The Most Important Work

At the end of last year, I had the pleasure of reading Walter Isaacson’s wonderful biography of Leonardo da Vinci. One of the things I was most struck by is how much of the book was not about his artworks, but about his journals. In fact, most of what we know about Leonardo’s art we know because he kept detailed and copious records in his notebooks. Some could argue that, while his artwork is what solidified his place as one of the most important artists in the history of mankind, it was his journals that were his most important work.

I was then thinking about Theft by Finding: Diaries (1977-2002) by David Sedaris, the wonderful collection of his thoughts and observations that he has diligently captured in a notebook for years. Most of his books, performances, radio work, and the rest come directly from these. I bet even David would make the argument that of all the work he’s done and will do, the diaries are the most important.

Last year, I also had the chance to see, on a few occasions, the incredible and fascinating exhibition Guillermo del Toro: At Home with Monsters at The Minneapolis Institute of Art. The famous director is an obsessive collector of horror and fantasy memorabilia at his home and creative haven he’s dubbed Bleak House. The MIA worked with him to curate the one of a kind exhibition of his collection and artifacts from his feature films. All of it, items valued in the millions of dollars, were shipped to the MIA, except his notebooks. Those he insisted on delivering and retrieving in person. He could live with having any of the rest lost or damaged in shipment — but not the notebooks.

I wonder just how many artists and creatives this could be said of. It is a thread I pick up over and over again when reading about them. And, in the case of Jean-Michel Basquiat, one of my all time faves, I’ve actually come to regard his notebooks as a work of art themselves on par with any other he produced in his all too brief life.

This is all just something worth pondering. We may be right to consider that our notebooks and journals, where much of our work begins, may be more important and invaluable than the work itself.