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Visualization and the Art of Metaphor (Half Day)
Jack Ox, University of New Mexico, USA

Key Questions

What is visualization? Why do we need it, and what is the explanation for the growing popularity of the discipline of visualization? Shouldn’t we also consider other senses as possibilities in understanding complex bodies of data? How about sonification, or even better, musification? Is the word perceptualization better to use than visualization because it takes all of the senses into consideration? What is reification? Do you think that visual languages, which are learned, are as effective as “natural” or “archetypal” languages?


You will learn to think differently about the range of metaphors and begin to evaluate the various ways that different professions use them. In your own project of the day you will have the opportunity to be influenced by the historical and current survey brought together in this tutorial. Attendees that are already using visualization methods in their work can benefit from this tutorial because they will be exposed to different ways of visualization as it provides an environment to improve communication skills and the opportunity to acquire visual literacy.

Key Learning Objectives

Provide a variety of ways to think about metaphoric relationships:

  • Try to discern if scientists and artists think and use metaphors differently or similarly
  • Begin to see systems in metaphoric relationships to other systems
  • Start to think in new ways to make complex data comprehensible to others
  • Engage participants in a project that will expand the way they previously used metaphor
  • Benefit from a class discussion of the clarity of metaphoric thought in one’s own project of the day


Students in various disciplines (arts and sciences) that traditionally work in other media
and would like to integrate visualization into their work to enhance communication of
ideas and concepts:

  • People who already know and use the concept of visualization but would like to be exposed to a variety of methods.
  • People who would like to be exposed to different methods of creative thought.
  • Students who enjoy the opportunity to have a friendly environment critique their thought processes.


Jack Ox is an artist who has specialized in the visualization of music for over thirty years. Last fall she co-created and taught a course called Visualization and the Art of Metaphor with Judith v. der Elst from the department of Archeology at the University of New Mexico. This took place at the new interdisciplinary research lab, the ARTSLab (Art Research Technology Science Lab), which is physically connected to the Center for High Performance Computing. It included an
extensive lecture series and regular lab sections for the students to develop their own, expanded visualization methods. Ox has also given papers at many conferences on intermedia and visualization, and was co-editor on a special section of LEONARDO Journal of the International Society for the Arts, Sciences and Technology called Synesthesia and Intersenses with Jacques Mandelbroijt. Currently she is Artist in Residence and a Research Associate at the ARTSLab and works full time on producing the Gridjam, a real-time, geographically distributed, networked multimedia event including visualization in the 21st C. Virtual Color Organ™ co-created by Ox and David Britton.

Supplementary Description Material

Content, Presentation Style and Duration

This half-day tutorial will have 2 parts. The first part will be the theoretical section including lectures with slides from many different artists and scientists, including the author’s. The second half will be devoted to a practical application of the principles explored earlier with the attendees creating a visualization based on their own experiences. We will then all critique them, with fellow students trying to understand what kinds of experiences have been translated. Discussion and comment is encouraged during the entire session, as the experience should be a learning lab in collaboration with fellow inmates.

Materials Covered

The lecture section of the tutorial will be organized into sections:

  • Taxonomies that convey meaning in their collections and the organization of these objects
  • Artists serving science through depictions
  • Artists creating science, or are they actually scientists?
  • Models created by scientists and artists
  • Visualizations of atmospheres
  • Photographs that convey scientific information but exist in both worlds (art and science)
  • Drawings by scientists
  • Philosophical views expressed by artists and architects

The second section will be devoted to participants creating a “mind map” of what has brought them to this tutorial in Washington D. C., as part of Creativity and Cognition 2007. If they have planned to take the tutorial before coming it is hoped that they will bring materials with them, e.g. photographs, tables, drawings, etc. If they have their laptop computers with them they can use any materials or programs therein to construct this map. If they do not have pre-thoughts or materials we shall provide sets of colored pencils and paper. The subject is intentionally wide open. One could think geographically or philosophically. One can respond with a series of __________ to show the path that leads to the day we meet. Having just been exposed to a wide variety of methods and connection madness, the students should be
able to extend their boundaries and try something risky. The last part will be a critique by the attendees of each other. Before getting the explanation of what was intended we will explore what meaning comes across just from looking at the works.