A “polymath” is a person whose expertise spans many domains – or subject areas. Leonardo was a polymath. He lived during the Renaissance, so Leonardo is the quintessential “Renaissance Man.”
Leonardo’s interests spanned a lot of domains. Everyone knows of his paintings. He was a sculptor, an anatomist, a scientist, an engineer, and a producer of stage events.
It wasn’t that Leonardo was versatile, he was also good in everything he pursued. He predicted flight and the submarine. Leonardo even invented the parachute before man needed to eject from an airplane. He innovated the art of painting based on his understanding of the physics of light and the anatomy of the eye.
The question is not about Leonardo’s qualifications as a “Renaissance Man.” The question might be, “Could there ever be another?”
We live in an age of specialization. I suppose we could blame Henry Ford and the assembly line for that. (Henry allegedly got the idea by watching meat packers at Swift and Company. Ford reverse engineered the way workers disassembled animal carcasses. He applied the concept to assembling automobiles.)
The artisan assembled an entire product by hand. The demand for cheaper goods made him obsolete. If not outdated, he was, at best, uncompetitive.
We know human knowledge is growing. One article I read claims it is doubling every thirteen months. It will soon be growing every twelve HOURS. Even in a single domain, understanding everything about a single topic is daunting.
We have to ask, though, are we losing something by becoming so specialized? Are we losing our balance as a human being?
That’s why a lot of us take up hobbies like painting or music or dance. It’s a way of getting some balance back in our lives.
Specialization tends to make us too focused. We miss out on those areas of our life that are not within the narrow window of our field. We need the ability to step back once in a while and see the world around us.
So many of our students tell us the same thing. After they start painting, they see the world with new eyes. I know it happened to me. For half of my life, I knew that artists saw the world in a different way than others. It wasn’t until I started painting that I finally understood how different the world was. And yet, it had been there all the time. I thank God I’m an artist!
See the world with new eyes. See the world through the eyes of an artist. Get started on your art adventure today.