TITLE: A Few Thoughts on Artists as Programmers AUTHOR: Eugene Wallingford DATE: February 26, 2008 6:00 PM DESC: ----- BODY: I've written so much about scientists as programmers, I'm a little disappointed that I haven't made time to write more about artists as programmers in response to Ira Greenberg's visit last month. The reason is probably two-pronged. First, I usually have less frequent interaction with artists, especially artists with this sort of mentality. This month, I did give a talk with an artistic connection to an audience of art students, but even that wasn't enough to prime the pump. That can be attributed to the second prong, which is teaching five-week courses in languages I have never taught before -- one of which, PHP, I've never even done much programming in. I've been busy preparing course materials and learning. Before I lose all track of the artists-as-programmers thread for now, let me say a few things that I still have in waiting. Processing is really just a Java IDE. I don't mean that in a dismissive sense; it's very useful and provides some neat tools to hide the details of Java -- including classes and the dread "public static void main" -- from programmers who don't care. But there is not all that much to it in a technical sense, which means that CS folks don't need to obsess about whether they are using it or not. Keller McBride's color spray artwork For example, you can do many of the same things in JES, the Jython environment created for Guzdial's media computation stuff. When I taught media computation using Erickson and Guzdial's Java materials, I had my students implement the an interpreter for the simplest of graphics languages and then asked them to show off their program with a piece of art produced with the language. One result was the image to the right, produced by freshman Keller McBride's using a program processed by his own interpreter. During his talk, Greenberg mentioned that he had a different take on the idea of web "usability". Later I commented that I was glad he had said that, because I found that his website was a little bit funky. His response was interesting in a way that meshes with some of the things I occasionally say about computing as a new paradigm for expressing ideas. (This is not an original idea, of course; Alan Kay has been trying to help us understand this for forty years.) Greenberg doesn't see computation only as an extension of the engineering metaphor that has defined computing in the age of electronics; he sees it as the "dawn of a new age". When we think of computation in the engineering context, issues such as usability and ergonomics become a natural focus. But in this new age, computing can mean and be something different:
Where I want my toaster to "disappear" and simply render perfectly cooked bread, I don't want that same experience when I compute--especially since I don't often have an initial goal/purpose.
He mentioned, too, that his ideas are not completely settled in this area, but I don't think that anyone has a complete handle on what the new age of computing really means. It sounds as if his ideas are as well formed as most anyone's, and I'm excited when I hear what non-CS people think in this space. Finally, when it comes to teaching art and computer science together, some schools are already working in that direction. For example, faculty at Yale recently announced that they are putting together a major in computing and the arts. I am not sure what to think about their proposal which aims to be "rigorous" by requiring students to take existing courses in the arts and computer science. There are courses created especially for the major. That is probably a good idea for some audiences, but what about artists who don't want a full computer science-specific CS experience? Do they need the same technical depth as your average CS student? Somehow, I don't think so. A new kind of discipline may well require a new kind of major. But it's neat that someone is taking steps in this direction. We will probably learn something useful from their experience. -----