The Soul of Leonardo da Vinci - 92Y, New York

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The Soul of Leonardo da Vinci

Hanna Arie-Gaifman, Jonathan Berger, Howard Morgan, Michael Kubovy, Israel Nelken, Barbara Tversky, Timothy Weaver, and Robert Zwijnenberg

A symposium in celebration of the quincentenary of Leonardo’s death

Co-Produced by the 92nd Street Y and Stanford University’s Symposium on Music and the Brain

Underlying Leonardo’s seemingly superhuman feats of intellect and art was an uninhibited desire to ask questions and seek answers to everything from the mundane (‘What is a sneeze?’) to the sublime (‘Where is the soul?’) questions explored in Jonathan Berger’s new work Leonardo, given its world premiere on April 6, 2019 at 92Y. In the Symposium that follows, great artists and thinkers reflect on da Vinci’s acute awareness of human perception, and his obsessive desire to visually capture his observations and ideas. We will hear about Leonardo’s ability to conceptualize complexity (Zwijnenberg), his method of thinking through drawing (Tversky), his intuitions on art and aesthetics (Kubovy and Nelken), and experience how da Vinci’s obsessive search for understanding finds itself in humor (Morgan), science, and art (Weaver).


12:30 pm: Introductions: Hanna Arie-Gaifman (Director, 92Y Tisch Center for the Arts) and Jonathan Berger (Stanford University)
12:45-1:15 pm: Howard Morgan (Arca Group, Inc.): Leonardo’s Obsessive Search for Truth Through Observation
1:15-1:45 pm: Michael Kubovy (University of Virginia): Leonardo and the Two Culture Problem
1:45-2:15 pm: Israel Nelken (Hebrew University): Leonardo on Music
2:15-2:45 pm: Barbara Tversky (Stanford University and Columbia Teacher’s College): Externalizing Thought: Thinking Through Drawing
3:30-4 pm: Robert Zwijnenberg (Leiden University): Leonardo and Labyrinthine Thinking
4-4:30 pm: Timothy Weaver (University of Denver): FlussoReflusso (a live cinema performance in Kaufmann Concert Hall)
4:30-5:30 pm: Open Forum & Discussion

Leonardo’s Obsessive Search for Truth Through Observation

Howard Lee Morgan, Arca Group Inc.

Leonardo was a consummate scientist. “Experience does not ever err,” he said, “it is only your judgment that errs in promising itself results which are not caused by your experiments.” If only he had made his work public instead of keeping it private. His studies of anatomy were decades, even centuries ahead of his time, yet he published almost nothing. Yet his paintings show his mastery of every muscle and sinew in the human body.

His studies of curves, including the helical curves of screws, the curls of hair, were all part of his plan to write treatises on anatomy, mechanics and architecture, along with painting. Alas, his cryptic use of notes and inability to finish things left us with 5,000 scattered pages of notes and drawings, presaging much of anatomy, botany and mechanics.

Leonardo and the Two Culture Problem

Michael Kubovy, University of Virginia

The two-culture problem (which one might think Leonardo had solved) is particularly vexing when it comes to neuroscience and visual art. Neuroaestheticians would have us believe that they can—at least in principle—help us understand art by telling us how the brain of the creative artist produces art and how the brain of the viewer processes art and produces pleasure. I will take a skeptical look at such claims, share some thoughts about conditions that would make such a rapprochement possible, and illustrate with a puzzle concerning Leonardo's Last Supper.

Leonardo on Music

Israel Nelken, Hebrew University

The transience of music makes it, in da Vinci's mind, lesser to painting in that it dies in the process of being created, while the beauty of painting is remembered for a long time. I will present an account of Leonardo's claim within current views of auditory perception, including the notion of reverse hierarchies, the role of predictive coding in audition, and the active/constructive nature of perception.

FlussoReflusso (live cinema performance, 2019)

Timothy Weaver, University of Denver

FlussoReflusso is a work of live cinema (audio < > video) performance that reanimates and revisits the ebb and flow of Leonardo’s drawings on scales from the metabolic/anatomic to the atmospheric. The project enriches the iconic Leonardo art-science residues through redrawn equivalents of our interior-exterior flows from the aorta to the deluge paired with the sonic expression of transcoded bioinformatics to sound. The intent of the work is a suspension of audience in the immersive moment of art-science practice across time.

Externalizing Thought: Thinking Through Drawing

Barbara Tversky, Stanford University & Columbia Teachers College

Leonardo drew incessantly, that was how he thought. Far different from the serenity of his paintings, his drawings are frenetic, explosive. Yet drawings can't move, they too are still, despite the dynamic processes he was trying to understand, such as the flow of blood in arteries and the flow of water in rivers. He drew analogies from visually similar processes such as these, and used the actions of his hand as he drew as if they were mirroring the actions of nature. I will discuss Leonardo's process and put that in the larger context of using drawing as a way of thinking.

Leonardo and Labyrinthine Thinking

Robert Zwijnenberg, Universiteit Leiden

How did Leonardo think? And why and how is this of importance to us? I will explain Leonardo's labyrinthine way of thinking and argue why this way of thinking can help us to come to terms with the fact that we have created a world we cannot control.

Howard Lee Morgan

Howard Lee Morgan is a Co-Founder and Special Advisor to First Round Capital, established in 2004 …

Michael Kubovy

Michael Kubovy is Professor Emeritus of Psychology at the University of Virginia …

Israel Nelken

Israel Nelken is the Milton and Brindell Gottlieb Chair in Brain Sciences and a director of the Edmond and Lily Safra Center for Brain Sciences …

Timothy Weaver

Timothy Weaver is a new media artist, life scientist, and bioenvironmental engineer whose concerted objective is to contribute to the restoration of ecological memory …

Barbara Tversky

Barbara Tversky is Professor of Psychology Emerita, Stanford University and Professor of Psychology, Columbia Teachers College …

Robert Zwijnenberg

Robert Zwijnenberg is full professor of Art and Science Exchange at Universiteit Leiden …