Composition of Color in Museum Paintings by Cynthia Chen

Motivation. As an artist, I have always been fascinated by the use of color. My favorite artistic medium has always been acrylic, due to the vivid and vibrant colors it is able to depict. I wondered, “Would it be possible to somehow convey the beautiful diversity of colors among various artworks?” When approaching this project, I stumbled upon the Harvard Art Museums API, which granted access to a rich dataset of thousands of works in the Harvard Art Museums collection, including hundreds of acrylic paintings.

How was the data visualized? Every circle in the visualization represents one painting. The concentric ring bands that form each circle encode the proportional color composition of the piece. The location of each painting in the piece is determined via the UMAP dimensionality reduction technique, which projects painting data onto a 2D space and places similar paintings closer to each other. The result is a blooming of color, and by putting all the painting circles in one frame, one can get a sense of the diverse composition of color used across the museum paintings. In the interactive piece, you can hover over a circle to see the piece’s title and artist, and click on a circle to open the artwork’s official page on the Harvard Art Museum website.

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