When the lights went down at TEDxMet, a TEDx event hosted by the Metropolitan Museum of Art in October, anyone looking very closely could see a tiny light in the first row, casting a dim glow on a lucite desk. The desk was created for artist Alice Attie, who sat with a piece of paper and pen in hand, drawing intently as each speaker took the stage.
The drawings were part of a project she calls Class Notes, which started as visual reimaginings of Columbia University graduate lectures on physics and philosophy. Her collaboration with the Met captured the spirit of that project, using the talks at TEDxMet as fodder for her art. As you’ll see in the gallery below, each drawing is a delicate web of words spoken during the talk, intricately arranged into a shape that captures the feel of that talk’s content and delivery. In short, they’re the prettiest class notes you’ll ever see. The Met chose five of these drawings and made prints of them, giving one to each member of the TEDxMet audience.
Looking at the beauty and exactness of the words themselves and the shape they form, it’s a wonder that Alice was able to create them spontaneously without pausing to think or fix mistakes. Andrew Solomon: Depression, the secret we share “It’s really my hand that I have to credit,” she said in a phone conversation with us. “It moves forward of its own volition, and I just have to let the line move in the direction it needs to move without forming a preconception.”
Creating the image above of Andrew Solomon’s talk — “Depression, the secret we share,” featured on TED.com today — was an especially moving experience for her. Looking back at it, she thinks of Kafka. “Kafka believed that language was a kind of mediation between two worlds,” she says. “One of those worlds allowed itself to be articulated — insisted on it, in fact — and the other was so deeply within that it was never able to enter the field of language. At one time, Andrew must have had a pain that was so profound that he was silent, but he gave voice to that experience onstage. He transformed that darkness into a shared experience.”
Attie thinks of her drawings as a transformation as well, a bridge between what we feel and what we have the means to express. “I go back to Kafka,” she says, “and this idea that we touch something inaccessible with something accessible, like language or drawing.” Looking at each piece, they are both completely different from the talk that inspired them and eerily accurate representations of what it felt like to hear them — you see each talk through her eyes.
Below, see a collection of Alice’s drawings from TEDxMet. Click on each image and use the magnifying glass to zoom in, to see the full effect of her extraordinary handiwork in detail.