seven questions for Leonardo

Dear Leonardo,

This is a letter from the future.  500 years have passed since you lived your days in the salubrious era we now refer to as ‘The Renaissance’.  You wouldn’t recognise this 21st century world, and it strikes me that you’d find the segment of it known as ‘The Art Scene’ a very odd circus indeed.  In this day and age the makings of celebrity artists are commodified, while at grooming institutions called Art Colleges young aspiring creatives routinely endure brainwashing (i.e. psychological trauma) as they are prepared for entry to, and status within, the art market.

Just recently I was delighted to revisit some of your drawings of Deluges and Maelstroms.  I realise that these works are but a tiny portion of your creative output, yet it seems to me that they exemplify much in our contemporary art world that has been trivialised, or lost altogether.

I’m no art historian and have scant knowledge of the details of your own art education, so when these questions popped up in response to the drawings, I decided to put them to you personally.
 

Leonardo da Vinci - Deluges and Maelstroms, The Royal Collection

 
1          Did anyone in a position of assumed authority (teacher, curator, dealer, media critic) ever tear apart your work/practice in a critique, then inform you as to how it should look, and/or how you need to proceed?
 

Leonardo da Vinci - Deluges and Maelstroms, The Royal Collection

 
2          Were you ever advised to subvert beauty?  Were you cautioned that expressing the beautiful is beneath the concerns of any significant artist?
 

Leonardo da Vinci - Deluges and Maelstroms, The Royal Collection

 
3          Were you ever told that you needed to loosen up and express yourself more spontaneously?  That you might benefit from courses or workshops where you’d learn how to find your inner artist?
 

Leonardo da Vinci - Deluges and Maelstroms, The Royal Collection

 
4          Was immaculate attention to detail and painstaking craftsmanship sniffed at in your day?  Were artisans who worked this way considered anal or seen to be avoiding unresolved issues?
 

Leonardo da Vinci - Deluges and Maelstroms, The Royal Collection

 
5          Did anyone ever advise you against your instinct (and awesome capacity) to express a sense of the sacred in your work?  Were you ever told this devotional quality had no traction in the world of serious art?  (i.e. What sells.)
 

Leonardo da Vinci - Deluges and Maelstroms, The Royal Collection

 
6          Many of your paintings carry a narrative, whether sacred or secular.  Did anyone ever tell you these narratives weren’t edgy enough?  Not original or conceptual enough?  That they lacked the irony and anxiety required to be really relevant?
 

Leonardo da Vinci - Deluges and Maelstroms, The Royal Collection

 
7          OR …  were you blessed to have guidance from some inner angel who ensured that your imperatives were never at risk from the ideas of others?  Who ensured you’d never be led astray from your own way of expressing the wonder of being alive – of inquiring, exploring with innocence and joy?

 

Of looking ever more deeply into the suchness of your world?

 

Without apology?

 

Rhetorical questions, I know.  Please excuse me.  So many young (and seasoned) artists of my time encounter and believe dogmatic and arcane opinions issuing forth from the self-appointed pundits of the visual arts.  Sometimes they abandon their creative practice entirely.

Most of these questions will make no sense to you, since in your day concepts such as “inner artist” had yet to be dreamed up;  the whole mind-field of psychology wouldn’t be mapped out (invented) for another few hundred years.  But I know you’ll understand the bit about an inner angel.

Please accept my heartfelt gratitude for your relentless curiosity and unswerving commitment.  Thank you for reminding us all, as the centuries roll on, of the high art of making authentic art.

Yours sincerely,

MLS
Maker and misfit from the 21st century.

 


 

About the drawings:

I am indebted to Stephen Ellcock, curator of the ultimate virtual ‘Cabinet of Curiosities’ on Facebook, for this collection of Leonardo da Vinci’s drawings from The Royal Collection.  (Ellcock’s page is an ever-expanding, online museum of images, visual delights, oddities and wonders drawn from every conceivable culture, era and corner of the globe.  For artists, it’s quite simply the best – and perhaps only – reason to hang in/out with FB.)

From his page:  “The series of drawings by Leonardo of a mighty deluge are among the most enigmatic and visionary works of the Renaissance.  Modest in size and densely worked, each shows a landscape overwhelmed by a vast tempest.  The drawings were probably made for his own satisfaction rather than as studies for any project.”

 


 

News from The Royal Collection:

In February 2019, to mark the 500th anniversary of the death of Leonardo da Vinci, 144 of the Renaissance master’s greatest drawings in the Royal Collection will go on display in 12 simultaneous exhibitions across the UK.

Leonardo da Vinci: A Life in Drawing, a nationwide event, will give the widest-ever UK audience the opportunity to see the work of this extraordinary artist. 12 drawings selected to reflect the full range of Leonardo’s interests – painting, sculpture, architecture, music, anatomy, engineering, cartography, geology and botany – will be shown at each venue in Belfast, Birmingham, Bristol, Cardiff, Glasgow, Leeds, Liverpool, Manchester, Sheffield, Southampton and Sunderland, with a further venue to be announced.

For more information:
www.rct.uk

 


Have you read I, Leonardo, written and illustrated by Ralph Steadman?
It’s a masterpiece.  Check it out by clicking the cover image below:

And don’t miss this beautifully illustrated review by Maria Popova at Brain Pickings:
Beloved British Artist Ralph Steadman Illustrates the Life of Leonardo da Vinci


The greatest deception men suffer is from their own opinions.

– Leonardo da Vinci


 

on losing the plot and regaining the world of the holy fool

Michael Leunig is a much-loved Australian cartoonist, writer, painter, philosopher and poet whose newspaper work appears regularly in the Melbourne Age and the Sydney Morning Herald.  He describes his approach as regressive, humorous, messy, mystical, primal and vaudevillian – producing work which is open to many interpretations and has been widely adapted in education, music, theatre, psychotherapy and spiritual life.

His commentary on political, cultural and emotional life spans more than forty years and has often explored the idea of an innocent and sacred personal world.  The fragile ecosystem of human nature and its relationship to the wider natural world is a related and recurrent theme.

‘Leunig’ is a household word here in Australia.  Who else consistently reminds us of our collective and individual vulnerabitlties? Our defences, needs and neediness? Who else – like an innocent wide-eyed kid – points out the elephants in the room and the unclothed emperors?

In total disregard of the snobbery around “content” in contemporary art, Leunig sows his seeds of simple sanity in the intimate space where the artist and viewer meet. He speaks in language we can understand, and as we listen to him – immersed in a mix or humour, poignancy and delight – our own wee holy fool smiles and skips about.

To my great delight Michael has given ‘the awakened eye’ permission to share one of his pieces of verbal artistry, an essay titled Regressive Painting and the Holy Fool.  In this work he covers much territory relevant to the theme of this site and of importance to all who take their playful creativity seriously:  What is genuine creativity and what blocks it? Where has our authenticity gone? What is the relationship between the ego and the holy fool? How can we find our way back to the world of our holy fool? Why does it matter?

As an introduction to the illustrated essay – which has its own page here –  this post offers a few quotes. It’s a teaser – read the whole piece and be reminded of what you know so well.


It is a way of painting.
It is a way of living.
It is a way of transcending the banal inhibited self and finding the divine.
It is a struggling downward journey – this stumbling, daring and devout pilgrimage back to mature innocence and raw beauty; to the sublime joy and the natural intelligence and wisdom of the holy fool.

 

Michael Leunig - The Holy Fool

 
… there is surely a measure of the holy fool in all of us.  What adult has not been a delightful or shocking little holy fool in childhood: the primal young creature who reached out innocently for what was forbidden, or sincerely said out loud a simple embarrassing truth?  ‘The emperor has no clothes’ cries the wee holy fool.  And who did not draw and paint in beautiful peculiar ways, or cry and sing freely for a short early chapter of wide-eyed creative life before the ways of the world began to impinge and inhibit?  Who has not known a time of free flowing reverie and wonder in the rich solitude and sanctuary of early consciousness?  Whose outlook and imagination has not been indelibly adorned by the daydreams and visions of childhood?

~

The dire pursuit of creativity in affluent societies is to a considerable extent driven by egotistical art ambition, but underlying this drive may be an intuitive attempt to recover the capacity for wonder, spontaneity, playfulness, openness, mindfulness and access to raw beauty; the qualities that were so natural and easy in childhood; a search for connection to one’s lost little fool – who is indeed the archetypal personification of creativity’s wellspring.

~

The artist needs to know how to lose the plot
– how to not care and how to not know –
and how to actually enjoy that freedom
and understand what a blessed revitalizing state all of that mess can be.

 

Michael Leunig - The Holy Fool

 

The most joyous painting is not done for the art world, it is done for the inner world; it is a self delighting other-worldly thing – a getting lost in regression and solitude; a sub-literate, semi-delirious way to be with the spirited little fool in the depths of one’s being for a while – there to invent one’s art freely, and there to find enchantment, infinite surprise and the bright wondrous question ‘What is this?’

~ Michael Leunig

http://www.leunig.com.au

Michael Leunig Appreciation Page on Facebook


regressive painting and the holy fool


when we talk of art we need to talk of love

 

Awakening the eye is admitting the love and enquiry into self
to guide us back to harmony.

– Rashid Maxwell

 

Rashid Maxwell embodies my idea of a Renaissance man. His profile reads like a prompt for a writers’ course where the task is to create a character both credible and unlikely.  (There are many threads that run parallel to my own – perhaps that’s why I relate so keenly to the way his life has unfolded.)  He was never a candidate for the typical, mundane and mediocre, but followed his innate thirst for truth – the truth of life and the truth of his wide-ranging creativity.

He is a published writer and poet as well as an exhibiting artist, art lecturer and pioneer in the field of art as therapy.  He not only designs furniture, but also meditation spaces and eco-environmental projects – including a park, a reafforestation venture, a wetland bird sanctuary and a nature reserve.  Having lived and worked in many countries he now resides in rural Devon, England, where he practices organic gardening, keeps bees, continues to draw and paint, and to walk – as he puts it – “the pathless path of inner exploration.”

For the artisans’ gallery, Rashid has contributed a selection of watercolour paintings inspired by the Love that flows beneath our everyday passions – Paramananda, the bliss beyond bliss.

 

Rashid Maxwell - Paramananda series

 

I call this series of watercolour paintings Paramananda. They have been prompted by expressions of this love that I observed in people who have meditation in their lives. Sometimes they are dancing, sometimes sitting silently, sometimes passing through grave illness and sometimes waiting for their lover. If these images transmit to you a figment of that underlying love, love has done its work.
– Rashid Maxwell

Continue reading at Rashid Maxwell’s page.


artisans

artisans’ gallery


in search of the sublime and beautiful

The great “painter of light”,  Joseph Mallord William Turner,  now has a page at the artisans’ gallery.

Turner, and Turner only, would follow and render on the canvas
that mystery of decided lines,
that distinct, sharp, visible, but unintelligible and inextricable richness
which, examined part by part, is to the eye nothing but confusion and defeat,
which, taken as a whole, is all unity, symmetry, and truth.

John Ruskin
on the man he regarded as the greatest landscape painter of all time.

 

Joseph Mallord William Turner - Sunset at Margate

 

Turner travelled extensively in the search of the sublime and beautiful. The paintings on his page are a small selection which (admittedly to my very subjective taste) express these qualities, regardless of whether one knows their location or subject matter; paintings which, in Ruskin’s words, deliver to the soul “unity, symmetry and truth”.
 

Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775-1851) was just 15 years old when he exhibited his first picture at the Royal Academy. His talent in the application of paint to render land, sea, sky and atmosphere was unmatched in his time. Commonly known as “the painter of light”, we can thank Turner for taking painting to the edge of abstraction and playing there, unafraid. His priceless legacy to the generations of artists who followed gave them (us) permission to engage this fearless and playful expression of the sacred sublime.

To continue reading, please visit the page:
Joseph Mallord William Turner

 


tethering art to truth – 2017

Hemera Foundation Fellowships

The Hemera Foundation has announced that applications for 2017 Tending Space Fellowships are now open at many of its partner retreat centers.

For more information see this page: fellowships for contemplative artists
and/or visit the website: hemera.org

Tending Space Fellowships are available for full-time artists with a sincere desire for the experiences of extended meditation practice to inform and influence their creative expression in the world. Up to 250 fellowships will be awarded annually on a first-come first-served basis.

Fellows will be provided with financial support to attend one meditation retreat per year at one of our partner retreat centers. (For a list of centers see the fellowships for contemplative artists page.)

Note that this year applicants will apply directly to the center holding the retreat they would like to attend. Artists who have never attended a residential meditation retreat longer than a weekend will be provided with 100% funding for the retreat of their choice. Artists who have attended at least one meditation retreat longer than a weekend will be offered 50% funding, with need-based support available beyond that. The program is open to domestic and international applicants, as well as groups of artists.

We believe that art has the capacity to genuinely help our world, to instill it with sanity, awareness, joy, and beauty. This does not mean that art has to look a certain way or achieve a standard aesthetic or tone, nor is it an endorsement of a “love and light” approach to art. It does mean that art needs to be tethered to truth, according to the logic of the process undertaken or the piece being created.

How does one cultivate this tether to truth? Our inspiration has been through slowing down, making friends with oneself through meditation and contemplation, spending the time to develop one’s craft, know one’s materials, and fine-tune the senses as tools for communication. Most of all, we are interested in supporting artists in genuinely finding their way.


– Text and graphic sourced from the Hemera Foundation website, April 2017


fellowships for contemplative artists