It’s all an estimate

Sometime in 1995 I picked up a copy of “Fear of Physics: A Guide for the Perplexed.” I don’t quite remember whose recommendation this was or what triggered it, but it was delightful read. Mostly the book is about estimating. That’s right, estimating. About how physicists use estimating to understand the universe.

This morning I was painting and this occurred to me:

I’d never thought about it like this before. Painting, especially with my style, is just a process of estimation. I’m not trying to create photo realism. I’m making portraits that contain colors and brushstrokes That often have little to do with reality. Actually, they have mostly little to do with reality. What happens is the placement of color and certain brush strokes pull the rest together to estimate an image of a person. It’s pretty cool when it happens well.

The funny thing is that this is what I do at work, only with data. I work with large quantities of data that are themselves estimates. From those I create more estimates, estimates that are highly precise, but estimates nonetheless. Today was the first time I thought of these things as being so similar. In the past I thought about the relationship in terms of design, visualization, and layout, not estimation. So I think this is pretty cool as well.

It also takes the stress off. Estimating is easier than duplicating. Really though, estimating is just another way to say “suggesting,” which is what artists are generally taught to do. Estimating is more comfortable to me for some reason, probably  because of the parallel to the rest of my life.


Be nice. It won't hurt either of us.

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