Tufte is an expert in the presentation of informational graphics, includng informational design and visual literacy. His books, The Visual Display of Quantitative Information and Visual Explanations have become must-reads for anyone in the field. Currently, Tufte wears two hats. He is still teaching courses in information graphics, but devotes most of his time to making installation art. He does not produce outsider art, but he is an outsider in the art world.
How someone with degrees in political science, statistics and computer science approaches making art is the crux of what I wanted to find out. I have heard a lot of artists talk about their work, but none have discussed the air spaces that animate their work. The stone walls that Dan Snow is building for Tufte are called “Silent Walls.” Air and light are as much a material of the work as the stones.
The way people access a work of art, their physical path, Tufte believes should be non-directional. He believes in subtle prompts. His gallery has works displayed in a non-linear style. The set-up of chairs, sofas and rugs beckons the viewer to do as they like. This is part of his theory of how people see. Everyone has their own cognitive style and that style should not be engineered by a specific path. Tufte is as interested in making art as he is in re-framing the way we experience art.
In a recent article by Jonathan Franzen in The New Yorker entitled, A Rooting Interest: Edith Wharton and the problem of sympathy, Franzen begins “The older I get, the more I’m convinced that a fiction writer’s oeuvre is a mirror of the writer’s character.” This is the way I felt about Tufte’s art. His origins in the visual display of information inspire the art he makes.