Les Rêves Canadiens
Emery Kelen, ed., Leonardo da Vinci's Advice to Artists. Pennsylvania: Running Press, 1990.
When Leonardo da Vinci died in 1519 at the age of sixty-seven he left close to five
thousand pages of notebooks; Kelen has chosen the most timely and valuable insights to
compile for artists in this fine book. For me, this book has become a companion as well as
an inspiration. True, I disagree with da Vinci on a few minor points, but I feel that these
would make a rich starting point for dialogue with the old gentleman, if he were still here.
The book is laid out in useful sections for the working artist with a short annotation
for each section and a beginning introduction, "Everyone is an Artist," by the editor. Even
the front cover is fascinating to me as an artist; its reproduction of the Mona Lisa with an
almost holographic affect that moves from positive to negative is subtly hypnotic. Inside the
editor has interspersed illustrations of many of da Vinci's sketches, details from finished
works, and some of his most famous pieces all in black and white. These are placed in
timely positions relating directly to the text.
Some of the notes da Vinci made were of the mundane variety describing the
mechanics of painting, but some of the thoughts propel one into the world of the dreamer
where illusion and reality merge and blend. This is the beauty of the book for it is my reality
as an artist, that everything has a double or triple meaning and shades there of.
Kelen suggests that da Vinci's notes were an answer to Michelangelo's criticisms.
Da Vinci was a fastidious dresser and and considered sculptors to be filthy laborers who
took the easy route of describing nature. The painter could surround himself with fine music
and friends and produce a work that could fool even the subject's pets.
I think that da Vinci's habit of mirror writing everything must have been a novel form
of meditation something like a walking meditation, and I can only assume that by the very
volume of his notes that he must have developed quite a mastery of the discipline, and I
think enlightenment. I found his advice to artists to be very telling; he said that an artist
would be well advised to place a mirror in the studio so they could view their work as if
painted by another artist and so be more objective. Each time I look over and see the cover
of the book winking from positive to negative I am reminded of his advice, and thank Mr.
Kelen for bringing me those messages for reflection.
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