Data Has a History of Inspiring Artists

A chart from

As I mentioned in my last blog post, I’ve been asked to write a new column for Professional Artist magazine, which will take a fresh look at what types of technology will be of interest to artists. In my first column, I’ll be checking out data, which in many ways I consider the backbone of much technology. And although I could probably write a series of books just on this topic, I pinpoint a few targeted ways that you can use data to help you further your career. So, please check out that article in the upcoming June/July issue (on newsstands May 1).

Painting by Numbers

But data has actually been an inspiration to many artists over the years. Here are two of my favorites:

The first, and undoubtedly one of the most interesting examples of artists being inspired by data occurred in the late 1990s: It was a project and book by the Russian artist duo Komar and Melamid called Painting by Numbers: Komar and Melamid’s Scientific Guide to Art. What they set out to do was extremely provocative, but also utterly fascinating: They set out to paint works of art not based on a personal vision, but on survey questions, letting survey data guide their aesthetic and taste. They painted various versions of a “Most Wanted” canvas as well as its opposite, a “Least Wanted” canvas based on survey questions that were posed to random people in various geographic locations, including the U.S., China, France, Russian and others.

A chart from
A chart from

You may not actually like the paintings, but I can assure you, the project is fascinating. For more on these artists, check out: or

The second, and more recent, example of artists inspired by data is the tumblr website It’s an irreverent but irresistible blog, filled with fun posts on why we’re fascinated with charts. I think you’ll enjoy it as much as I do.

Terry Sullivan is the former editor of Professional Artist magazine and the former technical editor at American Artist magazine. He currently is an editor at Consumer Reports, where he covers digital cameras, camcorders, smart phones, printers and digital imaging. He is also an artist and musician. Follow him on Twitter: @TerryCR.