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Software Developer or Software Artist?

I was an artist in the conventional sense. I have spent the last 7 years creating conceptual art pieces were the outcomes have been traditional art objects; photographs, cyanotypes, video installations and sculpture. Sure, I was pushing convention within my practice of photography by presenting an outcome as a plaster sculpture, but I was really only deviating in my result.

More recently I have started to deviate in my process. Trading the click of a camera shutter for the clattering of keys on a keyboard. Swapping the photographic studio and all of its tripods, lights and black out curtains for a computer screen, a digital workspace, one environment that hosts all of its tools and equipment digitally.

At first I felt out of my depth. Art is accessible because we don’t need instructions on how to access and use its materials. It is tacit. It is freeing.

Programming felt so inaccessible. The idea of having to learn a new language before you could even start felt terrifying.
Then I realised the programming language exists so that it is accessible. One system that transcends language and culture and is accessible to everyone.

Isn’t it restrictive?

When I was in the tutorial phase of my journey, I couldn’t help but think, boy this is restrictive! I thought maybe it was because I was from an art background and was lucky to not have to adhere to many rules, but mostly, I thought it was because it was all of an artist’s trigger words;

  • Computers
  • Science
  • Math

As it turns out, it is freeing.
Its potential is infinite and once you learn the language and syntax you can create anything.
There is beauty and creativity in every aspect, in thinking of a concept, in the process of writing it, in the creative problem solving and clean-up of the code, and undeniably, in the outcome.

In many ways it is even less restrictive than art; the community embraces collaboration and shares code dispelling most problems about authorship and originality. It is totally scalable, it can be live, interactive or pre-made, it can be different every time it is ran, it can be imitative or abstract, it can be responsive to embedded information or live features and it can display 16,777,216 colours. How can something so malleable be restrictive?
There is freedom in navigating the structures of a system.

"But the programmer isn’t a real artist because they don’t have real creative freedom!"

I could not disagree more. Every piece of code totally reflects the author of it, much like a novel does. The programmer’s code is absolutely a declaration of themselves.

Also, much like a novel, it does not need to be shared, seen, or experienced in order for it to achieve the status of art. It is art because it is art. Art is about executing a concept out of the materiality of your practice, but overall it is about creating.

That’s why computer programmers are artists.

Top comments (3)

patricktingen profile image
Patrick Tingen

I love this view on programming; I too find it a blessing for my head if I can program. It gives me the freedom to create what is inside my head. I also love the hate/love relation I have with programming. If things don't go well, you are in dog mode, but if all pieces fit together, your in the opposite of "dog" mode, which is "god" mode. And those moments make it all worth it. Every time again.

rafakato profile image
Rafael Kato

Awesome! I've been thinking like this for a while and you put all my thoughts into words.

benjee321 profile image

I didn't went this far to with my definition but almost the same. I always thought development is a creative process. You creating from mainly nothing a working product.