The Art of Self-Possession

Ginevra de Benci  by Leonardo da' Vinci. This portrait lives in the National Gallery in Washington, D.C. 

Ginevra de Benci by Leonardo da' Vinci. This portrait lives in the National Gallery in Washington, D.C. 

In my second year of College I declared myself a business major. I’m from a family of Doctors, Lawyers and Executive Directors. People who excel and have measurable success and influence. I was trying to fit into that mold. 

About one month into my rigorous schedule of Accounting, Econ., and other Business fundamentals I knew I had made a mistake. Where was the art? Where was the creativity? Where was the writing? I was hungry for the power of words instead of the balance of numbers. I can remember how fearful I was when I called home to share the news that I was shifting to a highly unconventional path…

 Yes, Hi Dad. Um, I’m going to change majors. I want to explore more about Art History. Uh huh. The history of art. Across time. No, this is not a joke.

You can imagine the disappointment in my (immigrant-doctor) father’s voice. He had come from nothing to give us everything, and here I was (in his mind) choosing to focus on nothing.

That said, it was the best decision I’ve ever made. A first step of self-possession. A real-life “to thine own self be true” moment, and as I reflect upon it today, an act of boldness that would eventually lend similar gumption to leaving the corporate world in pursuit of teaching and healing through the art of wellness.  

At 19 years old I couldn't quite articulate why the study of art grabbed me so much. Perhaps it was the way an image could tell a story – could capture, convey and make you feel but also leave room for interpretation.  These days it makes me think of my kundalini yoga and the channeling of energy; When you see a masterpiece it’s infused with an undeniable current of life force – an energy - that vibrates through it in a way that is timeless and moving. Pollack’s Lavender Mist, Van Gough’s Starry Night and Picasso’s Guernica (Oh, the heartbreaking Guernica), all come to mind as visceral examples.

That said, my ultimate focus and senior thesis was about women. About Leonardo Da Vinci’s portraiture of the secular woman, to be exact. The way he was able to unequivocally portray the individuality and timeless grace of woman. The rendering of an image so timeless, so powerful, and so graceful. Yes we all know the Mona Lisa, but what about Cecilia or Ginevra (pictured above and located at the National Gallery in Washington). These women are rich with stories, with experience, with self-possession.

And Leonardo was brave enough to paint them as-such. Up until his time, women were captured in profile view. Like an object to be accounted for. Numerical. Like chattel. This artist, gave women sovereignty over the angle. They began to turn to three-quarters towards the viewer and meet you, some even eye-to-eye. A declaration of their sense of self. Their confidence, their right to be known, seen, and remembered in their own way. A favorite of mine - Ginevra de' Benci -  is pictured above.

Just a few days ago I was sharing this story about Leonardo's artistry with a dear client. She stopped me and exclaimed, “That’s what YOU do. You imbue people with their own self-possession. You remind them of their inner power, that divinity, that grace. It makes perfect sense.”

I had to blink back the tears of shock, remembrance, and ultimately, acceptance. 

10 years since declaring to my father and family my love of art, it had all come full circle. I realized it was no accident I flew from numbers to the world of images, stories, and the study of more enlightened transformations.

We are all artists in our own right, I’m honored to help others see themselves as such, and teach them the power to gaze back at the world and at their lives head-on. 

For one-on-one assistance with this important work I look forward to connecting over a session. To book a Speaking Engagement for your College or Organization learn more here. 

Joanna Andreae