Machine Learning Is Bringing the Cosmos Into Focus

How Data Became a New Medium for Artists

How Data Became a New Medium for Artists

 

Art is as much a product of the technologies available to artists as it is of the sociopolitical time it was made in, and the current world is no exception. A growing community of data artists is creating conceptual works using information collected by mobile apps, GPS trackers, scientists, and more. Data artists generally fall into two groups: those who work with large bodies of scientific data and those who are influenced by self-tracking.

It’s unlikely Claude Monet would have been Claude Monet without the portable paint tube, which allowed him to work outside and experiment with capturing natural light. Andy Warhol wouldn’t have been Andy Warhol without the modern movie star or the mass-produced Campbell’s soup can. Art is as much a product of the technologies available to artists as it is of the sociopolitical time it was made in, and the current world is no exception. A growing community of “data artists” is creating conceptual works using information collected by mobile apps, GPS trackers, scientists, and more.

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Data artists generally fall into two groups: those who work with large bodies of scientific data and those who are influenced by self-tracking. The Boston-based artist Nathalie Miebach falls into the former category: She transforms weather patterns into complex sculptures and musical scores. Similarly, David McCandless, who believes the world suffers from a “data glut,” turns military spending budgets into simple, striking diagrams. On one level, the genre aims to translate large amounts of information into some kind of aesthetic form. But a number of artists, scholars, and curators also believe that working with this data isn’t just a matter of reducing human beings to numbers, but also of achieving greater awareness of complex matters in a modern world.

Yet the question remains whether data art can endure as much as a simple, striking handprint on a cave wall. On the one hand, data art may just be a link in a chain of artists who record and display their personal movements— some of whom will be displayed at the world’s leading museums decades from now, some who will fall by the wayside. On the other, data art may be the apogee of self-expression—a digital fingerprint that says more about modern man, and the inevitable forward march of time, than anything artists have been able to produce before.

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