Data researcher Jean-Baptiste Michel made his first piece of art … and the Whitney Museum acquired it

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JBM-1 Jean-Baptiste Michel’s “I wish I could be exactly what you’re looking for” (2014). The words that appear in it are tweets that start with “I wish.” Photo: Courtesy of Jean-Baptiste Michel

Jean-Baptiste Michel has sold a small sculpture to the Whitney Museum of American Art. A major museum acquiring a piece—that’s a big moment for any artist. But this sculpture is the very first piece of art Michel ever created.

[ted_talkteaser id=1227]Michel is the data researcher who showed what you can learn using Google’s Ngram Viewer at TEDxBoston in 2011, and who calculated the mathematics of history at TED2012. He credits one thing with inspiring him to take his love of data and turn it into art: joining the TED Fellows program.

“I’m not an artist. I never thought that I could do anything in that area,” says Michel, in the Brooklyn office space he shares with several other TED Fellows. “I really consider…

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