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.