Leonardo on art and solitude

Art, especially painting, is often the product of imitation, but usually of predecessors and works held in high esteem by cultural authorities. But at critical periods of history, as the monotony of imitation stagnates creativity, a breakthrough occurs.

Not that anything can be other than human imagination and the technology of the time, but the source of inspiration and imitation makes all the difference.

The lives of all artists tend to show the necessity of solitude, but solitude without insight has little value.

Leonardo da Vinci points out in his Notebook how “from age to age the art of painting continually declines and deteriorates when painters have no other standard than work already done.”

Leonardo’s breakthrough painter is Giotto. Giotto, writes Leonardo, was “reared in mountain solitudes, inhabited only by goats and such.” Unlike his predecessors, Giotto’s solitude in nature showed him that he should begin drawing what he actually saw, specifically landscapes and “all the animals which were to be found in the country,” as opposed to merely imitating his predecessors.

Leonardo’s conclusion is relevant to art and to life:

Mark the supreme folly of those who censure such as learn from nature, leaving uncensored the authorities who were themselves the disciples of this very same nature!

Eremitism as a creative force in human imagination must necessarily imitate its authorities and predecessors. But eremitism uses solitude as the core of manifested imagination and not merely out of necessity. Thus eremitism is a form of art or craft that seeks a balance between human sensibility and nature.