Once upon a time in renaissance Italy, Paddy Da Vinci traded in art supplies.
He came to Florence from Dublin at the invitation of his famous cousin Leonardo. In no time he is the top supplier to all the great artists of the day. Paint mixing, canvas making, picture framing, fresco supplies, discount marble, Paddy does the lot – with bells on.
One day cousin Leo comes to visit Paddy at his workshop. He puts a small painting of a young woman on the easel and flops in a chair, dejected.
“What the feck is wrong with you?” asks Paddy.
“The picture is broken and I want you to fix it,” says Leo.
“No better man,” says Paddy and examines the picture. The only thing he can find wrong is a small chip in the gold leaf of the frame. He quickly sets about fixing it. An hour later he presents the picture to Leonardo with a flourish. That’s what they did back then. Flourish.
Leonardo isn’t happy. Not even slightly.
“What’s wrong now?” asks Paddy.
“It’s still broken,” says Leo.
“Still broken?” says Paddy. His professional pride is wounded. He’d examined that picture thoroughly, found the only flaw in the painting and fixed it. Now he was being told his own trade by, an artist of all people. It was too much.
Paddy lets fly with a stream of insults I won’t repeat here. Leo gives as good as he gets. Paddy’s lineage is called into question, barnyard animals are mentioned. It gets nasty.
Eventually, a bit over it all, Paddy says, “If you’re such a feckin’ genius why don’t you just tell me what’s wrong with it.”
“It’s her mouth,” says Leo.
“Her mouth?” says Paddy.
“Yes,” says Leo, “there’s something wrong with her mouth. Her smile is not right.”
“Her smile?” says Paddy.
“Yes,” says Leo, “now can you stop fecking about and just fix it, please.”
Paddy laughs. The same thing had happened the previous year when Leo was painting The Last Supper. He’d summoned Paddy all in a flap, concerned that nobody would figure out all the hidden messages he was putting in the picture about the holy grail, and Mary Magdalene, and had he made her too masculine?
Paddy takes the little painting off the easel and hands it back to Leonardo.
“I can’t fix this feckin’ painting,” he says, “no one can. No one except you because you’re the only one who knows what you’re trying to express.”
Leonardo takes the painting. He doesn’t argue because in his heart he knows Paddy is right. He thanks him and apologizes. He says he isn’t thinking straight because Lisa’s non stop complaining is doing his head in.
“Who the hell is Lisa?” asks Paddy.
“She’s the woman in painting,” says Leo. “She’s paying me a ton of money but she’s such a sour puss it’s really hard to make her look even slightly happy in the painting.”
“That’s great Leo.” says Paddy, “Look, I’ve got Michelangelo coming over at two, so can you like . . . you know . . . piss off.”
“Okay Paddy,” says Leo, “but I’m going to have the last laugh on her. I’m going to call the painting something like, That Feckin’ Moaner Lisa.”
Paddy laughs, “You might be a genius Leo, but you’re some feckin’ tulip.”
And with that Leonardo goes off into the pages of history and Paddy goes off to the nearest pub.
We all go to a Paddy at some stage. Whether it’s Paddy the art supplies guy, Paddy the doctor, Paddy the political, Paddy the therapist, or Paddy the guru, the idea of the all knowing expert is a velvet notion. That other person who knows what to do. Someone who will give me the answer and relieve the awful burden of uncertainty.
Just like Leo, we eventually realize that no one outside ourselves has the answer. It’s fine to ask for feedback and suggestions, wise even, but it only works if I ask knowing that when it comes to my life, I am the creative genius. Without that knowing I’m open to the wrong kind of influence. If Paddy had been a different kind of person he might have given Leo all sorts of advice that could have sent him off in the wrong direction and the Mona Lisa would never have happened, at least not as we know it.
Knowing I’m the creative genius behind my life can help when I’m feeling a bit lost or confused. I can stand back like an artist and ask myself, what would this situation convey to others? What does it convey to me?
If I get sick, for example, instead of throwing myself on the Doctor or Therapist’s couch demanding to be “fixed”, I can focus on what is being conveyed by the sickness.
If I’m strapped for cash, instead of frantically shuffling money from one credit card to another in the hope that friction alone will cause the money to expand, I can wonder about what the lack of money is conveying.
If I find myself taking extra long bathroom brakes at work I can wonder what my intimidating boss conveys.
If I find myself having meaningless sex with someone while snorting coke and taking swigs from a bottle of Jack, I might conclude, like Dewey Cox it conveys, “This is a dark fucking period.”
When you look at your current situation as a passage in a great work of art what does it convey?
Paddy, indeed. Brilliant.