Hack #4

Hack 4: Excel Art

For this week’s hack, the objective was to challenge, complicate or use differently, a piece of software. At first I struggled greatly to think of an idea that was clever, that I liked and that would express something about the software itself. After a long time of thinking I decided I wanted to exploit and use one of the Microsoft Office platforms. I wanted to invade these one of these platforms, because I was thinking about work. We use these Microsoft Office platforms to do work, whether it be Microsoft word to write essays, Excel for large amounts of data, or PowerPoint to give presentations. I wanted to challenge this and figure out a way for one of these platforms to be used in a fun or at least creative way, contrary to the boring “work” usage of them.

At first I thought of typing up an essay in excel. However, I didn’t quite like the idea. Although it is true that Excel isn’t used to type up essays, it still was work related. It still focused on work, which I really wanted to stay away from, so I piggy backed off that idea, and thought of art. Art and work aren’t exactly polar opposites, but typically one wouldn’t associate them with each other. The use of art in the Microsoft Office platforms aren’t very prominent, so I decided to pursue Excel art.

The concept of Excel art is simple. You just fill each cell with a different color, and when you zoom out, you see a larger picture, a final image if you will. Personally for my Excel art, I made the Nyan cat, also known as the pop tart cat, however, anything is possible. I really enjoyed this type of art, because unlike drawing or painting, which is more physical and actually involves some talent, this type of art is easy and everyone can do it.

In class we talked about what we have learned about each of our individual software’s by completing this hack and what type of previous knowledge the user must know before being able to use said hacks. For my hack the user must know how to use excel, however, that is pretty much all the user must know. It is simple, yet creative. One can really express themselves through art, and through excel art. I loved the simplicity of the my invasion, and enjoyed that it is truly accessible by anyone, which is the way art should be. And contrary to the typical work use of excel,  Excel art isn’t for work.

This type of invasion of software can be characterized as an invasion of Form and function. Mark Sample says that form and function of a game can be described as, “It’s the procedural rhetoric of the game, the playable assumptions of the game.” Although Sample is talking about videogames, the same concepts can be used when talking about software. The assumptions of Excel in this case is that it is used to analyze or organize data, however, with this invasion, there is no data. The only activity is changing colors in each cell, which goes against all assumptions about excel.

Another aspect of this invasion, is filling in the colors in each cell itself. Typically in excel we fill each cell with data or large numbers. However, as expressed already, we are only filling each cell with color. We are adding value and information in a completely different way and getting an athletically appealing visual as a result. Coloring normally plays a role in organizing information, and helping important pieces of information stand out but here its entire purpose is made for a bigger picture, literally. The value of the color, and the usage of color changes drastically from the original intent of colors, to this new purpose for colors.

Another way to view Excel art is that of coloring, or adult coloring. In most adult coloring books, the action of coloring is calming and soothing. People fill out these coloring books so they can relax and de-stress. However, while working on my pop tart cat, I realized that filling it out and actually producing Excel art was very stressful and not as calming as I would have imagined. I would get really OCD about each cell, and I felt the picture had to be perfect. I believe this is because of my association with excel. Excel is associated with stress and accuracy in data, not for coloring. Thus I became more stressed when coloring on excel even though it is nearly the same as coloring in real life. Just the association with excel, and the fact that it isn’t ever used for coloring made me nervous and made the experience much less enjoyable.

This invasion itself was a simple one, but it still has many theoretical applications that go beyond just the surface.