For several months we've been discussing the elements of creativity as described in Michael J. Gelb's book, How to Think Like Leonardo da Vinci. So far we've examined curiosity (curiosita), perception (sensazione), perspective (sfumato), and the value of hands-on learning (dimonstrazione). Next up, and perhaps the most important element of all, is a state of mind where logic and imagination work in harmony, a concept da Vinci calls arte/scienza.

Where many might be inclined to see art and science as separate domains, da Vinci saw them as coexistent qualities endowed by nature in all things. His studies of anatomy, for example, led him to conclude that, “the human foot is a masterpiece of engineering and a work of art.” So also, to him, was the eye, the petals of a flower, and the method of avian flight. Whether it was anatomy, botany, geology, or zoology, nature was da Vinci's primary teacher, and it taught him that logic and imagination are an essential part of creativity and the thought process from which it springs.

By observing nature, da Vinci also learned how to keep imagination and logic from overstepping their bounds and derailing the creative process. Throughout nature, art and science are of one accord because they answer to the same law. Da Vinci sometimes referred to this law as necessity, writing in his notebook, “Necessity is the theme and the inventress, the eternal curb and law of nature.” Unlike many of his contemporaries, da Vinci made necessity the arbiter of his works, ensuring that neither overactive logic nor excessive imagination would spoil the result.

Adhering to necessity didn't always make life easier, however. In fact, as a standard, it was an impossible goal, even for the great da Vinci. “Human subtlety will never devise an invention more beautiful, more simple or more direct than does nature, because in her inventions nothing is lacking, and nothing is superfluous,” he wrote. This may explain why da Vinci was often dissatisfied by his efforts, lamenting in his old age, “I have offended God and mankind because my work did not reach the quality it should have.”

In this expression of regret, however, da Vinci also leaves us a clue as to what ultimately drove him to the pinnacle of human creativity. Leonardo da Vinci may not have been religious, but he was most certainly spiritual. His admiration of nature and his attempts to apply it in his work were, in every sense, a spiritual response.

What's more, da Vinci saw a divine hand in the laws of nature, believing they were established with good intent by a pre-existent and unwavering source. In his notes, he acknowledges that source, writing, “Oh admirable impartiality of Thine, Thou first Mover; Thou hast not permitted that any force should fail of the order or quality of its necessary results.”

Leonardo da Vinci derived his creativity by tapping into the “first Mover,” the Cause and Initiator of all. In all his works, his logic and imagination were guided by his spirit, which he nurtured, more or less, through his studies of nature. Da Vinci wrote, “Where the spirit does not work with the hand, there is no art.” Nor is there arte/scienza, which we as designers would do well to bear in mind.