FRANCIS SCHAEFFER ANALYZES ART AND CULTURE Part 219 Leonardo Da Vinci (Feature on artist Laurie Anderson )


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Francis Schaeffer said about Leonardo Da Vinci:

“[Leonardo da Vinci] understood that man beginning from himself would never be able to come to meaning on the basis of mathematics.  And he knew that having only individual things, particulars, one could never come to universals or meaning and thus one only ends with mechanics…Everything, including man, is the machine.”

“What is despair?  It arises from the abandonment of the hope of a unified answer for knowledge and life…Modern man has given up his hope of unity and lives in despair – the despair of no longer thinking that what has always been the aspiration of men is at all possible.”


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Tony Bartolucci in his summary of Francis Schaeffer’s HOW SHOULD WE THEN LIVE? notes:

Da Vinci was the epitome of the Renaissance man (he was a genius in so many different fields of
study). But, “He understood that man beginning from himself would never be able to come to
meaning on the basis of mathematics. And he knew that having only individual things, particulars,
one never could come to universals or meaning and thus one only ends with mechanics. . .
.everything, including man, is a machine.” [page 113] In the end Da Vinci was an old man in
despondency, pessimism was the natural conclusion of humanism.


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Here are Schaeffer’s exact words from HOW SHOULD WE THEN LIVE? about Leonardo Da Vinci:

We now come to another giant great of the Renaissance Leonardo Da Vinci. He was the first modern mathematician. He was a chemist, a physicist, musician, architect, anatomist, botanist, mechanical engineer, and artist. He did studies of the human anatomy some could be still used in today’s textbooks. He was the embodiment of the true renaissance man. He could do almost everything and do it well. He designed war machines of savage atrocity. He designed the ball baring. Leonardo really understood the problem of modern man. In his genius he anticipated where humanism would end. He understood that humanist man beginning with only individual things that is the particulars had no unity by which to give them meaning. He understood that beginning humanistically with mathematics one is left with individual things, and having only individual things one could never come to universals or to meaning instead one is left with mechanics and in this he saw ahead to our own day where even man is viewed as a machine. Then Leonardo thought that perhaps the painter the sensative man could come to meaning so he tried and tried to portray the soul. This is not a soul in the Christian sense rather he was trying to capture visually the universals from the particulars he observed. He failed. 

We are back to Raphael’s School of Athens. Thomas Aquinas’ (1225-1274) teaching led to man’s trying to be independent autonomous and this led to Renaissance humanism. Leonardo in all his brilliance felt the problem and struggled to find universals. Leonardo and all of humanism had been so sure that man beginning only from himself could solve every problem. It’s cry was “I can do what I will. Just give me until tomorrow.” But in his old age Leonardo saw the coming defeat of humanism. As a man thinketh so is he. And humanism had already begun to show its natural conclusion was pessimism. When Francis the First, King of France took Leonardo to France we find Leonardo in despondency.

Anybody that doesn’t feel the beauty of the Renaissance as he walks through Florence I feel is a poor man. I love to go to Florence and walk through the museums and just walk through the streets, but on the other hand one who only sees the beauty and the glory of the Renaissance in which man was increasingly making himself autonomous, if you don’t feel the weakness of this you also don’t understand the Renaissance. Humanism in-veritably ends in despair.  If you begin with that which is finite no matter how far you project it you can never come to an absolute.

In light of the humanist dilemma there is only one real solution to turn to the Bible as truth, not just as an abstract religious thing, but as truth. It doesn’t change. It speaks to the culture of that particular day. It is never old fashion. It speaks to the most current topics, and yet it is always rooted in the same thing: THE EXISTENCE OF THIS INFINITE PERSONAL GOD AND THAT HE HAS SPOKEN, AND THEN OF COURSE, MAN’S PERSONAL NEED IN THE DEATH OF CHRIST FOR HIM.


Trailer: Season 1 of “Art in the Twenty-First Century” (2001) | Art21

Featured artist is Laurie Anderson

Laurie Anderson was born in Chicago in 1947. One of eight children, she studied the violin and played in the Chicago Youth Symphony. She graduated in 1969 from Barnard College in New York, and went on to study at Columbia University, working toward a graduate degree in sculpture. The art scene of the early 1970s fostered an experimental attitude among many young artists in downtown New York that attracted Anderson, and some of her earliest performances as a young artist took place on the street or in informal art spaces. In the most memorable of these, she stood on a block of ice, playing her violin while wearing her ice skates. When the ice melted, the performance ended.

Since that time, Anderson has gone on to create large-scale theatrical works which combine a variety of media—music, video, storytelling, projected imagery, sculpture—in which she is an electrifying performer. As a visual artist, her work has been shown at the Guggenheim Museum, SoHo; as well as extensively in Europe, including the Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris. She has also released seven albums for Warner Brothers, including Big Science, featuring the song “O Superman,” which rose to number 2 on the British pop charts. In 1999, she staged Songs and Stories From Moby Dick, an interpretation of Herman Melville’s 1851 novel. She lives and works in New York City.


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