Can I Be a Renaissance Person?

A student Quest on the genius of Leonardo DaVinci and what it means to be a whole-person in the 21st Century


Greetings from our Quest investigating the life and genius of Leonardo da Vinci!

The question we have been asking is: "Can I Be a Renaissance Person?” In other words, are there habits of mind that Leonardo da Vinci practiced consistently in order to master so many disciplines, and could we emulate his approach to fully realize our own potential? Fortunately, Michael J. Gelb studied Leonardo da Vinci’s life and notebooks over many years and ultimately distilled seven principles for “thinking like Leonardo.” In Italian, these principles are: Curiosità, Dimostrazione, Sensazione, Sfumato, Arte/Scienza, Corporalita, and Connessione. In this quest, we are studying one principle each week and applying it in our lives.

For instance, Leonardo was insatiably curious, producing over 20,000 pages of sketches, detailed drawings, and notes over his lifetime. On the first day of Quest, each student received a “Curiosità” pocket notebook to carry with them and record questions and observations. We jumpstarted the notebook by taking a walk in our neighborhood and exercising our curiosity muscle. (I challenged them to fill up their notebook by the end of the term.) Later, after generating 100 questions at home, students in class ranked the 10 questions that felt most ‘alive’ for them and saw that many of their peers pondered similar topics. Samples from top ten lists include: “What will my profession be?”, “Why is there racism in the world?”, “Why do I get so stressed about homework?”, “Is heaven real?”, “Why can’t we stop cancer?”, “Was I born for a reason?”, “Why are feelings so confusing?”, “Why don’t I have anyone to call best friend?”, “Why do people fall in love?”, “How do we fix climate change?”, “What happens after death?” and “How do you know when you are truly happy?” Half of the students visited Grace Cathedral recently to walk the labyrinth while holding in their mind a question of significance to them, perhaps even one of the questions just mentioned. The other half will have that opportunity in early October.