Edward Tufte: The Dispassionate Statistician I
I went to college with a very sharp guy who once claimed that the problem with sociology was sociologists, who were, as far as he was concerned, merely self-proclaimed experts on the obvious. "All sociologists really do," he once observed, "is give names to stuff we already know." This same guy went on to become a wildly successful head writer for the NBC hit show, Frasier, and it later seemed to me that while veering away from sociological study per se, he nevertheless adopted one of that discipline's principal characteristics: he became a self-proclaimed expert. And a rich one.
And so it is with Edward Tufte, Yale statistician emeritus, publisher, millionaire -- and graphic designer. (With apologies to Bonnie Scranton, with whom he collaborated on an original art portfolio of "cognitive art prints" and to Artists Space in New York, supporters of his sculpture, Tufte-the-artist carries hubris to entirely new - and considerably worrisome - levels.) Such is the Tufte allure that the current issue of Wired
features an excerpt from a forthcoming book (and DVD) by David Byrne entitled Envisioning Emotional Epistemological Information,
a title so obviously ripped from the Tufte canon as to appear a parody...
The Art of Elegant Abstraction
In the decade I have spent teaching graduate art students, I have witnessed certain prevailing (if occasionally annoying) themes. Among them, a delirious fascination with the everyday, the banal, the flâneur; an abiding interest in skewing perception and challenging temporal conventions; and perhaps more than anything else, an almost pathological attraction to exposing detritus of all kinds. (Indeed, in recent years I have seen students filming asphalt, cataloguing dryer lint and producing exhaustive photo essays on expired bread tags.) Yet more troubling to me than any of this is their almost evangelical resistance to historical sources, calling them boring, or dated, or worse: nostalgic. Having come of age in an era characterized by technology-enhanced experiences of all kinds, there is a tendency among many 20-something students to harbor a deep skepticism about history of any kind...
The Real Declaration
It is the rare piece of journalism that considers the role of typography in history. Rarer, still, is the idea that such a piece leaves the ghetto of same-old design publications, and pierces the frequently inpenetrable veil of the so-called "popular" press. Boston-based designer and educator Tom Starr's essay on the typographic provenance of the US Declaration of Independence does both: "Typography," writes Starr, "not calligraphy, created America's founding document. Published in the Sunday Boston Globe
in late June, Starr superbly traces the typographic evolution of this symbolic manuscript over the last two centuries calling attention to political, technological and cultural shifts in the life of paper...