The Daily Heller: Information Illustration Overload

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The acronym TMI (too much information) has become common in our information/data-drenched climate. Everyone needs to know everything. And what complicates the flow of effluvia is that the majority of people on media and the internet are happy to share what they know. Multiply billions of bytes of minutia by minutes in the year, and add to that the definitely necessary facts and figures we need to know, and the servers around the globe are likely to explode someday soon.

Back in the 1920s, pictorial statistics, now known as data visualization, began as a means to reeducate societies and inform the masses through accessible and understandable signs and symbols. Visual languages emerged from the most complex to the most reductive.

Among my favorite infographics, and I say this in all sincerity, can be found in a little book by O. Spurgeon English M.D. titled Personality Manifestations in Psychosomatic Illness: Visual Aid Charts to Psychotherapy, published in 1952. Sadly, the illustrator is anonymous, but he deserves accolades for describing in expressive painterly terms how psychology and psychopathology interface with human behavior.

This may look like it came from a graphic novel, but it’s spot-on serious. Nonetheless, despite the uniqueness of vividly illustrating these manifested problems and their impact on all parts of the body, from the gastrointestinal tract to the emotional center of the brain, what we have here is arguably a form of visual TMI.

That said, although medical art has improved greatly, there is something refreshing about these art brut paintings. They don’t pull punches. The characterizations may or may not represent you or me on the outside, but on the inside there is something here so truthful that is audaciously sublime. Thank your Mr. Data Visualizer, whoever you are.