4. Making

Il discorso mentale

Leonardo was famous, or perhaps infamous, for taking months to complete a painting—if indeed he did complete it. Some say this is the reason there are so few Leonardo paintings extant. Whether that’s true or not, he did leave quite a bit of time between layers of paint. He felt that il discorso mentale, the mental conversation, was more important than the actual painting. The extra time gave him the mental space to reflect on the details—what to include, what to exclude, and how the elements might fit together to make a unified whole. To Leonardo, an artist didn’t learn to paint. He painted to learn.

This intimacy with craft would have been foreign to the ancient Greeks, who looked down on hand skills as dirty and ...

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