Since the age of Leonardo DaVinci, mankind has considered the idea of someone who can do a little bit of everything…one who has taken the time to acquaint himself on almost every subject and converse upon them intelligently. Not a mere scholar, this individual is proficient in bodily exercise and can go the distance. We refer, of course, to the Renaissance Man.
The clinical term to refer to the Renaissance Man, one with a wide area of expertise and talents (because everything has a clinical term), is “Polymath.” It was only when Italy started producing such luminaries as DaVinci that we came to associate it with the Renaissance.
Specialization is a plague of the age, affecting not only people, but even nations. A time existed when you had to understand a part of everything to achieve something. Now we tend to try avoid it if at all possible by allowing “experts” to spring up in various fields with little to no understanding of other sciences or disciplines.
The problem is, life doesn’t work that way. None of the sciences or skills operate in a vacuum. Each discipline builds and intersects with one another. Frequently, the greatest ideas in history have come from someone outside of the field making an observation.
Each era defines a Renaissance Man in different ways, expecting him to have an understanding of differing disciplines, but throughout history, four pillars remain that must be learned. It is not necessary that you are always good at doing them, but you must understand and appreciate them.
Learn an instrument, study music, or at least appreciate the worth of good music over bad. Not everyone is a Mozart or Chopin, or even interested in learning how to play an instrument, but you must at least learn something about it in order to be a Renaissance Man. Pick a genre of music you enjoy and learn something of its history and execution.
Read books that are worth reading, novels that have been “canonized” by history and offer something for the reader to learn. Consider the non-fiction section of your library, where you can learn about the events of history and the philosophies that drove them. If it’s within you to try, write a little about what you’ve read. It will solidify your understanding and improve your ability to communicate ideas.
We cannot neglect the Renaissance Man ideal was not merely to cultivate the mind, but the body also. You should not neglect your body for the sake of your mind, but like Theodore Roosevelt, improve and strengthen both. Strengthen your physical form so that it can endure the occasional hike. Exercise and sports allow the mind time to digest higher ideas while the body is in action. Choose a sport or athletic to learn and join upon occasion.
Everyone has heard of Monet and Picasso, but if challenged to name any of their work, it may be more difficult. Learn something about art or try it yourself. There are museums dedicated to the topic and offer more knowledge than you could hope for. Pick a artist or artistic period to study and learn. Let it be your favorite art to share with others.
In studying these subjects you can guild your life with greater depth and higher culture, allowing you to share timeless ideas with others.
Our final encouragement is to develop curiosity in all you do. Curiosity will drive you to achieve the skill level and beauty of Leonardo DaVinci, Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, or Sir Isaac Newton. These men, and the others of their kind, had a hunger to learn from the world around them and continually pushed their knowledge and skills in an effort to understand it better.