In Walter Isaacson’s hometown of New Orleans, residents might wonder if the future of the city rests with technology or the arts.
DXC Technology recently announced plans to open a New Orleans office, bringing 2,000 jobs with it. The news boosted hopes of making the city a player in the digital economy. Even so, New Orleans is best known for its food, music and grand sense of public theater, an aspect of city life that blooms most vividly during Carnival season.
Will the city eventually belong to the techies, or will it continue to grow as the province of the more ethereal types — the chefs and musicians, painters and float designers, the street poets and mime artists?
In his latest book, a biography of the Renaissance painter and inventor Leonardo da Vinci, Isaacson reminds us that such choices are false ones. “Leonardo da Vinci” revisits Isaacson’s abiding idea — that true creativity thrives at the intersection between the technology and the arts.
In his biographies of Benjamin Franklin, Albert Einstein and Steve Jobs, Isaacson argued that these great innovators succeeded by using the arts to inform scientific thought. He makes a similar case in writing about Leonardo da Vinci.
In the celebrated painter of “The Last Supper” and “Mona Lisa,” who also envisioned helicopters and military tanks centuries before they were perfected, Isaacson finds “the ultimate example of the main theme of my previous biographies: how the ability to make connections across disciplines — arts and sciences, humanities and technology — is the key to innovation, imagination and genius.”
Later, Isaacson elaborates: “The fifteenth century of Leonardo and Columbus and Gutenberg was a time of invention, exploration, and the spread of knowledge by new technologies. In short, it was a time like our own. That is why we have much to learn from Leonardo. His ability to combine art, science, technology, the humanities and imagination remains an enduring recipe for creativity.”
“Leonardo da Vinci” is on the best-seller list and shows no sign of leaving it soon. The book is already in development as a major motion picture. Isaacson’s book is going to be part of the national conversation for a while.
That’s a good thing, since Isaacson’s argument is a timely reminder that schools and universities are cutting liberal arts education at society’s peril. They are the engines of innovation, creating a culture of innovation in which the next Steve Jobs can prosper.
Americans shouldn’t have to decide between technology and the arts. We need both.