The Cultural Tutor

The Cultural Tutor



11 pieces of advice about how to learn, improve, and find ideas. From the genius that was Leonardo da Vinci, in his own words:

In Leonardo's legendary notebooks were a series of entries simply entitled "On Painting", which offered advice to young painters seeking to master their craft. After Leonardo's death his heir Francesco Melzi collated these entries and published them as A Treatise on Painting.

Although aimed primarily at painters, much of the advice Leonardo gave applies to any creative craft, and even beyond that as useful precepts for anybody working in any field. Of all people, Leonardo's advice is probably worth listening to.

1. Don't just trust your own judgment; listen to criticism. Especially the criticism of your enemies. It's much more valuable than that of your friends.

2. Never compromise on learning; never compromise on quality. A proper grounding is required.

3. Never be satisfied with your work or your ability; without being able to doubt yourself, you will not be able to improve. It's a high threshold, but Leonardo certainly thought it was necessary.

4. Find the source material - whatever that is for you - and learn from it yourself; don't just learn from what other people have said about it, otherwise you won't understand it properly.

5. Pay constant attention to the world around you and, as Leonardo says, find a method for digesting and learning from it. Take notes and look for patterns. Think it out. Engage deeply.

6. Leonardo says that anybody, if they try hard enough at one highly specific thing, can master it. The point is that any craft is comprised of many different elements; learning too narrowly is not sufficient.

7. Following that, Leonardo recommends mastering everything relevant within the scope of your field. Otherwise everything you produce will either be so narrow in scope that it becomes repetitive; or, when you try to expand, it will be of inconsistent quality.

8. Listen to other people. Everybody has an opinion, and Leonardo thinks it's worth hearing all of them - even of those who are not experts.

9. Work on your memory. Every night, Leonardo went over the things he'd observed and learned that day, especially the bits he struggled with. Perhaps more important than ever in the digital age.

10. Be Wary of Ego Don't have too high an opinion of yourself, otherwise you'll overlook your flaws and won't improve. In Leonardo's words, you must learn to identify your own defects.

11. Look for inspiration in everything - absolutely everything. Ideas come from the most surprising of places.

We are so used to hearing Leonardo's name and seeing his art, from the Mona Lisa to the Last Supper to the Vitruvian Man, that we can forget he was a living, breathing person, who worked hard to achieve what he did. And so A Treatise on Painting is worth reading in its entirety.

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