The Codex Leceister [detail], 1510. Leonardo Da Vinci, Italian Codex manuscript. Courtesy Bill Gates / ©bgC3
The Codex Leceister [detail], 1510. Leonardo Da Vinci, Italian Codex manuscript currently on display at the Minneapolis Institute of Art. Courtesy Bill Gates / ©bgC3
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Ever catch yourself doodling instead of paying attention during a conference meeting? Scribbling down a note about some unrealistic daydream instead of going to the grocery store? Sketching your boss’ nose instead of listening to her?

Congratulations! You might be a creative genius along the lines of Leonardo da Vinci!

This summer, the Minneapolis Institute of Arts is hosting a rare exhibition of one of Leonardo’s famed notebooks, the Codex Leicester. The exhibit — pairing Leonardo’s notebook with interactive screens and drawings by contemporary artists and thinkers — shows us how “thinking on paper” can lead to innovation…

It is also designed to remind YOU, dear viewer/reader, that you have the potential to doodle, draw, and dream your way to world-changing creativity.

I love a lot of things about this exhibit. I love that it celebrates:

  • Messy thinking. Alex Bortolot, the show’s curator, told the Minneapolis Star Tribune that Leonardo’s notebook “is not a simple document that records his thought processes; it is a very messy document in which he develops his ideas.” It’s very similar to the way we all think, says Bortolot. Sometimes, in our modern world of computers and databases and online calendars and all those tracking apps (track your calories, your steps, your unfollowers on Twitter and Instagram!) we forget that not only is it okay to be messy — it’s a GOOD thing.
  • The importance of studying a wide range of subjects. Leonardo believed music fed science fed math fed painting… When one idea converged with another — but those two ideas had never combined before — BLAM! Something new emerged. That’s innovation. If all of those strange ideas aren’t stored in your brain together, how can they ever collide?
  • Leonardo’s insatiable drive and curiosity. It’s like his brain never turned off. The owner of Leonardo’s Codex Leicester is the modern-day computer genius Bill Gates (He bought the notebook in 1994 for $30.8 million). “It’s an inspiration that one person—off on their own, with no feedback, without being told what was right or wrong—that he kept pushing himself,” Gates told 60 Minutes, “that he found knowledge itself to be the most beautiful thing.”

I love all of these things. But do you know what I love the most?

I LOVE that this exhibit celebrates WRITING ON PAPER!

Yes, I know there are interactive screens to help you navigate the exhibit, but ultimately, this exhibition is about drawing, doodling, writing, and scribbling on paper.

In an age of computers, sometimes we forget the power of pencil and paper. Writing activates the brain in a way that typing on a keyboard simply does not. I know that when I ditch my computer and pull out my notebook, my brain feels freer to move around. In front of a computer, I feel more task oriented, more determined to stick to my pre-ordained to-do list.

But put a sheet of paper and a pen in my hand, and I flit from one thing to another. I doodle and scribble and ramble. And then, when I return to that same page hours or days later — but it’s not filled up yet, so I keep on using it — I scribble some other disconnected thing there, and then another… and so it goes until I have this crazy notebook filled with crazy ideas.

Those ideas may not be as organized as my musings on my computer. But as I said earlier, when it comes to creativity, organization is overrated. Messiness is key, and those very messy, very disorganized notebooks always get my brain percolating in a new way.

It’s pen and paper that takes me on a journey down that mysterious, dark cave where, for me, novels are born. 

If you’re in Minneapolis, I hope you go see the exhibit, but if you’re not — in honor of it — at least put down the computer and pick up a pen (or pencil) and paper. Scribble, doodle and dream a little. It might not get logged into some database, but you might just tap into a part of your brain that will inspire you to write a song or invent something new or, maybe, change the world.

Leonardo did it. Why not you?


What: Leonardo da Vinci, the Codex Leicester, and the Creative Mind

Where: Minneapolis Institute of Arts

When: June 21 – August 30 2015

For Tickets