What is Data Art? Data Viz?

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myCitySounds Data Art installation

As a long-time practitioner of both Data Visualization and Data Art, I’d like to share some thoughts.

While Data Art might seem like just another Data Visualization, it’s created with completely different motivations.

Why even make the distinction? For my own work, it is helpful to keep the goals of the project in mind at all times. It informs all of my choices, and puts the edges on the puzzle.

If I’m working on a Data Visualization, there are so many constraints that push me to create a usable (but beautiful) tool for someone else to use. I have to put that person first. What patterns do they need to see, is there a priority of what patterns are more important than others? How can my work make it easier for others to make decisions or observations?

Or maybe I need to create something that allows others to explore. To explore patterns that might otherwise be confusing? They want to dig, and compare. To gain understanding.

Empathy is my greatest asset, when I’m working on a Data Visualization. It is part of why I strive for simplicity and beauty in my work. If the person who has to stare at my charts, finds them pleasing to look at then maybe I’ve made their work a little more pleasant. Maybe I can help them see the patterns they need to see with less strain.

When I’m creating a Data Visualization, I need to keep accessibility in mind as well. The most obvious constraint is color. If it’s built for a general audience, it must be readable by anyone with different color vision.

When I’m creating Data Art, my mind is in a completely different space. The data becomes part of my medium. Creating art with code isn’t as direct as drawing with ink or painting with watercolors. The process can be very similar to that of creating a Data Visualization or any other programming task, but it’s much less constrained. My creative decisions are based on how I want to express myself.

While these categories help me focus on what I’m trying to accomplish, they are not mutually exclusive, and some works are both usable and Art.

What makes it Art is the intent and vision of the Artist. The value or quality of it is the judgement other’s bring to it. It might not be considered “Great Art”, or be valued and sold in galleries, but it is still Art.

I had written a bit about this on the DVS Slack channel, but posts over there become unavailable after a few days. Fortunately, I also tweeted about it. My tweet-storm on the subject is below:

Written by

Data Visualization Consultant. Generative and Data Artist. Creative Coder. Founder of GalaxyGoo. http://kristinhenry.github.io/

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