Data and Art: Visualizing Museum Collections

Jayme Yen, On the Boards, USA, Christian Marc Schmidt, Schema Design, LLC, USA

The rise of data is disrupting the core of our society, impacting us deeply as both individuals and members of communities. The arts, and more broadly, all manner of cultural production, provide ways for society to process change. One particularly poignant example is the Italian futurist movement, which preceded the Bauhaus and modernism in its celebration of technology and the machine at the height of the industrial era. A more recent example is net art, an art form leveraging the web as a distribution channel and a response to the proliferation of the Internet. Poised as we are today at the dawn of the information era, we are witnessing the coalescence of another movement — data art.

The first part of this workshop will examine recent examples of data art through the themes of Data as Narrative, Data as Mirror, Data as Truth, Data as Equalizer and Data as Interface, focusing on the use of data to generate new forms of creativity and critique. Despite the issues that data presents, many of the examples represent the unexpected moments of humanity that arise from quantification.

In the second part of this workshop we will look at how a museum’s collection can be visualized in an artful, engaging manner using the themes from the first part. We will use Processing, a powerful and open-source tool, to visualize museum collections data (for example from institutions like the Tate Gallery, MoMA, or The Walters Art Museum). This demo will show how quantification and the humanities can live side by side, and how the organization and structure of data itself can be a creative act. No prior experience of programming is required. It is recommended that participants bring laptops to code along, and that they download Processing in advance of the session (

"Data Culture" (Christian Marc Schmidt, ARCADE Magazine), article examining how data is infiltrating culture and becoming the subject of artistic practices. (

“From Paint to Pixels” (Jacoba Urist, Atlantic Magazine), outlines how artists use data from self-tracking apps in their work.

“Big Bang Data Revisited”, an exchange between curator Olga Subirós, scholar Lev Manovich, and issue editors Marvin Jordan and Mike Pepi on the exhibition Big Bang Data: The Processing website has extensive case studies and programming resources.

SF MOMA ArtScope (, an effective visualization of the SF MOMA’s collection.

The Cooper Hewitt Collection Database (, allows browsing the collection via facets like color and topic.

The Tate Collection on Github (, with examples.