Recently, Collin circulated an invitation through Rhetsy (“A handcrafted gift basket of rhetorical miscellany, delivered promptly to your inbox on a weekly basis”) to share lists of fives—what people have been reading, hearing, watching, playing, waiting for, etc. in anticipation/dread of the new school year. Naturally, I’ve thought about trying to construct a unique list to the point of overthinking: total deconstruction. Lists I had started: five items I habitually buy that inadvertently lead to only eating tacos; five of my favorite objects from Tender Buttons; my five favorite female electronic music composers; and five songs from Brian Eno’s Small Craft on a Milk Sea that make the perfect score/narrative to an rpg.
But for me, the start of the school year makes me think about how I think. The materiality of my thinking is still something I’m learning about and working to accept. Throughout my schooling, I have gotten feedback on being “spacey”, slow witted, and difficult to follow in the manifestations of my work/thinking and of my body/gestures [I have vivid memory of a professor making me speak while my hands were clasped underneath the table, looking directly in their stooped face, as they repeated “you’re giving us nothing to follow // you’re not making sense”]. I rely heavily on media/material juxtaposition and invocation; the use of referent, the act of movement. I think in exploded diagrams and in between associations. I can’t make eye contact when talking because I need to see to follow. It’s only recently that I realized it’s okay that I process in layers and associations and traces through diagrams. Each time I visit my dad I learn more about myself through him by way of looking at his hand drawn maps for directions; his diagrams of the placement of parts in cars he’s working on; and his illustrations of concepts like how joints in woodworking are fitted. From him, I realize I shouldn’t be surprised that I want to wallpaper my apartment in butcher paper and that I love visualizations.
One of my favorite collections of visualizations is a 1974 book titled Graphis Diagrams. Founded in 1944 to celebrate/promote communication design, this collection is the165th (special) issue of Graphis, edited by founder Walter Herdeg, The Artist in the Service of Science (almost as good a title to possess as Professor of Nonhumanities). In his foreword, Herdeg explains that the purpose of the book is
to show the designer how abstract facts or functions which cannot be simply depicted like natural objects may be given visual expression by suitable graphic transformation. It also reviews the means of visualizing physical and technical processes which are not perceptible to the eye.
The introduction, written by co-founder, senior vice president and creative director of Corporate Annual Reports, Inc. Leslie A. Segal, provides an interesting conversation about the synthesis of art and science in diagrams on the points of elegance, sincerity, complexity, and morality. My favorite pieces of the introduction:
In art as in science, a deceptively elegant statement may have value as a technical exercise; but as communication it is worse than no statement at all.
A bar chart is nothing but the skeleton of a story until the designer decides that it’s a message that should be shouted or whispered, or giggled, or just admitted.
Of the 177 diagram filled pages, it is difficult to choose only five, but here are the five diagrams that always give me pause when flipping through:
the graphic visualization of abstract data
Experimental digital map of Africa. It consists of four transparent sheets…and one basic outline map of the continent. Taking as the centre the basic latitude and longitude, mesh patterns were spread out in all directions at intervals of 150 km, and the data which were previously prepared were indicated at the intersections of the meshes. This made it possible to discover constantly what changes were undergone by each of the sheets at the same point under the same conditions.
Diagram from an article on colour perception…The dots represent the degree of perceptibility of certain colours on a given background colour.
Three stages in the development of a thunderstorm: 1. Thermal imbalance in a thunderhead. 2. Build-up of electrical tension. 3. Equilibrium restored.
Diagram of a cut-out view into the invisible belt of charged particles that embrace the planet Jupiter. The planet itself is sectioned to show that Jupiter’s temperature rises towards the centre (indicated by colour) and also to show that it may have no detectable solid surface inside its atmosphere. The difference between the axis of rotation and the magnetic axis is also indicated.
Pictorial flow diagram explaining the functions of the human circulatory system.
These are a few of many visualizations that make me curious to see. That make me embrace what I used to understand of myself as “scatterbrain”. That make me think of my dad’s Post-It schematics and what my grandfather would design from the daily statistics he collects from newspapers if he had his own computer. That make me question vision, sensation, and how I know.