The Thought for the Day/Miles Unger, on Michelangelo

His images are unforgettable because he was conceiving new forms and discovering new meanings, not just dutifully illustrating a predetermined text. He works by instinct…his independence of mind opening up new possibilities.
Miles Unger
Michelangelo: A Life In Six Masterpieces

We have quoted from this book before. Like all good biographers, Unger makes it seem like his subject is sitting next to you, overseeing your reading about him. The six masterpieces Unger tells Michelangelo’s story through are the Pieta, the David, the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, the Medici tombs, The Last Judgment (on the altar wall of the Sistine Chapel) and St Peter’s Basilica. Michelangelo (1475-1564), of course, is as talented a man as our species has produced, one of the few to reach the pinnacle in three distinct forms of human endeavor: sculpture, painting and architecture.

…not just dutifully illustrating a predetermined text.

Michelangelo was not content to live the life of an ordinary artist. Sure, he could have become very wealthy taking money from his many patrons and doing as he was told, but he knew he had supreme talent and, equally important, he had a vision for how he wanted to use that talent and was willing to put whatever work was required into maximizing that talent. He paid his patrons little regard. He took their money and created whatever he was moved to and told them to take it. He answered only to his inner callings.

It’s easy to follow a predetermined life. Most people do, in fact. Be born, become an adult, earn a living, reproduce, die. If the weather’s nice, people will show up at your funeral and say nice things about you.

That is not all there is in this life, though and Michelangelo has lessons for all of us: find what you were meant to do then go and do it. Find the talents you were issued at birth and put in whatever work is required to maximize them. Ignore the cacophony of outside distractions and answer your own inner calling.

He works by instinct…his independence of mind opening up new possibilities…

Our instincts and independence of mind will show us fresh prospects every day. All we have to do is let them. We may not live down the ages, then again we might, but that is of no particular consequence. The lesson of following your heart and trusting your instincts are there for all of us, and its fruits are there for the taking.

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