One of my favorite pieces of artwork has always been Leonardo da Vinci’s painting Lady with an Ermine.
I’m not sure why I like it so much. Maybe it’s because I love da Vinci himself. Leonardo was the ultimate Renaissance Man—dabbling in everything from the art he’s best known for to scientific inventions to theater and athletics.
As someone who grew up nerdy and completely hopeless in sports, I always dreamed of being the kind of well-rounded cultural and physical dynamo our pal Leonardo was.
My reverence for the Renaissance Man is probably why I do so many things (with far less success than da Vinci, I’ll be the first to admit): writing, studying languages, learning about art and architecture, and trying to find my athletic side (these days, I’m a passable runner).
I’ve even tried my hand at painting, like Leonardo himself (with rather disastrous results). But at least I know now that I’m not a painter.
I’m better as a critic.
For example, I have to note that Lady with an Ermine is, in my opinion, not quite perfect. The woman’s hand, for starters, is an almost comical claw that reminds me of a rubber prop for some kid’s Halloween costume. Sure, it’s better than anything I could ever do, but it’s not the most exquisitely rendered hand in history—not by a long shot.
And maybe that’s something else I love about the painting. Even magnificent Leonardo didn’t always hit it out of the park. His finished product was, on occasion, less than brilliant (even if he himself was always pretty brilliant). But even when he didn’t achieve perfection, he didn’t quit; he didn’t (like so many of us) stick to doing only the things he was good at.
For good or for bad, Leonardo continued to dabble, to try, to learn and grow, in any field that interested him.
Shouldn’t we all be doing the same?
I hate when people say we need to specialize, choose a path, avoid being a dilettante. Life isn’t a restaurant with just one fixed course on the menu that you have to eat forever.
No. Life is a never-ending buffet and our job is to try everything that looks good—even if not every single one works out. The point isn’t to be perfect. The point is to enjoy every minute we get as much as we can. Just like Leonardo.