Works in Progress - Summer 2013

Megaliths by a Polymath

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By Tom Bentley

June 10, 2013


 

 

Edward Tufte, aka The da Vinci of Data, has spent a career explaining the theory and expression of visualized information. But these days he is pursuing something heavier and not at all theoretical: large, often whimsical sculptures of stone, wood, and steel set on his rural Connecticut property.

Tufte calls his current works megaliths, and there are now some 700 tons of them. “My work in data theory continues in parallel with my sculpture,” he says. “The wonderful thing about big outdoor sculpture is that it lives in the real world. Over the years, I’ve stared at a lot of data visualizations on the glowing flat rectangle of the computer screen. So I love the reality and physicality of joyful artworks residing in nature.”

A professor emeritus of political science, statistics, and computer science at Yale University, Tufte has sold more than 1.5 million copies of books on graphic design and how to obtain the highest information value from data presentation.

Today Tufte crisscrosses the country lecturing on the value of presenting information-rich data simply. He’s drafting what he calls a book-movie—another melding of science and art titled “The Thinking Eye”—about seeing deeply and intensely and then reasoning about what you see. “My work is secretly about making people smarter,” he says. “In some ways, seeing is thinking.”


Tom Bentley is a freelance writer in Watsonville, Calif.


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