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Analytical design compared to landscape sculpture work

I realize that this question/comment seems somewhat removed from the strict discussion of analytical design and displays of evidence. Maybe not.

I wonder, in your sculpture, what you bring from your "analytical graphics" procedures, and, equally important, what you choose to leave out? Your "information" work is at the service of the data, that is, it's aesthetic content is subsumed by concerns about efficient transmission of relationships. However the sculpture is driven by "private" sets of data, or at least by impulses that are not specifically efficient in intent. Language becomes fuzzy when talking about fine art, I suspect because the viewer or participant is, in fact, free to contribute personal associations to the experience. As students of the visual arts, we are trained in the intepretation of data that is specifically personal. There is, of course, the listing of formal characteristics (medium), but realistically, a viewer's appetite is for work that is not demanding or reliant on concrete data, but is instead indulgent of emotive wandering.

What is different about your "stance" or mental posture when you view your analytical work and your sculpture and prints? I'm not so much asking about the look of a thing, but the demands of a thing.

I attended your workshop in Atlanta in June (after the course, I asked you about the dressage rider on your website, if that "rings a bell") and enjoyed it very much. A few days later, I saw the Mark Lombardi drawings that are touring a few museums this year. Even though there is service to concrete data in his work, there is also a deliberate effort to ensure that the work is referred to as art, (emphasis on paper quality, hand execution, etc.). One's analytical side would disqualify a chart or graph for using data of questionable nature, however I doubt that I would penalize Lombardi's work if a link or two was found to be questionable. I would still have the "art stuff" to fall back on. I would offer the work of Sol Lewitt. His work is notable for its attempt to introduce the legend, or guide to its content and execution. His concern about the de-mystification of the art object has been consistent and unerring. I too am an artist. My work is essentially geometric, in most cases using "pseudo-random number" tables for its execution and internal structure. (note: while I would like to offer images of my work, it's a bit like looking at an Ad Reinhardt painting on a monitor)

Is there a level of rigor that, once achieved, pushes an object or situation out of the realm of art towards the status of a science. Where's that line, what's that level? I am not wondering about qualitative judgements, just questions about posture and expectation.

Or is this just a question about the perception/existence of content? Or the expectations of content?

Any thoughts?

Robert Patterson

-- Robert Patterson (email)

Response to analytical design / sculpture

The goals of art and analytical design differ. In art, for me, the idea is to go for beauty. In analytical design, the point is to assist thinking about evidence.

Both art and analytical design require an intensity of seeing, and of understanding and developing strategies of construction that produce what sorts of seeing. For example, both art and analytical design require great attention to both the figure and the ground, the volume and the negative space created by the volume. Or, another example, the properties and interactions of color.

Again, for me, both involve craft, hands-on work, modification, adjustment, rethinking, incremental improvements on a master template.

The master template comes from . . . well, somewhere. Often the master template derives from understanding what variables are relevant. That is essential: a good understanding of what is relevant to the problem at hand.

In situations of multivariate complexity, such as art and, often, analytical design, it is necessary to reduce that potentially overwhelming complexity. It is helpful to have excellent pre-chosen materials and techniques. For example, I have settled on certain fonts long ago (Monotype Bembo, Gill Sans, Bell Centennial) and it would make me taffy-headed to rethink font choices for every new problem. Or in sculpture, to have settled on stainless steel or on native stone found in our neighborhood. One has to be careful here, however: the fixed variables may block learning and produce stereotyped work. That's the characteristic defect of some routine academic research.

Sign taped on the margin of my computer screen: "If you're not doing something different, you're not doing anything at all." I suppose it is a matter of finding the right place to be different.

Another strategy for gaining general understanding is to find and admire excellence, to think over and over about the best work in a field. This can be a helpful approach in new field: intensely attend to the very best and avoid the rest. For me, it is almost always more worthwhile to reread the best writing in a field rather than read a lesser work for the first time; or to think harder about the Cubi series of David Smith, the torqued ellipses of Richard Serra, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial of Maya Lin than to spend time with lesser work.

Now how does one know what is best? There needs to be a decent, well-developed, and endlessly exercised sense of taste for quality, of making strong choices between the excellent and the rest. An open mind but not an empty head: an intense willingness to see things and an intense willingness to make judgements about quality.

Finally, the choice of problem is crucial. The problem to be worked on should be important, relevant, and a problem that can be solved at least partially.

This is meant largely as a description of what I try to do; it is not meant as advice on how others should go about their work (although I did recite the paragraph immediately above to a lot of graduate students over the years).

-- Edward Tufte

Response to Analytical design compared to sculpture work

Most analytical design takes place on the 2-dimensional flatlands of paper and computer screen, producing an overall scene (which may at times provoke a multiplicity of readings to various observers of the design, as in the case of a map or detailed aerial photograph).

Abstract landscape sculpture is intensely 3-dimensional, producing an overt multiplicity of scenes. This obvious point has taken me a long time to put fully into the practice of constructing sculptures. The idea is to conceive and view pieces from many points located on invisible concentric spheres centered on the piece, then in turn multiplied by the many variations (time of day, seasons) in natural light falling on the piece. The multivariate complexity is immense compared to most flatland designs.

Thinking about this multivariate complexity is no doubt helpful in analytical design. Some of the best flatland analytical designs have been done by cartographers and architects who constantly work in complex multivariate spaces.

-- Edward Tufte

I attended the LA class in January, 2007 and was surprised by the landcape and sculpture photographs and the relationship to graphics. I remembered researching Japanese stone gardens some time back and found a trove of work outlining the visual rules for a pleasing garden. A good paper on the interesting relationship between graphical representation and Japanese gardeing is "VISUAL PERCEPTION IN JAPANESE ROCK GARDEN DESIGN" by Van Tonder and Lyons:

The 2005 work has very dense graphics displaying the Gestalt design concepts of proximity, smoothness and similarily

-- Wayne Socha (email)

Threads relevant to nature studies: