Data Scientist vs. Data Artist

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Data-ArtistI recently became aware of a new whitepaper by Jim Sterne, founding president and chairman of the Digital Analytics Association – “From Data Scientist to Data Artist – Data Sculpting to Shape Business Insights.” You can download the whitepaper HERE but you’ll be required to fill out a form with your contact information.

In the whitepaper, Sterne defines his concept of a Data Artist as follows:

An artist is responsible for creating something new that delivers original insight and evokes emotion. A data artist is responsible for delivering fresh insights from data to help an organization meet its goals. This is the person who takes the output from decision-support systems and turns it into consumable theories, postulates and hypotheses that can be tested and applied to the business. A data artist uses data streams and advanced analytics systems in the same way a regular artist uses oil and brushes, stone and chisels or wood and carving knifes. A data artist must have a firm comprehension of hard science, a sound understanding of business goals and processes, a penchant for creativity, and a talent for communication – a very rare combination.

My gut response to this description is “Huh?” Sterne’s so-called Data Artist is simply part of the skill-set of Data Scientist as I and others have described the profession for a long time now. The ability to understand business goals and processes, creativity and a talent for story-telling are all requirements of a data scientist in my opinion. I do agree these skills coupled with expertise in computer science, machine learning, mathematical statistics, and probability theory is indeed a rare combination. But that’s no reason to split up the discipline into two parts. I’m quite happy with the comprehensive view of data scientist as it stands.

A data scientist is a data scientist. It’s taken decades to obtain the “scientist” descriptor for the profession, and it is certainly no time to dumb it down by introducing some kind of artistic misdirection. Comparing the tools of the data scientist to oil, brushes, stones, chisels, wood and carving knives is a big stretch of the imagination and one that I wouldn’t take to describe myself as a data scientist. I have a feeling Sterne’s creation of his Data Artist incarnation may just be an attempt at differentiation in an increasingly crowded market. Let’s hope that’s all it is.





Speak Your Mind



  1. Scientist and artist are the same in craft and different in media. The name data scientist (computer scientist) does not have any meaning because of the absence of a subject to study. Data engineer is the correct name

    • I have to boldly disagree with you Boris. True Artist is using not just MIND, but body, mind & soul to create the craft which neither Scientist or Engineer could truly comprehend or master.

  2. I see where you’re coming from. Why muddle the definitions?
    Scientists have a deep understanding of data to make the data comprehensible to layman. The more elegantly done the better
    Artists make music, paintings, sculpture, etc. The less analytically done the better.

  3. I agree with you Wendy. Scientists generally and more traditionally often communicate in such a way that incomprehensible to the lay person. Being able to convey the underlining meaning of the data in a visually appealing manner makes it far more accessible to people who wouldn’t understand the raw data. This is the role of the artist. There is space in this world for both