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Paul Graham on Leonardo

Post #838 • July 26, 2006, 6:34 PM • 6 Comments

From Hackers & Painters.

This sounds like a paradox, but a great painting has to be better than it has to be. For example, when Leonardo painted the portrait of Ginevra de' Benci in the National Gallery, he put a juniper bush behind her head. In it he carefully painted each individual leaf. Many painters might have thought, this is just something to put in the background to frame her head. No one will look that closely at it.

Not Leonardo. How hard he worked on part of a painting didn't depend at all on how closely he expected anyone to look at it. He was like Michael Jordan. Relentless.

Relentlessness wins, because, in the aggregate, unseen details become visible. When people walk by the portrait of Ginevra de' Benci, their attention is often immediately arrested by it, even before they look at the label and notice that it says Leonardo da Vinci. All those unseen details combine to produce something that's just stunning, like a thousand barely audible voices all singing in tune.




July 26, 2006, 7:38 PM

Hmmm... I didn't take him for a detail freak.



July 26, 2006, 7:59 PM

Then there are the ringlets in her hair, and the water in the pond, and the little mini-landscape to the right...



July 26, 2006, 10:09 PM

Or Tiger Woods...
How does Graham describe a 'hacker' - a someone who minimalizes details in thier paintings?



July 27, 2006, 12:12 AM

He's talking about computer hackers, which in that world is a term of high praise.



July 27, 2006, 12:42 AM

A "hacker" is a master of the media.

One who speaks in the language of the media.

The concept has gone beyond computers and software.



July 27, 2006, 3:37 AM

Dear webmaster,

My name is Frank from Singapore. I found your website from google. And deeply impressed by your site.I have a website about art and oil paintings. hope to exchange link with your site. Do you think it is OK? If you are interested in exchanging. Our website is as follows... [Well, for comment spam, this was at least polite... F.]



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