A brief update: I wanted to note the passing of Ellsworth Kelly, whose 7 decade career produced some of the most interesting and subtle works of contemporary American art. Several of his pieces inspired this blog post, and I have updated it 2 years later with one additional example.
I recently gave a talk at NerdNite Seattle on the beauty of data (deck will be posted to slideshare soon). A main point of my talk was that good/effective data analysis (not simply limited to data visualization) draws from both art and science. From science comes a sense of objectivity, rationality, and gritty truth. From art we take wonder, introspection, and aesthetic. This interplay between science and art is what sparks my interest in the "quantified self", and I believe the growing popularity of data science in everyday life.
Good data analysis, like good art, should cause you to quietly reflect on what the subject means to you, how it includes your life.
In data visualization we also have an obvious parallel with art, and many of the best visualizations are constructed using principles (and often by practitioners of) graphic design. Many examples can be found on Reddit's awesome /r/DataIsBeautiful. However, often it seems that people are more worried about how a graphic looks, and less about what question it addresses. A celebration of data visualization as a sort of pop art has sprung up. This isn't a bad thing, but I find it interesting.
In my NerdNite talk I decided to play a game, which I will reproduce here for fun: Art or Data? I have chosen a few select examples of data and art that look similar (I've also cropped/scaled them to be extra misleading). Your job is to guess which panel is which. Answers follow below the fold...