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In defense of the Renaissance Man

Is it possible for one to be both scholar and artist?  Simultaneously "right-brained, and 'left-brained" and capable at both?

Part of the problem with our contemporary culture of "experts" is that it doesn't allow for the real possibility that a man or woman can effectively operate out of both sides of their brain, or demonstrate expertise in both the arts and the intellect.   Going to our General Practitioner won't do -- we are referred to a 'specialist.'  There's simply too much to know for any one person to know it all.

As I've wrestled with my own calling, the idea that a person who is a jack-of-all-trades can only be 'master of none' has forced me into an artificial narrowness:  "If I am a writer, then people won't possibly believe that I am also an artist and musician."  (Or at least, not very good at either; because how could any one person possibly be skilled at both.)

What would Leonardo DaVinci have thought of this constricted vision of human calling?  His own brilliance covered such sweeping pursuits as painting, architecture, the anatomy of the human body, and even the design of tanks and advanced weaponary.  The man who painted the "Last Supper" also excelled in geometry and architecture. 

Yet, perhaps our culture of experts has sabotaged the Renaissance Man with narrow and constricting assumptions.

One the one hand, it is good for a person to be as clear and specific about their calling as they can be.  On the other, there may be a common thread running underneath the various pursuits of the Renaissance Man or Woman.  In my case, it was the thread of design:  whether I am composing a music score for a video, or writing another chapter of my next book, I deeply enjoy creating and revealing design  -- whether it's the design of a musical composition, or the design of the human heart and its longings.  The intellect and the artistry are not mutually-exclusive, but mutually-affirming.

So take heart, those of you who, like DaVinci have found yourself competent in both the intellect and scholarly as well as the poetic and sublime.  There is precident for what you can offer the world.

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Reader Comments (4)


I ate up what you served here, wow, a most delicious meal, thanks Bro.
I am often reminded of something I heard Gayle Irwin share about himself as a little boy..he along with his class mates were given a simple coloring assignment (he was in a primary grade) he instantly went to work and finished it in record time only to have his teacher hold up what he thought to be a masterpiece used as something to humiliate and shame him, according to his teacher, for not paying attention to her directions.

He said, I have no idea if there was ever going to be any ability to become another Michelangelo, but that day, in that moment, it all died in him.

I too am seeing a resurrection taking place in my heart and life, knowing that His calling on our lives is to KNOW that we are 100% His and out of that our lives are freed to live in the context of I AM, vs I am not!
The growing expanding living true knowledge of Fathers heart for me/us releases in and through our lives things that will color our world in ways that will take eternity to fully define..


July 28, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterRichard

Hey Rich -- your story of Gayle Irwiin really demonstrates what happens to so many of us, that what God put into us from a young age gets shut down and dismissed. Let's get it back! Thanks for sharing.

July 28, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterJim Robbins

Great post Jim and I can definitely relate. By nature, I’m a talker. I love speaking in front of a group and have never and still don’t view myself as much of a writer. However, since pulling away from the institutional church, my speaking opportunities have pretty much been non-existent so instead, I’ve had to develop my writing skills through blogging. I’m also gifted as a teacher and an administrator. While all of these giftings may seem totally separate and distinct, they’re not because they’re all tied together by my calling to be an encourager in the body of Christ. While I love to speak, write, teach and administrate, EVERYTHING I do has the underlying motivation to encourage others.

August 17, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterAida

Hi Aida,

You've really got great clarity about your calling. I love how you've identified the common thread of encouraging running through each of your gifts.

August 17, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterJim Robbins

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