Brain Pickings

Posts Tagged ‘data visualization’

27 MARCH, 2013

History’s 100 Geniuses of Language and Literature, Visualized

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“Genius, in its writings, is our best path for reaching wisdom … the true use of literature for life.”

“Genius is nothing more nor less than doing well what anyone can do badly,” Victorian novelist Amelia E. Barr reflected in her 9 rules for success. But what, exactly, is genius? In their latest project, Italian visualization wizard Giorgia Lupi and her team at Accurat — who have previously given us a timeline of the future based on famous fiction, a visual history of the Nobel Prize, and a visualization of global brain drain inspired by Mondrian — explore the anatomy of genius, based on Genius: A Mosaic of One Hundred Exemplary Creative Minds (public library) by literary titan Harold Bloom.

Playing off Bloom’s use of the Sefirot image — the ten emanations of the Kabbalah — to organize the taxonomy of the one hundred geniuses of language he identifies, from Shakespeare to Stendhal to Lewis Carroll to Ralph Ellison, the visualization depicts the geographic origin, time period, and field of each “genius,” correlated with visits to the respective Wikipedia page and connection to related historical figures.

Bloom writes:

All genius, in my judgment, is idiosyncratic and grandly arbitrary, and ultimately stands alone. … My placement of the hundred geniuses is hardly one that fixes them in place, since all the Sefirot are images constantly in motion, and any creative spirit must move through all of them, in many labyrinths and transformations. … Since the ten Sefirot form a system in constant motion, all of my hundred persons could be illuminated almost equally well by the other nine Sefirot, beyond the one where I group them, and I intend this book to be a kind of mosaic-in-perpetual-movement.

Appearing here is an exclusive English-language version of a forthcoming spread in Italian literary supplement La Lettura.

{Click image to enlarge)

At the heart of Bloom’s ambitious taxonomy is a concern with the very nature of genius:

What is the relationship of fresh genius to a founding authority? At this time, starting the twenty-first century, I would say: ‘Why, none, none at all.’ Our confusions about canonical standards for genius are now institutionalized confusions, so that all judgments as to the distinction between talent and genius are at the mercy of the media, and obey cultural politics and its vagaries.

Echoing Virginia Woolf’s counsel on the art of reading, Bloom argues for cultivating an individual sensibility of genius-appreciation:

Literary genius, difficult to define, depends upon deep reading for its verification. The reader learns to identify with what she or he feels is a greatness that can be joined to the self, without violating the self’s integrity…. Genius, in its writings, is our best path for reaching wisdom, which I believe to be the true use of literature for life.

More than a decade after Genius: A Mosaic of One Hundred Exemplary Creative Minds, Bloom followed up with The Anatomy of Influence: Literature as a Way of Life, further exploring the interwoven mesh of genius.

See more of Giorgia’s wonderful work on her site and pair it with some visualization lessons from the world’s top information designers and data artists.

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13 FEBRUARY, 2013

A Visualization of Global “Brain Drain” in Science Inspired by Abstract Art

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Mapping the global flow of scientific talent by way of Mondrian and Kandinsky.

After their wonderful visual timeline of the future based on famous fiction and visual history of the Nobel Prize, Italian information visualization designer Giorgia Lupi and her team at Accurat are back with another exclusive English version of a piece they originally designed for La Lettura, the Sunday literary supplement of Italian newspaper Corriere Della Sera — this time exploring the phenomenon of global “brain drain” in science, with an eye towards understanding the reasons why researchers might choose to leave their countries of origin and pursue careers elsewhere.

(Click to enlarge)

Combining three sets of data — a World Bank survey, results from a research paper titled Foreign Born Scientists: Mobility Patterns for Sixteen Countries, and The Times’ ranking of the world’s best universities — they contrasted the number of researchers per million people (y-axis) with the percentage of the country’s GDP devoted to scientific R&D (x-axis). Also displayed are unemployment rate, female employment rate, percentages of foreigners and emigrants in population, emigrant researchers, and emigrant researchers returning to their country of origin. The background arcs map where scientists come from and where they go.

Some surprising and counterintuitive patterns emerge: Japan, held as a paragon of technological innovation, actually attracts very few foreign researchers. Denmark, despite a GDP budget significantly larger, doesn’t do too much better than countries like Belgium, France and Germany. Canada, Australia, the United States, and Switzerland attract — and export — the greatest number of scientists. Also apparent is that researchers move around much more than the average person — the red and blue solid histograms are longer than the hollow ones — except in Latin countries like Spain and Italy, whose economies are more strongly tied to the construction industry and thus might require the import of more workers with lower levels of education. Higher female employment is also correlated with attracting more foreign researchers.

But what makes the project particularly fascinating is its cross-disciplinary inspiration: The idea came to Lupi after a recent visit to MoMA’s Inventing Abstraction exhibition. She tells me:

Abstract art and data visualization are related indeed in terms of visual languages, colors and lines to create compositions which can exist even independently from visual references in the world. I [wanted] to come up with a data visualization able to replay that very geometric feeling, pleasant aesthetic and colors’ related flavor I had throughout my whole visit, passing by Mondrian’s, Malevich’s, and Kandinsky’s pieces. … It immediately occurred to me that each of the countries we were analysing data on, should have been represented as a compound complex element, the parameters of which should have been visually related by the positioning, rotation and spatial correlation of those geometrical shapes I was sketching down.

Her entire approach is remarkable:

[For me,] the search for inspiration in unusual contexts is not a mere divertissement, but should be intended as an attempt to analyze the aesthetic qualities of things that are naturally pleasant to the eye, in order to understand how they can be abstracted and re-used as core principles and guidelines in building visual compositions.

This is why, when I’m sketching the things that happen to attract my curiosity, I always try to find a way to interpret both the single visual elements and the overall composition as construction blocks, iconic ingredients for other recipes.

I always ask myself what I would like to read from the shapes, colors and arrangement, trying to understand how their visual quality can be transferred to a different meaning. … If these rules are working in that context, there should be a way to apply them to the things I’m working on. It doesn’t work all the times, but when it does it really leads to unexpected epiphanies. … The things that inspired me work only when I’m able to re-apply the principles behind them to another context.

Like many famous creators, she relies on her sketchbook:

I’m in fact mainly attracted by balance, repetition and composition: I’m getting used to always keep a sketchbook with me, because I learned that I can really understand the patterns that I see in reality only when I try to reproduce them on paper. The very act of reproduction introduces a level of abstraction that helps focus on the aspects of the composition that caught my attention.

See more of Giorgia’s terrific work on her site, then complement it with some visualization lessons from the world’s top information designers and data artists.

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24 JANUARY, 2013

The Dogs of NYC: An Interactive Watercolor Map of the City’s Canine Caucus

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Visualizing the geography of common breeds and names.

New York City has a special relationship with its dogs — just look at the treasure trove that is The Big New Yorker Book of Dogs, one of 2012′s best art books. Now, the data team at WNYC — consisting of John Keefe, Stephen Reader, Steven Melendez and Louise Ma — has put together this fantastic map of NYC’s dog names and breeds, explorable by area, down to the ZIP code. The data is displayed over Stamen’s stunning watercolor map of NYC, one of the works featured in Art Pickings.

The project site also features a charming New York Dog T-Shirt Generator.

Complement with John Homans’s poignant What’s a Dog For?: The Surprising History, Science, Philosophy, and Politics of Man’s Best Friend.

Thanks, @alexgoldmark

Donating = Loving

Bringing you (ad-free) Brain Pickings takes hundreds of hours each month. If you find any joy and stimulation here, please consider becoming a Supporting Member with a recurring monthly donation of your choosing, between a cup of tea and a good dinner:





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Brain Pickings has a free weekly newsletter and people say it’s cool. It comes out on Sundays and offers the week’s best articles. Here’s what to expect. Like? Sign up.