Innovation and Visualization: Trajectories, Strategies, and Myths

By Amy Ione | Go to book overview

Chapter 8
The Nineteenth Century: Inside Out and Upside Down

Dispel from your mind the thought that an understanding of the
human body in every aspect of its structure can be given in
words; for the more thoroughly you describe, the more you will
confuse the mind of the reader and the more you will prevent
him from a knowledge of the thing described; it is therefore
necessary to draw as well as describe … I advise you not to
trouble with words unless you are speaking to a blind man.

Leonardo da Vinci, 1452-1519, Italian Renaissance artist,
architect, and engineer


1. Modern Life

A. N. Whitehead once made the remarkable observation that the greatest invention of the nineteenth century was that of making inventions. But he did not point out that this remarkable invention was based in large measure in that century’s sudden realization that techniques and technologies can only be effectively described by written or printed words when demonstrative pictures accompany them (Ivins, 1978). In our age this seems bizarre in light of the degree to which the pictorial has replaced the word and networked imagery instantly connects all parts of the globe. In the nineteenth century, however, the elevation of images was just as radical within the context of their lives. Indeed, one of the extraordinary circumstances we find unfolding is an environment that needed to integrate not only a wealth of imagery, but also radical revisions of spatial, mathematical and physical assumptions.

Jonathan Crary, an art historian tells us that:

The nineteenth century saw the steady demolition of Kant’s
transcendental standpoint and its synthetic a priori categories,
detailed in his first critique … Once the philosophical guarantees
of any a priori cognitive unity collapsed (or once the possibility
of the self-imposing its unity onto the world, in post-Kantian
idealism, became untenable), the problem of “reality
maintenance” gradually became a function of a contingent and

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