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Normally we define "art" as something useless, with no practical purpose. For example, a picture you hang on the wall, music you enjoy listening to, movies or novels that entertain you.
But that's just a definition our culture has agreed on, a way of differentiating "art" from "craft." In reality, it isn't always easy to tell if something is an art or a craft. Furthermore, the creative process is similar regardless of whether the object being created is useful (craft) or only for enjoyment (art).
The fine artist (who creates objects with no practical use) doesn't have to worry about whether his object will "work." Architects (who are not fine artists) have to worry about whether their buildings will fall over, toaster designers have to worry about whether their toasters will melt, etc.
However, the fine artist (unless he's rich) does have to worry about whether anyone will pay for what he creates. So, at least in that sense, it is not pure unconstrained creativity. (I'm not even sure there is any such thing as pure unconstrained creativity, anyway).
Programming is a craft, according to the usual definition, not an art. However, the creative experience is similar to the experience of creating art.

This is not true for everyone, as I saw from reading the messages below. Some people experience coding as non-creative and mechanical. I have never experienced that myself, because to me coding is inherently not a mechanical activity, since you never have to do the same thing more than once.
If you find yourself doing exactly the same thing more than once, then something isn't right. How can a process be mechanical if you're constantly making decisions and doing things that aren't exactly like anything you have done before? Mechanical coding should be programmed, not done by humans.
Therefore, programming is inherently creative.

Of course this all depends on the person. Someone who made a living as a weaver, for example, might have done it mechanically or creatively, or most likely a combination of both. At some moments you feel very creative, at many other moments you might be thinking about something else and working semi-automatically.
Certain jobs could be considered creative or artistic in some way, and I think programming (including the design and analysis stages) is one of the more creative jobs available in our society, as well as one of the more important.

Monday, August 12, 2002

In other words, there are 6+billion definitions of art (on this planet anway).  I've found that removing the word from my vocabulary has cleared up a lot of things.

I do like the creative aspects of programming, but that has nothing to do with art. Becasue art doesn't exist.

End of Art rant. I'm full of bait.

Dan Sickles
Monday, August 12, 2002

I read an interesting quote somewhere that culture is just how you choose to answer arbitrary questions. For example, eating is a requirement for living, but WHAT you eat is (nearly) arbitrary. How you choose to cut your hair (or not) or what clothes to wear (or not) are also arbitrary. I know this is not philosophically deep, but it seems to make sense to me.

Can anyone think of any counter examples?

Zwarm Monkey
Monday, August 12, 2002

Maybe you define art as something useless and without practical value... but don't think you speak for all of us.

Art is a form of communication, from one mind to another, of what the creating mind finds important, important enough to highlight it in the art, and what that mind finds unimportant, to not be worth showing at all.

To think of art as nothing but a pretty picture is to miss the entire communication... no one home and the answering machine is broke.

I started a post before and got slammed for it.  I had found this quote by accident...

"By a selective re-creation, art isolates and integrates those aspects of reality which represents man's fundamental view of himself and of existence. Out of the countless number of concretes - of single, disorganized and (seemingly) contradictory attributes, actions and entities - an artist isolates the things which he regards as metaphysically essential and integrates them into a single new concrete that represents an embodied abstraction." - Ayn Rand

My point then, which I still hold true, is that this definition could easily be the definition of a programmer (the word used in it's widest sense... not as merely coder).  Try it for yourself, substituting "art" with "programming" and "artist" with "programmer".

Joe AA
Monday, August 12, 2002

You must have known that by "useless" I meant something that doesn't do any practical work.
You must be aware that we determine if something is an art or a craft (according to the way people use the words currently) according to whether it has a practical use or not.
(I do not define "art" that way myself, but that's besides the point.)
I think you made an effort to miss my point. I was trying to say that programming is like art because both depend on creativity. I was trying to say it isn't easy to decide if something is an art or a craft, according to our usual definitions.
I think what I was trying to say was pretty obvious.

Monday, August 12, 2002

"You must have known that by "useless" I meant something that doesn't do any practical work. "

Double honest, I'm not going to try and misinterpret what you mean - I know exactly what you mean. But! This is the mistake I think. Just because a painting sits there on the wall, doesn't mean it does nothing. It is important and useful just like a well thought out user interface. It anchors a room, sets your mood, creates an atmosphere, induces stability and control, and all that touchy feely crap. We can dismiss it as useless, and cut it out of our daily work (either from the wall or from the process), but then you might find things don't go so well. If you think working enviroment matters, then art has a purpose. Knowing what colors jump forward, and how the eye will scan your interface are also important. I don't doubt you know this, and I don't want to imply you suggested otherwise. But my point is we are two quick to take programmers and turn them into factory workers, and then try to keep them interested in their job with salesman tricks. There has to be some control on their part, which for lack of a better term would be 'artistic license'. Even (most) factories do that these days, it does wonders for their bottom line in the end.

...and Dan - there is art and there are artists. Art is like the stuff on your wall and artists are the people that paint it. I can introduce you to some if you like. Maybe there is a blur with real artists and just artists, and real programmers and just programmers... Maybe some artists approach their work like a programmer, and some programmers approach things like an artist - I think everyone knows what that implies. You don't sound politically correct enough to insist that I call myself "a person who applies paint, but not to buildings", but I'm guessing there, he he.


Robin Debreuil
Tuesday, August 13, 2002

Why such a strong association with painting? If I say I 'm an art collector, would more people assume paintings than video games? Why? If someone says video games are not art, are they wrong? Why?  What is fine art? Are all paintings on walls art? Is all music art? Who is the authority on what is and is not art? What is the criterea?

Is all communication art? Why? How does one determine whether a specific communication is art? EMail? Blueprints? Gestures? Facial expressions? Code? Perl? Python?

The meme's greatest power is the fear that a 'creative' person be labeled a non-artist by an 'artist'.  This is total failure for an art meme victim. For a non-victim, it is irrelevant.

Dan Sickles
Tuesday, August 13, 2002

When two people have a converstation, there is a lot of 'handshaking' (in the computer sense) that goes on before it starts. Most of it is just assumed. Things like context, transport mechanism, language, and cultural things like meanings and implications of words. One of those words is art, another artist. I make paintings, drawings, and computer a-t as a profession, what should I call myself? A pimp? A rock picker? A painter-drawer-sometimes-digitally-ist? Pick a word, I'll agree with it for the sake of this conversation.

I am hung up on painting/drawing rather than facial expressions because - professional facial-expressioners have their own ord. If artist and art aren't valid words, then you have a hole in the language for the duration of this converstion.

Mostly though, your logic says that if the edges and implications of a word begin to get fuzzy, then the word is invalid. Hmm, well, that covers a lot of words. Lets see, is html programming? How about drum sequeners? How about morse code? Turning on a light? Tricking a bumble bee? Two loud farts in a row? Programming doesn't exist, and if it did it would be about exclusion. As an excercise, feel free to continue the game with random words chosen from the dictionary.

As to whether code and be art, it really doesn't matter imo. I'll bet you've called code ugly before, and maybe beautiful as well, so whatever that means to you. Maybe you've put little bits of not logically derived inspiration in your programs, or have strong opinions about certain things to the point that they show through to the user. Or a user could recognize a new program as being yours based only on the style. Whatever you call that is fine, I don't think it needs to be called art, and I don't think it really matters what you call it, mostly I'm wondering if it is/should be there.

- - - - -

Is it helpful if you rely on inspiration while coding, or is that a liability? If so, how much and at what stage? How do tools facilitate or inhibit this kind of thing? Do we program in text because it is the best way, or is that a hangover of memory/cpu/display constraints that are no longer with us? Did a former girlfriend leave you for a pretentious guy in a cape? How do computer graphic tools differ from programming tools, and what can we use from that (timelines? layers? semi-textless ide's...)? These are more interesting lines of discussion imo. But feel free to veer back and take another stab at the art world, I kind of enjoy that too...


Robin Debreuil
Tuesday, August 13, 2002

> If someone says video games are not art, are they wrong?

Yes they are wrong! Some video game art is better than others and some is trite, but art nonetheless.

Some is great art that will endure the ages. Riven, for example.

>Are all paintings on walls art?


> Is all music art?

I think so as long as music is something made by a composer. Other things are debatable I suppose.

> Who is the authority on what is and is not art?

The artist, the viewer, the work itself.
In this chat room, critics accuse artists of not creating art. How could the critic know for sure when he has not even seen the work in question? What do we say of the movie critic who reviews movies he has not seen, books he has not read, or games he has not played.

> What is the criterea?

I don't know.

> The meme's greatest power is the fear that a 'creative' person be labeled a non-artist by an 'artist'. This is total failure for an art meme victim.

Whee fun! I like Dan!

X. J. Scott
Tuesday, August 13, 2002

> Whatever you call that is fine, I don't think it needs to be called art, and I don't think it really matters what you call it, mostly I'm wondering if it is/should be there.

Interesting - sort of thinking the idea here is that it should not? That excess is wasteful. That beautiful design is an inappropriate us of energy?

Minimalism? Form follows function? Scandinavian furniture? Shaker barns? Tenement buildings made of cinder blocks?

All valid choices.

Should other choices be deprecated?

Should we stop making action movies and feed the world?

X. J. Scott
Tuesday, August 13, 2002

No, personally I think it should be in there more, and I'm willing to live with the inevitable increase in glitches it would cause. Not in compiler design or brake systems, but in user applications. The bug/ui traumas of the past have put us in a very mechanical mode for software, and it probably explains the lack of interesting stuff coming out these days. Dumb as that bmw thing looks, at least they are trying new stuff. I heard once that the Dead Parrot skit (monty python) a real dumb 'sick parrot' idea that almost never got mentioned. We're given web services, and suddenly there are 200 (neatly planned) webservices to look up you zipcode, area code or mortgage payments - and not much else. That inicates a problem to me.

Now that we are going toward managed code, components, using reasonalby fast and robust tools like oo, patterns and <pick and ide>, I think we should get back in the mode of pushing the limits, trying all kinds of things and not worrying about it so much. The argument is that a rigid process makes better software, but I suspect that it is trying to apply too much logic to an organic process and doomed to produce an average product. Certainly too little is a problem, but too much is a much bigger problem I think.

What has been exciting in software in the last 10 years? For me, .Net is pretty high, after that, hmm google maybe, and Flash because I used it so much... then all the way back to Java and netscape. Thousands of re-hashed sequels to average movies though... ugh.

Robin Debreuil
Tuesday, August 13, 2002

What about music not made by a composer? Or does creating music make one a composer?

I am a composer by my criterea (I compose music). I am not an artist (becasue I, like everyone else, don't know what that is).

How would a critic know if they Have seen the work? Who gets to be a critic? Everyone? We're back to 6+Billion definitions of art.

Does programming exist? I don't know.  Does the boolean property 'programming' apply to all code? Does the boolean property 'art' apply to all code? Does the boolean property 'art' apply to everything? Who sets it's value?

Things are so much clearer when the 'art' property is never referenced.  The 'art' property of B is actually a callback to a method on caller A. It is not a persistent property of B.

Dan Sickles
Tuesday, August 13, 2002

[The argument is that a rigid process makes better software, but I suspect that it is trying to apply too much logic to an organic process and doomed to produce an average product.]

It's an organic process and it's logical. You can be logical and still rely on intuition and inspiration. I think logic is based on intuition anyway.
I think you're talking about the so-called ideal of controlling the process and making it predictable. Composing music that way results in elevator music, so maybe that kind of process results in elevator software.

As for how to define the word "art" --
it has the same origin as "artificial," meaning things made by humans, rather than by nature. By that definition software, and all technology, is art. But the word has evolved so that now it usually refers to things that are somehow special, in that their main purpose is aesthetic rather than practical.
(But that definition is inadequate because most of our practical things are to some extent works of art.)
I think we're all artists in one way or another, no matter what we do for a living. But I chose programming (after having been a visual artist, among other things) because it combines creativity and logic, and it's also useful.

Tuesday, August 13, 2002

A process can (and should) also provide focus. By limiting your "resources" (in this context, your options for how to do things), you can often come up with creative and effective ways of utilizing the resources you do have.

I read once about an experiment where several children were given a piece of rope and either one or two boards, and asked to figure a way to cross a room without their feet touching the floor.

The children provided with two boards tied the rope to the front end of each board, placed their feet on the board, and shuffled across the room.

The children provided with one board tied the rope to the front end of the board, put both feet on it, and "scooted" across the room much more quickly.

None of the children provided with two boards came up with the "scooting" solution, because none of them thought to look for a solution that didn't use all of the resources available to them.

Processes can also be bad when they impose too much overhead for the benefits. I've been there, and I don't want to go back.

Steve Wheeler
Wednesday, August 14, 2002

Yes, Some of the greatest creative works were done when technical and cultural constraints were stifling by todays standards.

Dan Sickles
Thursday, August 15, 2002

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