What is Data Art?

Step into the mesmerizing world of Data Art, where data transforms into breathtaking creations that evoke emotions and unravel hidden stories. Are you ready to explore the data-driven masterpieces of artistic expression?

Luke Treder | Ed. MiMi L. | 7 February 2023 – updated on 19 September 2023

What is Data Art?

Data art is a form of digital art that uses data as a medium or source material to create visually appealing and meaningful representations. It often involves the use of algorithms, software, and technology to turn data into something that can be seen, such as a graph, chart, or animation. The goal is to convey emotions to the audience by sharing insights, patterns, or stories hidden within the data in an accessible and creative way.

As Kirell Benzi eloquently puts it, “Data Art possesses an objective truth, born from data, rather than the artist’s imagination.”

Historical Roots

Kynaston McShine, Information (1970 exhibition) Installation image (1970) - Agora Digital Art
Kynaston McShine, Information (1970 exhibition) Installation image (1970) Source @ Courtesy of MOMA

Still emerging, Data Art has nonetheless existed for decades. What sets it apart, from the other digital art categories, is the complex interaction between material, process, and expression. 

Conceptual Art is considered a prequel to Data Art. In 1970, at MoMA in New York, Kynaston McShine’s Information Exhibition (1970) mesmerized visitors with a blend of technology and art. Amid typewriters and televisions, McShine unveiled the Information Age’s artistic potential.

Unexpected Creativity

  • Malar1981, Sparkline Chart in Tableau Computer Application (2022), - Agora Digital Art
Malar1981, Sparkline Chart in Tableau Computer Application (2022), Source @ Courtesy of the author

At first, Data Art pieces may not appear as art, but they turn out as creative expressions. Intentionally or otherwise. The transmission of works in question naturally leans more towards digital media.

One example is Sparklines. A word coined by Edward Tufte based on a long-existing utility. Sparklines did not originate for artistic reasons, but in the author’s words it is simply “data-intense, design-simple, word-sized graphics”. They were for this reason widely embraced for data visualisation, therefore, Data Art. 

Michael Fogelman, NES Sparklines on Pen Plotter (2018), Source @ Courtesy of the artist
  • Ben Shneiderman, Treemaps for space-constrained visualization of hierarchies Computer Application (1998), - Agora Digital Art
Ben Shneiderman, Treemaps for space-constrained visualization of hierarchies Computer Application (1998), Source @ Courtesy of the author

Treemaps were originally a project intended for resolving “hard-drive” space. Yet to Ben Schneiderman’s wonder, the application became embraced for artistic possibilities. He acknowledged its “data displayed” and “patterns revealed” were part of the appeal and his Treeman Art ProjectEvery Algorithm has Art in It” found a place at the same Museum Of Modern Art referenced above. Thanks to him, data arguably continues to engage our curiosity. 

Stories and Anecdotes

And amidst all of this, it is worth noting art’s original definition relates closer to “skill” rather than “creative expression”. As we are aware, this perspective has since massively changed towards the creative side. No wonder how Data Art has emerged. The plurality of digital sources gives a rich variety to reflect upon. 

So, with its appearance very interconnected, do the sources of expression matter? If that even does here? It breathes as live and ever-mineable art. 

What emotions do you think Data Art can evoke? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

Aaron Koblin Flight Patterns 2008 - Agora Digital Art
Aaron Koblin, Flight Patterns Computer Application (2008), Source @ courtesy of the artist 

To this effect, the artist Aaron Koblin once argued that “data can make us more human”. As part of a project to put this forward, he made Flight Patterns. The summary purpose explains it all: Interpreting a series of flight data and once processed, a wide range of human behaviours appears. 

Aaron Koblin explains: “It’s one thing to say 140,000 planes are being monitored by the federal government at any one time, and it’s another to see that system as it ebbs and flows”. 

This is beyond what you and I see in previous examples, it’s how we all flow through technology. 

Institutional Influence

Having Koblin collaborating with UCLA makes you think. Tufte works for Yale University, Schneiderman for the University of Maryland, and Patterns was a UCLA project. These contributors of Data Art have a specific institutional function and have been well-positioned to enable this art through their access. 

And this comes full circle to McShine’s quote. Artwork transmissions in terms of data are increasing to a degree that institutionally-connected individuals are privileged to enable them. This makes Data Art particularly unique.

Exploring Contemporary Data Artists

Explore the vibrant world of Data Art with contemporary visionaries like Golan Levin, Joshua Davis, David McLeod, and Rafael Lozano-Hemmer.

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2023-09-19T14:30:35+01:005 February 2023|Art and Technology, Computer Art, Digital Art, New Media Art|0 Comments

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