Saturday Afternoon Live with Edward Tufte
During a recent visit to New York City, I stumbled in to Edward Tufte’s gallery, ET Modern, only moments before he was to give a free talk at 2:00 PM. I had been meaning to visit the gallery, near the spectacular High Line in Chelsea, and fortuitously walked in oblivious to the fact that he would not only be there, but would be giving a periodic “report” on progress for his artistic work. Tufte, whom I also wrote about in 2009, remains a whirlwind of activity at 70. He is variously an artist, author, entrepreneur, teacher, scientist and philosopher. His gallery includes only his artworks, and also sells copies of his large, beautifully-produced self-published books on how best to convey graphical and statistical information, the most recent being 2006’s Beautiful Evidence. In 2010, President Obama appointed him as a member of the Recovery Independent Advisory Panel. He consults, works as an artist/sculptor and teaches one-day courses around the country, “Presenting Data and Information.” All this comes after 33 years of teaching at Yale and Princeton. The main part of his talk was illustrated with projections of photos of his large-scale, open-space sculptures. He then answered questions about a variety of topics, including how he works and manages his time. He figures that he has perhaps ten more years of productive work. He also stayed to talk informally with people afterward. Although he is famous, he makes himself accessible. There is a demand for his work, and a continued interest in what he is doing and thinking, with considerable media coverage.
He is a role model for today’s knowledge workers, by building on a considerable body of work developed over many years; teaching and learning; being highly entrepreneurial (he self-published before it was the cool thing to do) and remaining relevant, with a name synonymous with quality. Whether or not he would consider it in these terms, he has a stellar personal brand. Drawing lessons from his work, and how he accomplishes that work, can be crucial for those faced with the necessity of producing a consistent high-quality output, making our thoughts understood and creating and sustaining a market for our work.