Illegal prime number

Numbers make beautiful art — especially illegal numbers.

There’s something beautiful about making art with mundane tools, making something creative with something because, not simply in spite of, its limitations. And there’s likewise something surreal about Microsoft’s latest ad campaign for Office for the Mac: get artists to make subversive art with its old version of Office for Mac, which still (cough, cough) isn’t Intel-native. But that’s exactly how the Office:mac team is promoting their software, and to be perfectly honest, I fully expect the new Mac version of Office to yet again trump the version for Windows.

Just what will you find on the Art of Office site?

  • Phillip Torrone, my friend from Make/, demonstrating an “illegal prime”, a prime number associated with copy protection that’s illegal under US law. (That’s right. Microsoft is now actively promoting a DMCA violation as art!)
  • Mark Mothersbaugh of Devo fame, making artsy postcards in Word.
  • My personal favorite: El Salvadorian artist Pixelfreak makes pixellated art out of Excel cells.

Mark Mothersbaugh

Mark Mothersbaugh is not releasing a Devo reunion album produced entirely in PowerPoint, but we can dream.

I’m not sure this is inspiring me to get excited about Office 2008, but it is getting me excited about making office art. (Hmmm, OpenOffice fans want to strike back?) And it coincides roughly with the release of Helvetica: the Movie.

I love boring things.

Of course, this gets me thinking along visualist lines: PowerPoint, for one, can export to QuickTime files, and has for a long time. This means it’s a perfect time to create some surreal business-y motion graphics for your next set. Heck, you could even do some video of the screen in Word or Excel to get really adventurous. If you do make something like that, whether or not you upload them to the MS promo site, let us know.

Pixel art

Little-known tool for pixel art: Excel spreadsheets.

Related — art in Microsoft Office is nothing new. David Byrne infamously made art with PowerPoint, of a very abstract nature (and I’d still love to see more of this as motion graphics, not just stills):

Envisioning Emotional Epistemological Information (David does have a way with words, with tongue in cheek)

But the greatest PowerPoint art of all time has to be PowerPoint as social criticism, as in the case of Edward Tufte’s essays, presentations (ahem) and book:

The Cognitive Style of PowerPoint

(Hint: he doesn’t think PowerPoint is entirely good for society.)

Well worth mentioning Tufte here, as well, as his work was a big influence on Ben Fry and the creation of Processing, one of our favorite tools. And, in turn, Processing expresses the desire to help users get beyond the rigidity of pre-baked tools like, well, Microsoft Office. (No offense, Microsoft.) On the other hand, if you can’t eliminate the presence of Office for your life, you can abuse and subvert it.