In the most recent issue of the journal Brain, Marco Cantani, professor of psychiatry at King’s College London has linked Leonardo da Vinci’s chronic inability to complete projects to undiagnosed ADHD. According to Giorgio Vasari’s 1550 seminal artistic biography, Lives of the Most Excellent Painters, Sculptors, and Architects, Leonardo jumped from project to project, slept only in short bursts and had trouble finishing his paintings. To Professor Cantani, the tumbling evidence is enough to suggest a posthumous diagnosis and explore the creative edge ADHD could offer affected artists.
Attention deficit disorder (ADD), often referred to as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), is the most common psychiatric disorder in children and adults, affecting between 5-10% of the population. Characterized by a persistent short attention span, distractability, disorganization, procrastination, forethought and judgment problems and in some people impulse control problems and hyperactivity, current neuroimaging studies have shown that the brains of people with ADHD are simply organized differently. After googling a two-minute online quiz where people can screen themselves, I wonder if rates are higher amongst artists. Here are a few questions:
Do you have difficulty sustaining your attention while doing something?
Are you easily distracted by external stimuli, like something in your environment or unrelated thoughts?
Do you have difficulty in organizing or managing tasks?
Do you struggle with details or make careless mistakes?
Do you have trouble following through on instructions or finishing things? Do you get sidetracked?
Do you have difficulty waiting your turn, such as while waiting in line or in conversation?
Do you leave your seat in situations when remaining seated is expected?
Do you feel like you’re “on the go,” acting as if you’re “driven by a motor?”
What artists understand as a wandering mind, restlessness, daydreaming and an active imagination are the backbones of creative life. These qualities, along with thriving on change in order to propel forward with new ideas and original thought are an artist’s gifts; “ADHD is not a damaged or defective nervous system. It is a nervous system that works well using its own set of rules,” wrote psychiatrist William Dodson, M.D. in an article for ADDitude Magazine. “The vast majority of adults with an ADHD nervous system are not overtly hyperactive. They are hyperactive internally.”
PS: “Art lives from constraints and dies from freedom.” (Leonardo da Vinci)
“On learning and in the rudiments of letters he would have made great proficiency, if he had not been so variable and unstable, for he set himself to learn many things, and then, after having begun them, abandoned them.” (Georgio Vasari, Delle Vite De’ Più Eccellenti Pittori Scultori Et Architettori, 1568.)
Esoterica: Perhaps it’s a matter of harnessing the wildness of our excited, curious minds with a personally honed, creativity-sensitive regimen, to be worked and fine-tuned over a lifetime spilling over with creative doing and play. According to Vasari, Leonardo got sidetracked with spending too much time in the planning stage. His lack of follow-through and intricately prepared but abandoned starts all fueled a feeling of regret at lost creative output that he carried to the end of his life. Professor Catani, who specializes in ADHD, wrote, “There is a prevailing misconception that ADHD is typical of misbehaving children with low intelligence, destined for a troubled life. On the contrary, most of the adults I see in my clinic report having been bright, intuitive children but develop symptoms of anxiety and depression later in life for having failed to achieve their potential.”
“While impossible to make a post-mortem diagnosis for someone who lived 500 years ago, I am confident that ADHD is the most convincing and scientifically plausible hypothesis to explain Leonardo’s difficulty in finishing his works. Historical records show Leonardo spent excessive time planning projects but lacked perseverance. ADHD could explain aspects of Leonardo’s temperament and his strange mercurial genius.” (Professor Marco Cantani)
Join award-winning Plein air painter Sharon Rusch Shaver as she conducts her next exciting workshop in the south of France. Van Gogh’s bronze foot-steps dot sidewalks in the exact locations for his paintings in this beautiful city lined with rows of towering chestnut trees. Painting daily in your chosen medium: oil; watercolor; pastel; pen and ink artists as well as photographers will find plenty of inspiration in this city bathed in Mediterranean sunlight. Daily demonstrations and one-on-one help will be provided for those wanting to learn how to speed up and work quickly capturing that fleeting light and color in their paintings and with photos.
Chef prepared gourmet meals are served in the shade of the mulberry trees in the garden of this large comfortable country Farmhouse Maison only a few miles from the city where you will have a well-appointed ensuite room with views of the countryside for your stay. All-inclusive* 9 nights accommodation, transfers, meals, and instruction. Go to: Adventure-Artists.com
Gardens are my enduring inspiration, and getting to the heart of the flower, my passion.