The Art and Beauty of Getting it Right

Meaning of my blog title

A great artist working on a painting wants to get it right—to reach full satisfaction with the result and an enlightened internal state of the mind. Perfection is of course extremely hard to accomplish, but there is beauty both in the struggle to reach the goal and in the outcome if one is successful. The word "art" in this blog refers not only to what artists produce but to anything human beings do to reach beauty, excellence, or anything else of considerable value.


Starting a blog is an adventure for me: I don't know what will happen. But there are some themes that I want to entertain such as beauty in life, beauty in work, beauty in science and engineering. And, of course, I am fascinated by beauty in art as well. I use the word "art" also in the sense of skill as in "the art of archery" [1]. Also, I consider a highly successful creation of any kind "a piece of art". Ferrari Testarossa is a piece of art, and so is a pair of scissors by Fiskars; so is the one-page-long article in Nature by Watson and Crick where they suggest a structure for DNA [2]. They conclude this landmark paper with one of the most famous sentences in the scientific literature: "It has not escaped our notice that the specific pairing we have postulated immediately suggests a possible copying mechanism for the genetic material." This sentence, in this context, is a piece of art.

In his Turing Award Lecture, the great Donald Knuth put it this way: The possibility of writing beautiful programs, even in assembly language, is what got me hooked on programming in the first place. [3]

So, in The Art and Beauty of Getting it Right, "Art" means the skill or methodology of getting it right; "Beauty" means the aesthetics of the accomplishment, including the pain and struggle as well as the end result; "Getting it Right" means succeeding to do something in a way that one is truly satisfied with.

In the next blog, I plan to describe the process that led to my "Aalto talk" [4] at the opening of the academic year 2021–2022 at Aalto University ("Day One" [5]). This time I felt that I got it right. I will also reply in the next few blogs to the 22 questions that were posed to me during the Aalto talk. Actually, these questions triggered me to start this blog, so I am grateful for the questions as well as for the many positive remarks I received. Thank you all who asked and commented—seriously or just for fun!

In Helsinki, November 18, 2021

Risto Ilmoniemi

[1] Herrigel, E. (1948). Zen in der Kunst des Bogenschiessens, Weller Verlag; Zen in the Art of Archery, translated to English by R. C. F Hull, several publishers; Zen ja jousella ampumisen taito, translated to Finnish by Margareta Sipola, Esoterica Publishing. 

[2] Watson, J. D. and Crick, F. H. C. (1953). Molecular structure of nucleic acids: a structure for deoxyribose nucleic acid. Nature 171 (4356), 737–738.

[3] Knuth, D. E. (1974). Computer programming as an art. Communications of the ACM 17 (12), 667–673.



Pieces of Art: Ferrari, Nokia 3310, Fiskars scissors, Watson&Crick sentence
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