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ARTIST’S CORNER The Art Of Programming


The Art Of Programming

How Can We Code To Create?
Author: Calyn Rich
Published: October 2014

Programmers Are Creators

Programmers are, by definition, creators. The majority follow a certain mathematical, methodical thought process, writing line after line of code to produce amazing programs, websites, apps and more. Amidst the universal surge of young and motivated technical thinkers, one question remains. Are they making art? Programming is an art form in and of itself, as it involves fabrication through creative expression. Imagination is involved when implementing functions or even debugging, and programmers can improve such imagination by expanding their cultural and artistic horizons. However, this is a different type of creativity than say, painting or graphic design. Each domain has its own type. Let’s focus on a developer’s creativity and find out how and when it is most apparent.

One element of the tech industry trespasses into the arts, and is the foundation of all user-friendly devices we enjoy today. That element is design. It is at the core of the notorious company, Apple, which established its identity through the Lisa and Macintosh’s GUI (graphical user interface), immediately inspiring other big computer companies like Microsoft. In his thesis, Jef Raskin [1], who helped invent the first Mac, states:

The most heretical statement I made was that my work was based on a "design and implementation philosophy which demanded generality and human usability over execution speed and efficiency."

This has since been a necessity for tech companies trying to reach out to everyday customers. Jonathan Ive [2] became Apple’s signature designer when he attributed playful, approachable and almost human like features to the iMac. Without him, the company would not be where it is today, and the fact that a designer saved a computer company is met with little surprise.

When writing an application, the programmer must step into the user’s shoes the same way a graphic designer would when creating an ad. Hence, programming, like the hardware which houses it, demands a certain amount of artistic input in order to reach out to the customer. “You shouldn’t limit yourself to only one thing. Just because you’re an artist, doesn’t mean you can’t program” stated Tony Fadell, “father of the iPod”, when asked about art and programming.

If technical thinkers can code, then so can creative thinkers. Programming may also be used to create more popular forms of art such as shapes, architectural structures, games, videos, etc. Thomas and John Knoll [3], responsible for Adobe’s famous graphics editing software, Photoshop, both work in visual effects at ILM (Industrial Light and Magic, a division of Lucasfilm), proving that artists can create programs specifically for other artists. The use of practical knowledge in visual expression has become increasingly widespread, in part thanks to the younger generation and the popularization of handheld devices. With programming languages such as C++ and Java, inventive apps are being created for Androids and iPhones to help artists learn, organize and materialize new projects instantly. Productivity apps that allow users to sketch, assemble color palettes, edit photos and videos, distribute work, and even secure copyright are rampant among young creatives. As anyone can make an app, with proper determination and resources, more are venturing into development territory in order to build their own products. So, not only are programs being made for artists but also by artists. One early example of this trend is Pixar, the computer animation company behind Toy Story and a legacy of hit films, who began creating and using their own software, most notably Renderman and Marionette. This allowed them to customize it according to their needs, and represents rare artistic technical freedom. More often than not, artists have ideas for programs, but lack the technical skills to develop them. Perhaps someday we will all be able to execute our visions. Coding will become as pure an art form as oil painting. Following a natural process of innovation, in less than a decade both artists and programmers will code to create.

Bridging The Gap

The future of art is in programming. Coding is a discipline that will help innovate thanks to its growing accessibility through the internet, and free schools such as “École 42”, founded in 2013 in France. It has become popular on a worldwide scale, fed several economies and helped change the way we think. As more artists get involved in this movement, a new demographic could push the boundaries of computer and web applications, operating systems, mobile apps and various programs to materialize ground breaking ideas. There is no real barrier between art and technology, the two co-exist. As philosopher Marshall Mcluhan[4] famously said, “The medium is the message”. The tools with which you create and use to diffuse your work matter. A keyboard and computer screen transmit the same artistic fervor as a pencil and paper. With codes, we can create our artistic vision. In order to spread the knowledge further, grade schools could integrate coding into art classes, and art classes could be suggested to computer science majors. Thinking along the lines of an “each one teach one” approach, programmers could visit art schools to give classes, and vice versa. “Workshops” are a good and fun way of initiating new concepts. This would allow both parties to be exposed to new fields of study. Not only that, but the act of teaching others is a great learning experience. Conventions could help artists and programmers meet in order to collaborate, exchange knowledge and share ideas. Another example are conferences, such as TED Talks, which bring mediums together, and are a great way of bridging the gap between art and technology. Seminars and crash courses could take place in galleries or museums, and startups hire more designers. There are a multitude of possibilities and the tools are right before us. The only step left is to put them to use. By the way, Marshall Mcluhan is the same man who said: “You don’t like those ideas? I’ve got others.”.