General Education

Leonardo da Vinci and ADHD: Empowerment Through History

Leonardo da Vinci and ADHD: Empowerment Through History
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Michael Westwood profile
Michael Westwood June 30, 2019

Most historians regard Leonardo da Vinci as a talented artist, with 20 paintings of his still existing today. There are other projects he started that have been lost throughout the centuri

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Most historians regard Leonardo da Vinci as a talented artist, with 20 paintings of his still existing today. There are other projects he started that have been lost throughout the centuries or potentially destroyed. Da Vinci had a habit of beginning paintings without completing them. The first biographer of da Vinci’s  suggested that one of his most famous paintings, the Mona Lisa, was never fully finished. On top of that, da Vinci began a project called the Sforza Horse, which was supposed to result in the largest cast iron sculpture in history. He became so frustrated by it that after 12 years, he stopped working on it and never went back to it.

Upon some analysis of da Vinci’s behavior, two neuroscientists are now presenting a theory through a study discussed in a journal called Brain that Leonardo da Vinci, without ever being clinically diagnosed, suffered from Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).

ADHD affects those who are diagnosed in terms of  attention to small details, staying organized, and appearing not to listen when spoken to or given instructions. ADHD also causes a person to be very physically antsy and talkative, as well as shout out answers before a person finishes their question and interrupting conversations around them. These symptoms are often noticeable in children as early as three years of age and continue into adulthood. The known ways to treat the condition are certain medications and therapy.

Leonardo da Vinci was alive around 500 years ago, so being diagnosed with a condition such as ADHD was highly unlikely. But according to neuroscientist Marco Catani, the history of his life and work shows that da Vinci would plan out a project for a long period of time without having the resilience and interest to see the project through. According to the study published in the journal Brain, “Leonardo’s chronic struggle to distill his extraordinary creativity into concrete results and deliver on commitments was proverbial in his lifetime and present since early childhood."

As reported by CNN, Leonardo had a habit of working on projects throughout the midnight hours and would give himself breaks by taking short naps and walking. He was also very hard on himself due to having self-awareness of his own shortcomings. He once stated that “he had offended God and mankind in not having worked at his art as he should have done."

With that being said, a professor named Graeme Fairchild in the department of psychology at the University of Bath told CNN that this diagnosis could be perceived as a positive. Fairchild elaborated, “people with A.D.H.D. can still be incredibly talented and productive, even though they have symptoms or behaviors that lead to impairment such as restlessness, poor organizational skills, forgetfulness, and inability to finish things they start."

Marco Catani spoke to Reuters and said that da Vinci could be viewed as “the poster child for ADHD." Catani also said that he hopes that the negative stigmas associated with ADHD, such as a lack of intelligence and misbehaving and disruptive children, can be offset by the knowledge that people with the condition can be successful in spite of it. Catani told Reuters, “Leonardo considered himself as someone who failed in life - which is incredible. I hope (this case) shows that ADHD is not linked to low IQ or lack of creativity, but rather the difficulty of capitalizing on natural talents."

Historians will remember Leonardo da Vinci for creating famous art, whether he finished them all or not. His life serves as a symbol for anyone that is dealing with ADHD that the disorder does not have to define nor stop the person from achieving their full potential. Da Vinci did not view himself very highly, yet his life and work are historical artifacts that are still discussed to this day.  As long as the person manages their symptoms and focus on their strengths, ADHD can be an advantage from a creative standpoint.