About my Friend Brian “Oscar” Grimm, 1974-2008
My friend, Brian “Oscar” Grimm passed away on my birthday, October 1st. “Oscar”, as he liked to be called, was a graduate of the Michigan School of Art and Design. He started Cardinal Design, LLC, a small company focused on visualizing complicated things, such as science or engineering. With his partner, Tanja Andrews, he also co-founded Freshtopia.net, an award-winning website and video-blog dealing with food, sustainability and the environment.
With Oscar’s passing one of my great friends moved on from earth, and with that the earth just became a little bit less creative, a little bit less cool. In fact, Oscar was one of the most creative and intelligent people I have ever known.
I met him in 1998 as part of a design effort with Perry Samson and his start-up LivingText.com. I came in and started talking about this big international presentation I was going to give about solar physics and space weather. I wanted to do the presentation in visuals, not words, because it crossed disciplinary boundaries, and I had concluded that there was no hope for me to communicate my key message without using a common vocabulary: drawings, animations, and images. But, there were almost no three-dimensional models around and much of the content had to be created from scratch.
Most importantly, the biggest challenge I faced was to learn how to interact with artists – to find a vocabulary that was understandable to both of us. My formulas and special expressions did not work – it took me about five minutes to learn that. We spent hours drawing on boards and napkins. Very quickly I noticed that Oscar asked me to explain how things work, not just how they look. He would start his designs only once he knew how each piece worked, and how they interrelated. His designs were stunning: His animations were shown on TV, his images became title pages of magazines, and his movies stunned amateurs and professional alike. His online videos (also known as “Vodcasts”) earned him two Vloggies, the Oscar equivalent for this art-form.
For me, the biggest surprise was Oscar’s understanding of my research: After working with him for a few years, his grasp of solar physics was superior to the understanding of many professionals, including – to my surprise – many of my PhD students. Oscar would show up with questions that would stun me. His comments often focused on the center of today’s breakthrough research, and he knew instinctively what was important and what was peripheral to our understanding. It was absolutely natural to him, because he was a true artist.
Due to my European roots, I have a better education in art and art history than many of my colleagues I work with. I actually know the difference between Monet and Manet, I analyzed Picasso, it’s relation to Cezanne, and stood once for two hours in front of Paul Klee painting that I found absolutely dreadful. But, it is Oscar who taught me what art is really about, and it is he who has made me understand how important the arts are for our lives today.
Art is about creativity, it is all about finding a vocabulary to talk about the significance of the human experience. It took me a long time to learn that breakthrough engineering and great research are often about that very same thing. Creativity and art are at the heart of progress, and the human condition. Art is also strongly linked with engineering and entrepreneurship today: I am amazed by new forms of communication that are now enabling art today. We are only just starting to understand the connection between engineering, science and art in a world connected by the internet, with pictures taken on every phone, and with an outpouring of creativity that can be shared world-wide -immediately.
Oscar understood this and our countless hours of discussions have forever changed my understanding of the relation between engineering, science and the arts. In fact, he may have done too good of a job: I can no longer think or talk about a new idea, or formulate a plan, without a drawing on a white board, a notepad, or even a napkin. That’s the prime reason our entire wall in the Center for Entrepreneurship is a white board.
Due to the severity of his illness, some of Oscar’s spirit passed on before his body finally gave way. Here is what I wanted to tell him as a good bye: “I am very sad about your passing and have come to say good bye, Oscar. I will always miss you! You touched my life because you taught me new ways of understanding: I loved watching you take a pen and draw on a board – two lines on the board and I could “see it”. I loved your friendly laughter, your hug, your constructive feedback, the way you made me learn things, and I will never forget your enormous patience with me. Thank you! You introduced me to your friends. I now consider them my friends – it’s one of the biggest gifts you could have given me. You understand more about the world than most of us, and I am grateful for everything I managed to learn from you. Good bye, my friend. You will always be in my heart!“