Code and Art: Two courses and some musings

If you have looked closely at some WordPress sites or the homepage of the WordPress software you might have encountered the sentence “Code is Poetry”. Today was the start of two courses that teach code as a means of producing not poetry but art.

One course is held on the popular platform Coursera.org and goes by the title “Creative Programming for Digital Media & Mobile Apps”. It is a course from the University of London and made by Dr Marco Gillies, Dr Matthew Yee-King, Dr Mick Grierson. The other is called “Creative Coding” runs on the not so big but also very good platform Futurelearn.com from the Monash University by Jon McCormack and Mark Guglielmetti.

Both courses teach the use of code to produce art with a programming language called Processing that is built to do exactly that: enable artists to be creative with code. It is not especially aimed at programmers but more at artists and so designed to be a good introduction to programming. Creation of graphics, animation and sound is very simple with this language, because all the necessary functions are built into it. Its homepage is full of tutorials and examples.

I have tried both courses in precious runs and like both, even if they are somewhat different: The University of London course goes deep into the technology and into the production of sophisticated code. With the first week for example working with an app called Sonic Screwdr.. ah .. Painter, that combines graphics with sound on the computer and on mobile devices. The course from the Monash University is a little slower on the technical side, but provides a lot of context about digital art, generative art and related topics. Especially the latter felt very inspiring the last time. So I would advise anyone interested to start both courses and have a try, which one fits better.

Another very different place to learn about art and code is Codepen.io, a website, that provides the tools to develop and showcase webdesign sketches online without having to built and entire website for oneself. It is used for regular webdesign, but also for graphical experiments, some of them clearly need to be called art. This is also a place where the question “Is that art?” or “What is art anyway?” is more obvious than on most other places online, because of the mostly uncommented presentation of more artful Pens, as they call them, beside the mundane. And if it is art, how do we best appreciate it? Ana Tudor(one of the real artists on Codepen) recently asked her audience for a shift in their perspective in a blogpost titled “aren’t algorithms cool too?” For her the real work and the good part of her Pens lies in the code she wrote to accomplish the optical impressions and not in the optical impressions themselves. This sentiment seems to be something that is only relevant to art that is code, but if you think about it, it is very similar to the situation of subtle artists in painting or poets, who only hear that their art “looks good” or “sounds good” but never hear someone talk about the composition, the metrics or anything that mattered to the artist while she was creating her piece. And in a way, this is not very surprising: the classical art forms have been around for quite a while and still there is no consensus or shared idea, about how to appreciate art. How could the situation be clearer for the new art forms that are arising with this relatively new technology?

I think that one possible answer to this is similar to the classic answer for art: Most children learn something about creating art in the classic forms even if they are not interested in becoming artists, but it seems to help in understanding art. The same might be true for art produced with computers (to phrase it very broad). It might be a good idea to gain some experience in creating art with code to better understand the art that is more and more around us.

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2 thoughts on “Code and Art: Two courses and some musings

  1. Pingback: Creative Coding: The first two weeks | Seeker of Something ..

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