mark lombardi’s art for network doods

Mark Lombardi is a sociologist’s artist. Sometime in the 1990s, the occasional painter decided to start visualizing his research on political figures and scandals. For years, he collected notecards that documented links between particular people and institutions, but it was hard for him to really see what was happening. Then he came upon the idea of drawing the links as a diagram – just the way a sociologist would. A new career as a cutting edge artist was born.

He called his works “narrative structures,” because they linked groups and people via media reports. I’m a little surprised that his work hasn’t had more impact on sociologists. It’d make a great cover for an issue of Sociological Methodology or Social Networks. Peter Bearman would approve. Sadly, Lombardi passed away in 2000, but we still have his works and his gallery, Pierogi 2000, has issued a book of his work for a new travelling exhibition. Enjoy.

Bill Clinton, Lippo Group and China Ocean Shipping Co. aka COSCO
little rock-jakarta-hong kong c.1990s (5th version),
Graphite and red pencil on paper, 60.5 x 75 inches
Private Collection


George W. Bush, Harken Energy and Jackson Stephens
c. 1979-90, 5th Version


Written by fabiorojas

February 6, 2009 at 4:30 am

6 Responses

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  1. did you break the blog with this post!!



    February 6, 2009 at 9:57 am

  2. Thanks for this, Fabio. I just found this at NPR:

    “A traveling show of Lombardi’s work opens this weekend at the Drawing Center in New York City. NPR’s Lynn Neary spoke to exhibit curator Robert Hobbs, professor of art history at Virginia Commonwealth University, who discusses why Lombardi’s work should be considered art, and not just good research.”

    Perhaps some should talk to you to explain why Lombardi’s work should be considered research, and not just great art.


    Thomas Basbøll

    February 6, 2009 at 12:07 pm

  3. I came across a newspaper review of a show of this guys’ work about 5 years ago. Liked it for the same reasons every sociologist would like it, made some half-hearted to attempts to find out more about him, but gave up after a little while. I subsequently forgot his name and came to regret that I hadn’t saved any of the images to flash in class or decorate the office. I’m happy to have another opportunity.



    February 7, 2009 at 12:51 am

  4. I sense a rather uncritical perspective to Lombardi’s work. And while I am not surprised that it would superficially appeal to network theorists — sort of like, look this guy just painted *our* town! — I believe that academics need to ask artists the hard questions they ask themselves. Interestingly, the drawings suffer from the same problem as network theory as a whole: what do the links capture? Based on the podcast interview with Robert Hobbs, it seems that Lombardi conflated in his representation of ties different sorts of relationships, some of them factual, some of them speculative. Given this, what exactly do we learn from looking at Lombardi’s piece?



    February 9, 2009 at 2:27 pm

  5. Daniel: I take a different view. Art is art, science is science. If art can capture our imagination and our eyes, it has succeeded. Here is what I would say about Lomabrdi’s art: at its best, it’s a nice representation of real and imagine relationship. It allows us to see a set of relationships that’s otherwise murky. the way he draws the networks is interesting, with flat lines and round arcs. I’ll give him a pass on the social science.



    February 9, 2009 at 7:01 pm

  6. If you are not aware of the work of Edward Tufte ( you might enjoy the opportunity to explore the presentation of information. Tufte’s first book The Visual Display of Quantitative Information (1982) became the best-selling title Envisioning Infomation (1990).

    In addition to the basic statistics class, my undergrad program in criminology required a 300-level course in Research Methods for Social Sicences. We never came anywhere close to such tools.

    Visio gives you the ability to draw clouds and bubbles, but how many of us ever do? I worked as technical writer for 20 years and no client ever asked for a network diagram of anything other than a network. Mostly, I did a lot of flowcharts.

    We here are verbal creatures. (The sociology of sociology reveals no surprises.) I just applied to a post-graduate program that asked for a sample of my academic writing. I think they would have wondered how to evaluate a wall chart, even if I had one, which I do not. Now, I’m inspired.


    Michael E. Marotta

    February 10, 2009 at 1:15 pm

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