Running the Numbers

  • #1
Ivan Seeking
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Main Question or Discussion Point

This new series looks at contemporary American culture through the austere lens of statistics. Each image portrays a specific quantity of something: fifteen million sheets of office paper (five minutes of paper use); 106,000 aluminum cans (thirty seconds of can consumption) and so on. My hope is that images representing these quantities might have a different effect than the raw numbers alone, such as we find daily in articles and books. Statistics can feel abstract and anesthetizing, making it difficult to connect with and make meaning of 3.6 million SUV sales in one year, for example, or 2.3 million Americans in prison, or 426,000 cell phones retired every day. This project visually examines these vast and bizarre measures of our society, in large intricately detailed prints assembled from thousands of smaller photographs. My underlying desire is to affirm and sanctify the crucial role of the individual in a society that is increasingly enormous, incomprehensible, and overwhelming. [continued with pics]
http://www.chrisjordan.com/current_set2.php


Depicts two million plastic beverage bottles, the number used in the US every five minutes.
1178745781.jpg
 

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  • #2
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Nice link, thanks. :smile:
 
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  • #3
Hurkyl
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The images are neat, but I think it's rather despicable. Not only does the artist appear to be promoting innumeracy, but trying to moralize through it as well.
 
  • #4
Ivan Seeking
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The images are neat, but I think it's rather despicable. Not only does the artist appear to be promoting innumeracy,
Yeah, and once you start there is no end to it!
 
  • #5
Gokul43201
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The Seurat, and the Ben Franklin reproduction are neat.
 
  • #6
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The images are neat, but I think it's rather despicable. Not only does the artist appear to be promoting innumeracy, but trying to moralize through it as well.
I don't see how it promotes innumeracy.
 
  • #7
Ivan Seeking
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At a glance I assumed that Hurkyl was joking.

A picture is moralizing?
 
  • #8
Hurkyl
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You two did read the page, right?

The main theme of his art is to awe us at the sheer scale of our global society, and I think that's a neat idea.

The problem is that he wants us to "connect and make meaning" with various statistics through this awe: he has specifically stated he wants to blind us with large numbers!

And given his choice of things to depict, I find it hard to believe that the artist isn't trying to send a moral message.
 
  • #9
turbo
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Thanks for that link, Ivan. I like the guy's message and his method of conveying it.
 
  • #10
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You two did read the page, right?

The main theme of his art is to awe us at the sheer scale of our global society, and I think that's a neat idea.

The problem is that he wants us to "connect and make meaning" with various statistics through this awe: he has specifically stated he wants to blind us with large numbers!

And given his choice of things to depict, I find it hard to believe that the artist isn't trying to send a moral message.
Running the Numbers
An American Self-Portrait

This new series looks at contemporary American culture through the austere lens of statistics. Each image portrays a specific quantity of something: fifteen million sheets of office paper (five minutes of paper use); 106,000 aluminum cans (thirty seconds of can consumption) and so on. My hope is that images representing these quantities might have a different effect than the raw numbers alone, such as we find daily in articles and books. Statistics can feel abstract and anesthetizing, making it difficult to connect with and make meaning of 3.6 million SUV sales in one year, for example, or 2.3 million Americans in prison, or 426,000 cell phones retired every day. This project visually examines these vast and bizarre measures of our society, in large intricately detailed prints assembled from thousands of smaller photographs. My underlying desire is to affirm and sanctify the crucial role of the individual in a society that is increasingly enormous, incomprehensible, and overwhelming.

My only caveat about this series is that the prints must be seen in person to be experienced the way they are intended. As with any large artwork, their scale carries a vital part of their substance which is lost in these little web images. Hopefully the JPEGs displayed here might be enough to arouse your curiosity to attend an exhibition, or to arrange one if you are in a position to do so. The series is a work in progress, and new images will be posted as they are completed, so please stay tuned.

~chris jordan, Seattle, 2007
He has NOT specifically stated that he wants to "blind us with large numbers" as you put it. He is trying, in fact, to give more concrete meaning to the statistics by visually showing the viewer what large numbers of things actually look like.
 
  • #11
Hurkyl
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He is trying, in fact, to give more concrete meaning to the statistics by visually showing the viewer what large numbers of things actually look like.
Yes, that's exactly the problem. He wants to be awed at how the scale of these things are so much beyond that of our individual experiences, and he wants us to use that awe as a substitute for understanding statistics in a rational manner. When our reason is supplanted with "oooh, big", that is what it means to be blinded by a large number.
 
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  • #12
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he wants us to use that awe as a substitute for understanding statistics in a rational manner.
I doubt that he wishes to substitute one for the other. Art appeals to the senses of course, and awe is a goal of course, but it does not have to be a substitute, it can easily be an adjunct that gives a warmer meaning to cold numbers. Who knows, getting first an emotional response to big numbers could even turn some people on to stats.
 
  • #13
Ivan Seeking
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Yes, that's exactly the problem. He wants to be awed at how the scale of these things are so much beyond that of our individual experiences, and he wants us to use that awe as a substitute for understanding statistics in a rational manner. When our reason is supplanted with "oooh, big", that is what it means to be blinded by a large number.
The way that I see it, what you called blind, I call perspective. Sometimes it makes sense to step away from the blackboard and try to get the big picture. What this does is to bypass the dilution of the scope, that happens with large numbers in the abstract.

Your logic would suggest that one gains a better perspective by looking at a topographical map of the Grand Canyon, than the real canyon. To fully appreciate the GC, one has to see it.
 
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  • #14
Moonbear
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I don't see how he's promoting innumeracy. If anything, I thought he was trying to make it more tangible to the person for whom those large numbers mean very little.

And, of COURSE he's making a moral statement...that's clearly his primary purpose. Most artists have a purpose in their art, and a whole lot of them have a moral purpose in their art...this one's seems to be to highlight the environmental impact of a lot of things people do, or to comment on our throw-away society. You can agree or disagree with his point of view, that's fine...to me, that's what makes art interesting, that it provokes those sorts of discussions more so than that you buy into the artists' opinions.
 
  • #15
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Some of these pictures remind me of blocks of thousands of transistors on an integrated circuit.

Edit - especially the cigarette one.
 
  • #16
russ_watters
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I agree that this is a misuse of statistics to make a political statement. [edit: not the same as innumeracy. I liken this to those astronomy animations we've seen that show the scale of celestial objects]

I also agree with Moonbear that it does, however, make for interesting looking art.
 
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  • #17
Hurkyl
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The way that I see it, what you called blind, I call perspective. Sometimes it makes sense to step away from the blackboard and try to get the big picture. What this does is to bypass the dilution of the scope, that happens with large numbers in the abstract.
These images remind us the world is a lot bigger than we experience, but that's it. A picture of building blocks doesn't tell me anything about the the state of health care in the United States -- to make this analogy, one has to strip all meaning from the original statistic, leaving only an abstract number behind, and then substitute in an entirely new meaning for the abstract number. That you would suggest this could possibly help one understand the original statistic... there is no emoticon to express my bewilderment!
 
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  • #18
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Yes, that's exactly the problem. He wants to be awed at how the scale of these things are so much beyond that of our individual experiences, and he wants us to use that awe as a substitute for understanding statistics in a rational manner. When our reason is supplanted with "oooh, big", that is what it means to be blinded by a large number.
I think the difference between the number 1,000,000 on paper and the actual sight of a million things is very interesting. That's all. I don't think it encourages innumeracy to appreciate this different perspective.
 
  • #19
Hurkyl
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I think the difference between the number 1,000,000 on paper and the actual sight of a million things is very interesting. That's all. I don't think it encourages innumeracy to appreciate this different perspective.
Neither do I. The problem is that the artist doesn't merely want us to appreciate this perspective; he wants us to use it to "connect and make meaning" of the original statistics.
 
  • #20
turbo
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To most people, when they see numbers like a thousand, a million, and a billion, they start thinking "big number" without an appreciation for the fact that a million is a thousand thousands and a billion is a thousand millions. This artist is helping people conceptualize the stats, and gain an appreciation for just how big these numbers really are.

I read somewhere a while back that the average person enumerating groups of randomly-arranged objects without counting tops out at about 7 items before having to resort to mentally sub-grouping or counting the items to be certain of the total number of items. That's a far cry from having an appreciation for just what a group of a million objects looks like.
 
  • #21
Hurkyl
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To most people, when they see numbers like a thousand, a million, and a billion, they start thinking "big number" without an appreciation for the fact that a million is a thousand thousands and a billion is a thousand millions.
Of course, this art doesn't help with that.


This artist is helping people conceptualize the stats, and gain an appreciation for just how big these numbers really are.
(1) Those are two different things. I have no problem with the latter.

(2) The artist is not helping people conceptualize the stats: aside from some superficial similarities, these images have absolutely nothing in common with the statistics they depict. Telling people that these images can help them understand these statistics is a terrible thing to do.
 
  • #22
turbo
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(2) The artist is not helping people conceptualize the stats: aside from some superficial similarities, these images have absolutely nothing in common with the statistics they depict. Telling people that these images can help them understand these statistics is a terrible thing to do.
I don't understand. If he says "we consume 1,000,000 widgets every hour" and he shows an image of 1,000,000 widgets, he is helping people conceptualize the stats. The people can look at that sea of widgets in his image say "Wow! The US uses up that many of these things every hour." I have a hard time understanding how giving people that "aha" moment visually can be "a terrible thing to do." As art goes, it's pretty darned effective at conveying messages.
 
  • #23
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  • #24
Hurkyl
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I don't understand. If he says "we consume 1,000,000 widgets every hour" and he shows an image of 1,000,000 widgets, he is helping people conceptualize the stats.
No he doesn't. He simply makes them go "ooh, big".


The people can look at that sea of widgets in his image say "Wow! The US uses up that many of these things every hour."
... while having virtually no understanding of what they just said. I could discuss all of the problems in abstract, but I suspect a nice, concrete examples will help you understand:

The building block picture depicts the number 9 million, and is an enormous 16 by 32 foot image.
The toothpicks picture depicts the number 8 million, and is a mere 5 by 8 foot image.

Do you think the typical viewer comes away from these images thinking they saw numbers roughly the same size?

The toothpicks picture is meant to depict a rate of 8 million per month, and is a 5 by 8 foot image.
The plastic bottles picture is meant to depict a rate of 2 million per 5 minutes, and is a 5 by 10 foot image.

The latter rate is over two thousand times bigger than the former. Do you think the typical viewer gets that impression?


These images cannot work without first removing all meaning from these statistics -- and even then they cannot convey those abstract numbers properly. You consider this a good way to "conceptualize a statistic"? Something has been conceptualized, but it's certainly not the statistic...

I have a hard time understanding how giving people that "aha" moment visually can be "a terrible thing to do."
It's terrible when it plants a false idea into their heads.

A celebration of the vastness of society would make an excellent exhibit. Maybe even a gallery that depicts the idiom that the whole is made of individual parts.

But this is a gallery that makes false promises of conveying understanding...
As art goes, it's pretty darned effective at conveying messages.
and because of this, it is even more important that we give it the condemnation it deserves.
 
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  • #25
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I could see Hurkyl on a mountain top cursing at the irrational numbers. :rofl:
 

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