Chumby: An art gallery on my desktop

I love wandering round art galleries – but I don’t really like the way most of them are organised. Most galleries take the “museum” approach of labelling and categorising. All the Old Masters are over in that wing, separated into rooms by country and year. The modern pieces are over here, cubist that way, surrealist this way.

Categorising art like that is great if what you want is to go and look at the Dutch Old Masters without the distraction of those nasty modern pieces getting in the way. Or if you want to look at a pile of bricks and an unmade bed, without those staid old portraits and bowls of fruit trying to drag you off into the world of the mundane.

But I don’t really like my art categorised. I like it spontaneous. I like it unexpected. I like to be surprised. I like to stumble across a melting clock right next to a stalking tiger, or an epic sea battle alongside Oberon, Titania and the bloke with the nut. Give me different artists’ views of the same scene, or interpretations of the same event, even though they’re separated by time or culture. Give me soft blurred impressionism right alongside ultra-realism, and pointillism alongside cubism.

I suppose what I want from art is no different to what I want from music. An art gallery’s works can be cut and dissected in a myriad of ways, just how I see collections as freeing us from the historical constraints of the music album. I love the serendipitous pairings of tracks that can come from playing your music in random mode; I guess I want a big “shuffle” button at the entrance to a gallery.

This desire to be surprised by randomness is perhaps one of the reasons why I like my Chumby so much. In amongst the clocks and calendars I’ve added plenty of widgets which either display pictures from the internet, or which are small works of algorithmic art in their own right. When one of these widgets randomly appears on the screen, it can be an amusing, intriguing or fascinating distraction for a few seconds. Some of the images can be so random that they serve as a great reminder of the sheer amount of variety present in the human race.

I’ve pulled together a few of my favourite widgets into one virtual Chumby below. I don’t view them all in succession like this – on my real Chumby they’re interspersed with a large number of other channels – but it does give you an idea of the kind of random things that appear on my screen throughout the day:

The particular selection of widgets there pull data from these websites:

I have two particular favourites: The first is “Doodles – Diary of a Chumby” which actually makes some sense of the inane witterings of that part of the Twitter crowd who think we really want to hear their every internal thought tweeted. The second is the “COLOURlovers Pallettes” widget – it’s amazing how evocative and interesting just a collection of four or five colour bars can be.

Edit, 1 May 2012: Ironically of the two widgets that I called out for particular praise, the first is no longer available and the second doesn’t seem to work anymore.

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