Inspired by Johanna Drucker (“Humanities Approaches to Graphical Display” Digital Humanities Quarterly 5), my data visualization is an attempt to create something that is more interpretative, rather than certain. I was interested in the relation between an artist’s work and the personal, sometimes tragic, events that occur in that artist’s life. For example, do “tragic” events lead to more prolific output, specific style or point of view? Do “happy” events have any effect? Do personal events have no impact on an artist’s work at all? Although widely exhibited and studied by art historians and feminist scholars, 17th century Italian Baroque painter Artemisia Gentileschi’s life is not yet fully understood. Her paintings famously depict heroic women from the Bible, but it’s her personal life – as a victim of sexual assault, and sufferer of torture at the subsequent trial of her rapist – that often overshadow her important achievements. By plotting her body of work and life events in a timeline, I hoped the data visualization would reveal some qualitative aspects of this artist.
Data Collection and Tableau
I created my own data set using the publication Orazio and Artemisia Gentileschi (Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2001) and the Wikipedia page. I added all of her known paintings, titles and years (circa) to a spreadsheet. I also added major life events such as birth, death, marriage, birth of children, and the aforementioned tragic events. I have constructed this data based on my own subjective ideas of what is considered a “major life event”. I have also taken some liberties with the artwork data as the dates are uncertain. Again, I am reminded of one of Drucker’s statements, “Data are capta, taken not given, constructed as an interpretation of the phenomenal world, not inherent in it.”
I have no experience using Tableau so it was a learning process trying to get something resembling a data visualization. Other than the drag and drop functionality, I found the advanced features very difficult to figure out. I appreciate how the public website allows you to see worksheets created by other users but I did get overwhelmed at the possibilities this software offers.
At the same time, I was frustrated by Tableau’s limitations. It assumes to know the types of charts you want based on your data and leaves little room for interpretation. I can see why this is a great tool for statistical data and large data sets. Perhaps, a Tableau “story” would offer more flexibility.
I’m somewhat satisfied with the final result although the points end up looking very random and scattered. I could not deduce whether Gentileschi’s personal life had any impact on her output. She seemed to produce paintings steadily, even while experiencing catastrophe as a teenager, having children and moving from city to city. However, hovering over the points to reveal the paintings, I believe, help put her life into context. For example, in 1612, she is raped, her assaulter convicted, but she also marries later that year. Around the same time, she paints one her most famous pieces, Judith Slaying Holofernes, showing powerful women engaged in a violent act against a man. She would go on to paint this scene multiple times throughout her life.