Many people assume that data visualization is nothing more than graphs or charts. In reality, it is the presentation of data in a pictorial or graphical format. It enables decision makers to see analytics presented visually, so they can grasp difficult concepts or identify new patterns. It can also be art.

In this TED presentation from 2011, artist Nathalie Miebach takes weather data from massive storms and turns it into complex sculptures that embody the forces of nature and time. A perfect example of how data has become a new medium for many artists like Nathalie.

Art is as much a product of the technologies available to artists now as it was in the era of Claude Monet or Andy Warhol. Art is often a reflection of the sociopolitical time it was made in, and the current world is no exception. The distinction between data presentation and data art can be fuzzy, and even the art world still struggles to separate the two.

Art, science and technology came together when Daniel Kohn, a Brooklyn-based painter, spent roughly a year at the Albert Einstein School of Medicine teaching geneticists ways to represent their digital data in more intuitive ways, as chronicled by The New York Times.

The world in which we live is almost entirely governed by algorithms. An algorithm is a sequence of computer instructions, applied systematically by a machine or by software. In the past, an operator instructed a computer and commands were performed. With algorithms, the computer carries out automatic tasks alone, unassisted.

A data visualization from social media. From Wikipedia.

The current explosion of digital data volume requires new ways for this information to be visualized. The processing of the research, retrieval, storage and analysis of this data provides work for evaluation and analysis specialists, as well as for artists. Because while algorithms have seeped into daily life, they’re also edging into conceptual art. Many artists use as material for art the raw data produced by our societies. By blurring boundaries between art and information, data art merges the myth of the romantic artist with the fundamentals in the digital age in which we live.

Unfortunately, art and information technology are still widely perceived as evolving in two very different and conflicting worlds. However, this new generation of artists (who grew up with technology in everyday life) are now working in the field of electronic media and changing the landscape. Using media and IT tools is a creative process that is natural for them.

The goal of data art is to visualize data and make the invisible visible. However, by formatting these reams of data, data artists are also taking a critical look at our society.

What does your data art have to say?

Melody K. Smith

Sponsored by Access Innovations, the world leader in thesaurus, ontology, and taxonomy creation and metadata application.