From Paint to Pixels

Jacoba Urist at the Atlantic: “A growing number of artists are using data from self-tracking apps in their pieces, showing that creative work is as much a product of its technology as of its time….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. 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….

Current tools make self-tracking more efficient than ever, but data artists are hardly the first to express themselves through their daily activities—or to try to find meaning within life’s monotony. The Italian Mannerist painter Jacopo Pontormo kept records of his daily life from January 1554 to October 1556. In it, he detailed the amount of food he ate, the weather, symptoms of illness, friends he visited, even his bowel movements. In the 1970s, the Japanese conceptualistOn Kawara produced his self-observation series, I Got Up, I Went, and I Met(recently shown at the Guggenheim), in which he painstakingly records the rhythms of his day. Kawara stamped postcards with the time he awoke, traced his daily trips onto photocopied maps, and listed the names of people he encountered for nearly 12 years….(More)