Gifs as art (or is it art as gifs?)

More examples of this new emerging art form. It’s not just about clipping from movies!

by Carl Burton, via Colossal

by Carl Burton, via Colossal

By artist Carl Burton… Although technically very impressive, I find them slightly uncomfortable, don’t you?

by Carl Burton, via Colossal

by Carl Burton, via Colossal

It turns out that I’ve posted Carl’s work before on this blog. He did the artwork for the second series of Serial, which I referred to in a post about podcast tech. Stunning graphics.

by Carl Burton

by Carl Burton

Check out more of his unusual but hypnotic work on his Tumblr page.

Data visualization, trivia and creativity

I’m in London this week for, among other things, a course by David McCandless, author of Information is Beautiful and Knowledge is Beautiful, and pioneer of original data visualizations. It is an excellent workshop, which stimulates parts of the brain you don’t normally get to use (whatever your profession), and helps you to see concepts and information more clearly. What I most got out of it was the ability to ask better questions. Instead of “how have print book sales correlated with e-book sales?”, which is slightly ordinary and generic, how about “which category of book sales has been most impacted by e-books, and how has that progressed over time?”. Instead of “how is climate change affecting temperatures?”, how about “how has the temperature range varied by country over the past 20 years?”. Instead of “which bus lines have the worst delays?”, how about “what are the bus delays caused by, what time of day do they happen, how many people use the bus at those times, and how does all this vary over the course of a day/week/month?”. You can find out more of David’s work at Information is Beautiful, and I thoroughly recommend his TED talk.

The concept is so simple in retrospect. We are biologically predisposed to favour images over text. We survived by being able to detect changes in patterns, movement amongst the reeds, berry-coloured spots in the bush. The language of image is much more universal than any other, and a visualization can transmit so much more in a short period of time than can densely packed numbers or verbose text. So why has it taken us so long to realize that we can do so much more than pie charts and bar graphs?

In part, because of technology. Data as a snapshot in time is interesting, but if it can be easily updated it becomes so much more useful. Good old Excel charts did the trick quite efficiently, but were not exactly grabbing. Adding colour and nifty labels helped. But it was all still rather flat. Faster chips and more efficient programming gave us more powerful processing and more flexibility in presentation. And the trend of interdisciplinary studies and collaborations added a layer of relevance to a broader audience. Mix in some individual creativity and personal style, add the increasingly rapid spread of ideas via the Internet, and you get a data visualization revolution.

from Information is Beautiful - by David McCandless

from Information is Beautiful – by David McCandless

As a total numbers geek (Applied Maths major, and a CFA), this stuff is thrilling. But it’s also exciting and relevant for anyone interested in arcane trivia (who gets more press attention, Han Solo or Luke Skywalker?), culture (the relative success of every major film of the past 7 years), politics (imagine being able to display the differences between the parties in an easy to understand visual… oh, wait, David’s done that), economics (thought you knew what a billion dollars looked like? think again), dogs (what do you mean, the English Spaniel isn’t bright?), social media (there’s a fascinating breakdown of sites by user gender balance)… the list could go on. Check out his website for some fun graphs, charts and whatever-you-call-thems.

from Information is Beautiful - by David McCandless

from Information is Beautiful – by David McCandless

McCandless isn’t the only one doing stunning things with data. Polygraph has some amazing interactive graphics about culture-related themes (“What is the definition of punk?”, “How popular is older music?”, “Which rappers have the broadest vocabulary?”). The New York Times and the Washington Post are producing some slick interactive graphics. FiveThirtyEight, a blog/online magazine born for data journalism, is producing some cool stuff. Andy Kirk runs an impressive blog and website about data visualization. There’s some incredible creativity going on in the field.

from The New York Times

from The New York Times

But McCandless seems well on his way to becoming the “rock star” of the discipline. His visual style and his sense of humour make his talks and workshops anything but dry. His belief that we can all be better data journalists is contagious. And his approachability and “professorial” air left us all encouraged and inspired to get out there and create. I walked away with pages of scribbled ideas for information that I didn’t even know that I wanted to know.

Did you know that lipstick sales go up in a recession? That toast is much more popular worldwide than cereal as a breakfast tool? That Easter and just before summer see the highest concentration of Facebook status updates from “in a relationship” to “single”? That very little of the story told in “The Imitation Game” really happened? That “awesome” is a more popular word than “badass”? These are just some of the tidbits we gleaned from the stream of graphs he showed us as examples. Data really is very, very interesting. Especially if you can express it well.

Active furniture and the Internet of Things

Very cool, very strange, very hypnotic and potentially practical. How do you add motion to a table? How can you send messages using furniture? How can you actively interact with hard surfaces?

Transform, a project of the MIT Media Lab, blends technology and design to turn a solid, static object into a dynamic, active participant. Surprising, a bit noisy, and quite mind-blowing… Is it just me, or does it also bring to your mind the concept of furniture as a pet?


Collaborative art in the city: netart Unnumbered Sparks

If you think that creating is fun, imagine the exhilaration at creating a giant artwork together with the people around you, in the middle of a city. Unnumbered Sparks is a collaboration between artist Janet Echelman and Google Creative Director (and data artist) Aaron Koblin.

What makes this sculpture unique, literally, is that the designs projected in light on the webbing are created by the spectators, via an app on their smartphones. They can draw, scribble, swirl and splash colour and movement onto the luminous “canvas”, which means that it’s always changing, never the same. The shape of the canvas also changes, billowing with the wind, folding in on itself, taking over the sky.

collaborative netart unnumbered sparks

As impressive as this looks on the screen, it must have been quite something in reality.

(And, while the term “netart” is increasingly being used to describe art created on the internet…. this really is netart. Hah.)


Art for art’s sake? An amazing exhibition website design example.

This is one of the rare examples of an exhibition website that seem almost more art-worthy than its content… (I don’t mean to editorialize, just to point out that the design of the website is pretty amazing.)


Zero showcases the 2015 exhibition at the Guggenheim museum in New York on modern art from the 50s and 60s. The works are accessed via a clock-like menu, with instant views on mouse-overs. You can view themes or individual pieces, with zoom and more information available.


Whether you like that style of art or not, the web is worth taking a look at for the stunning design. Very clean, playful and luminous.

An Interactive Garden of Earthly Delights

hieronymous bosch

“The Garden of Earthly Delights”, by Hieronymus Bosch

I was at the Prado recently with my son (quality of life: I live within 15 minutes of three of the world’s greatest art museums – jealous yet?), and we stood transfixed in front of this painting for what turned out to be almost an hour. I so wish I’d discovered this interactive version first – the painting’s hypnotic craziness would have made more sense. Although I’m not sure that “sense” is something that you want to have in mind when looking at Bosch’s paintings.

Close-up of "The Garden of Earthly Delights", by Hieronymus Bosch

Close-up of “The Garden of Earthly Delights”, by Hieronymus Bosch

Cinemagraphs: a new media

You’ve probably seen them around but you didn’t know what they were called. Or you did know what they were called, but you didn’t know how they were made. Today I’m going to help you with that.

by Jamie Beck and Kevin Burg,

by Jamie Beck and Kevin Burg,

They’re called cinemagraphs. If you’re wondering why they’re called that, since they have very little to do with either cinema or with graphs, it has to do with the latin roots “cinema” (= movement) and “graph” (= I write).

They’re not quite movies, and they’re not quite photos. They are much less annoying (or funny, take your pick) than gifs, and much more arresting than still images. Readers love them, brands love them, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see innovative journalists start to use their powerful counterpoint to liven up a story.

by Jamie Beck and Kevin Burg,

by Jamie Beck and Kevin Burg,

To most of us they’re new, but they’ve actually been around since 2011, when photographer Jamie Beck and and web designer Kevin Burg came up with a way to blend video with still photography, to create an effect that preserves a slight movement and gives it a prominence it wouldn’t otherwise enjoy. Time is suspended, and a glimpse of permanence lends emotion that neither a video nor a still image could achieve. If you think that’s too poetic, take a look at some and tell me that you don’t feel it too.

by Jamie Beck and Kevin Burg,

by Jamie Beck and Kevin Burg,

How are they made? Apparently it’s not as complicated as it looks, especially if you know Photoshop. You choose the timeframe of the video that you want the movement from, and with masks, layers and loops, you superimpose the “stillness” of the first frame image.

So, is it a still image? Or is it a moving image? Or is it something else entirely? Like gifs and videos, we have here another example of media that can only be enjoyed on the screen. With their subtle messages and artistic choreography, cinemagraphs will give multimedia content a different feel. What will be interesting to see is to what extent they affect the message rather than just illustrate it.

Japanese video dance

I’ve written before about the impact of video backdrops on stage performances, and the technology and the techniques seem to be getting better and better.

Here’s a very cool example I came across this morning, from 2011:

“Kagemu” is the name given to the duo comprised of video artist Nobuyuki Hanabusa and dancer Katsumi Sakakura. Surprising, original, supremely creative, and it’s easy to see how the duo have been an inspiration to so many video artists and performers.

Punching holes with swirling lines

An amazing interactive screen app by the artist LIA which lets you think you’re controlling the image, but you’re actually only influencing it. Move your mouse around the screen and watch the hypnotic lines follow and swirl. Hold the mouse still for depth. Press the “a” or the “f” keys to go faster or slower. Click on the screen to erase and start again. Absolutely enthralling.

From - withoutTitle

From – withoutTitle (click to launch app)