Saturday, November 12, 2011

10 Ways to Live Life As a Work of Art

Cover of "How to Think Like Leonardo da V...Cover via AmazonBy Karina I M Inkster

Anthropologist Mary Catherine Bateson notes that "the way we live our lives, is itself, the process of creating a work of art".

I've turned living life as a work of art into a key life goal. What does that mean, exactly? Isn't that a vague and nebulous goal? It can be.

Many authors and online forum posters have shared differing interpretations and opinions of what it means to live life as a work of art. Inspired by Michael J. Gelb's book How to Think Like Leonardo do Vinci: Seven Steps to Genius Every Day, here's my own 10-point interpretation.

1. Take responsibility to create a life for yourself

There is certainly nothing wrong with sitting back and letting things happen (indeed, there are times when this is beneficial), but you must acknowledge that you have the agency to direct your own life. As an artist shapes a creative masterwork, you can be actively involved in shaping your life.

Knowing what you want in the long term can be great motivation to meet shorter term goals and to make everyday decisions. Write down your goals, make a visual inspiration board - whatever works for you. However, leave room for surprises and diversions, as artists sometimes end up with completely unplanned masterpieces.

2. Consider balance in your life

As an artist can consider balance in her work (e.g. light vs. dark, objects vs. space), work on balancing productivity vs. rest, helping others vs. acting for yourself, the ol' standby work vs. play, and many more.

3. Develop and refine your mind, your skills, and your relationships

An artist can spend decades, or even a lifetime, developing and perfecting his craft. We can work on developing ourselves through self-knowledge, cultivating new skills, and refining existing skills.

Michael J. Gelb's book How to Think Like Leonardo da Vinci provides excellent guidance and inspiration for developing creativity, and David Keirsey's book Please Understand Me II: Temperament, Character, Intelligence is an excellent resource for self knowledge through personality typing, as well as interacting with and understanding others.

4. Express fully all aspects of yourself

Much like works of art are forms of expression and can stem from unconscious or otherwise untapped parts of an artist's mind, you can seek out effective, enjoyable, and novel ways to express yourself. I play didgeridoo, piano, or Tibetan singing bowl; create visual art (usually paper filigree, or quilling); or write.

5. Acknowledge and seek out connections in novel ways

An artist contemplates the interplay between lines, form, colour, and space. We can consider connections and similarities between people, objects, the environment, and anything else we choose. Thinking about how concepts are connected can stimulate creativity.

One fun exercise is to make a list of random objects, then choose two and decide how they're connected. A walnut and an inukshuk? An aardvark and loose change?

6. Seek out, appreciate, and learn from role models

Many developing artists look to apprenticeships with experienced maestros for guidance, skill development, and inspiration. We can do the same! Find inspirational role models to help you reach your goals.

Some of mine are vegan bodybuilder Robert Cheeke, vegan professional Ironman triathlete Brendan Brazier, fitness models and competitors Nicole Wilkins and Jamie Eason, my best friend Setareh, and painter, naturalist, and author Robert Bateman.

7. Regularly take a step back to assess your life

Leonardo da Vinci would assess his finished paintings in the mirror for a new perspective. Like stepping back from a painting in a gallery to gauge its overall effect, "step back" from your life every now and then and try to evaluate it as objectively as possible. What emotional reaction does it evoke? How well is it serving your goals? How is it affecting others?

8. Be in the moment

As an artist loses herself in the process of creation, we should strive for breaks from thinking about the past or the future. Meditate, do yoga, go for a walk in nature, or take a few deep breaths during a busy day to centre yourself.

9. Nurture creativity, and apply it to all areas of your life

Creativity is a pretty obvious link to art. What's not so obvious is that creativity has a role in all areas of our lives, from careers and education, to romance and sex, to family and friends, to personal development.

10. Treat your body as a work of art, keeping it healthy and vibrant so it can serve you well

Like overarching art movements, or individual artists' work, our bodies are continually changing. Work to develop health and fitness as best you can. Healthy young people often take their bodies for granted, only to be stuck with chronic diseases in later life.

Older people who don't exercise increase their risk of premature death, and could drastically improve their quality of life by staying active and eating right. Living life as a work of art means taking care of yourself, both physically and mentally.

Karina Inkster is a personal trainer in Vancouver BC. Contact her at, and check out her profile on at

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