Database Art

Check out this blog post about collaborative database art:  Download the Excel portraits of painter Vincent van Gogh and play around with it. 

I work for the military, so I deal with spreadsheets every day.  We use them to measure and analyze data, and we share them with one another as a way of backing up assertions regarding the meaning of the numbers.  The wonderful thing about storing data this way, and the reason the military loves it, is that you can use Excel’s tools to sort the data in multiple ways, to drill down to the data that’s relevant to your command, to hide/ignore the data elements that won’t affect your decisions, and to add or delete data at will. 

With this in mind, I examined the van Gogh portrait.  It can’t be sorted and you can’t drill down, because there is no text associated with the cell color.  That could easily be rectified by going in to each cell and typing a code in the same color as the background.  What you can do is rearrange, add, or delete data.  You can stretch or shrink the columns and rows.  In the end, the only resemblance you picture will have to the original is its color scheme.

The utility of this kind of art, as described by the manufacturer of a software that develops software to automate this process, is the ability to customize spreadsheets with logos.  Really?  I kind of think it’s just a toy.  It reminds me of the found poem web sites we’ve looked at, because it allows the use of new media to re-imagine something.  And yes, maybe sometimes something poignant happens, but most of the time, it’s just a party trick. 

I’ve been much more impressed with databases such as the whale hunt, but this pixel art certainly shows that databases aren’t just for the military anymore. 

Go to for my version of van Gogh.