it and then move onto a different project and do the same. If I feel something is not getting the attention it deserves, I do feel that inside, so I know it is time to pay attention (or soon). The more I circle back and forth, the more comfortable I am in doing so. And the more I see that I can. Now here is the hump, I've noticed that when immersed in one project that it can feel consuming in such a way that in the mind we want to remain there, because it is where we have been, which makes it seem comfortable, but as long as we leave at a place of closure all it takes is moving to the next project, and once we are there we see that we are falling in to place, and things are taking off again. It's a matter of just changing, fearlessly. That Nike commercial, just do it! I'm sure there is some neurology to it, the patterns and repetition, but I find that leaving and returning to projects or involving ourselves in new projects actually is very beneficial, we have a new fresh outlook. And perhaps we are bringing things learned from the previous project to this new one.

I am so glad that you are a teacher who loves to teach. The world needs more people like you. So lovely. And as you are a lover of creation, exploration, and music, hand making things, as an illustrator and teacher, indeed you are art my dear tlc!

Oh, and I am a fan of his too : )

tlc illustration said...

Wow. What a lot of lovely sentiments!... Thank you all.

I am off to further contemplate and process this input...

Gina said...

Thank you for inviting us to this thought provoking conversation!