Born in 1475, in the small Italian town of Caprese, Michelangelo di Lodovico Buonarroti Simoni (artist, sculptor, architect and poet) sparked a great revolution in art in the high renaissance era. Michelangelo was the artist who recreated what wasn’t there. He sculpted and painted the world that existed solely in his mind. He treated the ceilings of great domes and majestic chapels as a blank canvas – a place for his imagination to come alive. This artist was someone who boldly accepted and embraced what wasn’t there and what he wanted to see: the angel in the marble.
Imagination is, according to The Concise Oxford Dictionary, “the faculty or action of forming new ideas, or images of concepts of external objects not present to the senses”. To me, it is a combination of what you know, what you don’t know, and what you want to know. Michelangelo knew what an angel was but didn’t know what they looked like and probably wanted to see one.
By seeing what wasn’t there, Michelangelo gave the marble a priceless value using only his imagination. It’s almost like the concept of spinning straw from gold. When some people see straw they see dried out grass, whilst others may regard straw as natural flaxen gold. People tend to perceive objects differently due to their worth. People say that you can’t make something out of nothing but, as every artist knows, an empty canvas can always be filled. If (as Michelangelo proved) we can change the worth of an ordinary, common object only though our minds, then is the entire world not magnificent? If spent more of our time seeing angels in marble and regarding straw as gold, the worth of everything would dramatically increase. To think that something so straightforward can be achieved by using those odd images and ideas dancing around our minds is incredible. It proves just how much power our brains hold.
Michelangelo liked to make his sculptures and paintings raw and realistic (particularly evident through ‘David’); you could interpret it that he wanted people to start seeing things in their purest form. Maybe he wanted people to look closer at the things that they deemed ‘plain’ and see what was underneath. Today, his ideas and art still provoke wonder and awe. By carving away the excess marble from his angel, he had exposed the creature that had lingered dutifully in his imagination.
I believe imagination is needed to make reality slightly more bearable. Reality is like a box, something with structure and boundaries, and the people who are prepared to push these boundaries are the people who question the improbable and achieve the impossible. These are the people who are willing to think ‘outside the box’. Michelangelo didn’t look at the marble and decide that the weight and strength of the material would be perfect for a paperweight or floor tiles, instead he saw the figure of an angel and carved until it was “free”. You could say that he let his ‘imagination take flight’.
Even Einstein, one of the greatest minds in history, said “the true sign of intelligence is not logic but imagination”. Many people argue that logic is the key to success and that, in order to properly solve a problem, you must summon all of your knowledge and come up with a logical answer. Sometimes this is true; however, if Michelangelo had only used his logic, would he have seen the angel in the marble?
I like to think that he had such a long life span (dying at the age of 88) due to his brain. His imagination was very much active and fresh, bursting with wondrous images and fantastical thoughts. Before he died he had just finished construction work on St Peter’s Basilica in Rome. I can’t help but wonder whether his mind deliberately carried him through this work before he disappeared from this world. Perhaps he had subconsciously decided that he would only go to rest once he had made one last thing come alive with his mind.
Michelangelo’s words are not just a quote, but a statement. He didn’t perform any magic, nor did he rely on any complex tools; all he needed was his imagination and his hands. By turning a slab of stone into a graceful figure, Michelangelo brought out the beauty in something that, on first glance, looks plain and ordinary. He did this using his extraordinary mind; those fleeting images and precious ideas that infiltrated his head had been pulled out of inexistence and had become something solid, something that people are now able to reach out and touch today.