May 30, 2003

Artist Programmers: an ongoing discussion

by Andrew Stern · , 3:40 am

An issue we want to address on grandtextauto, as we discuss the practice of making computer-based art, literature, poetry, drama, etc., is the question of artists as, or needing to be, programmers. How can artists to learn to be programmers? Why aren’t more artists programmers? Can tools simplify or take the place of programming? What kind of programming languages are amenable to artists? At what point do artists need to be programmers? Isn’t it enough for artists just to collaborate with programmers? Are programmers artists?

This topic is too big to address in just a post or two – so we’ll be addressing it in blog posts over time. Please join in with comments, ideas, and opinions.

For much of the art-making from each of us on this blog, non-trivial amounts of programming have been a key requirement. Each of us are programmers, some pretty hard core. Some of us are teaching artists how to program – for example, Stuart is establishing an undergraduate degree in games and simulations; Michael will be teaching a class this Fall for artist programmers. A couple years back I wrote an essay on the topic. Several others in the community, such as the outspoken Mark Bernstein, have a lot to say about this.

As an informal way to kick off the discussion, I thought I’d poke around on the web to see what kinds of artist-programmer stuff is currently out there. A cursory search turned up a few interesting things. Please contribute more links in comments!

First of all, there are all the languages and systems many people are already pretty familiar with, that artists tend to use – HTML, javascript, Flash, Shockwave, Director, StorySpace, Hypercard, MUDs and MOOs, game mods, etc. etc. A great thing about these languages / systems is that, unlike, say, C++ or Java, they’re pretty easy to get started with. Some are integrated with user-friendly GUI interfaces. One can start simple and slowly wade into coding, to the depth you wish. But there tends to be limits to their power – hence the need for this discussion. (More on what these limits are and why it’s important, in future posts.)

Here are some example university courses geared towards teaching artists to program, at RIT, SMFA Boston, U.Washington, Ohio State. The instruction in these courses range from Java to Flash.

John Maeda’s Aesthetics and Computation Group at the MIT media lab has developed a programming environment and language called Design by Numbers. “The environment provides a unified space for writing and running programs and the language introduces the basic ideas of computer programming within the context of drawing.” Design by Numbers is being used in several university courses outside MIT.

Proce55ing, also from Maeda’s MIT group, “is an environment for learning the fundamentals of computer programming within the context of the electronic arts and it is an electronic sketchbook for developing ideas”. On the site are some very impressive new works of algorithmic visual art created in Proce55ing.

Python is a language with “simple, easy to learn syntax that emphasizes readability and therefore reduces the cost of program maintenance”. The site includes lots of tutorials about learning how to program. Here’s an article suggesting that there is a book in development for Python programming for artists.

For the creation of text-based interactive fictions, a popular user-friendly language is Inform, developed by Graham Nelson. I’m sure Nick has a lot to say about this.

Alice is an interactive 3D graphics programming language developed at CMU. “Learning to program a computer is hard. Alice makes learning to program easier. And it’s fun.”

In a previous post I mentioned Garage Games’ new Reaction Engine.

For our interactive drama project Façade, Michael and I are developing ABL (A Behavior Language), specifically designed for the construction of virtual characters, aka believable agents. When it’s ready, ABL will be made publicly available.

Ken Perlin gave a short passionate speech at last March’s GDC Academic summit, calling for teaching procedural literacy to everyone, starting from a young age.

What else is out there for artist programmers?

23 Responses to “Artist Programmers: an ongoing discussion”

  1. Lisa Says:

    I’ll be following this topic with interest, as a guilty-as-charged-artist-not-programmer. It’s becoming more and more obvious to me, though, that to be present-day artisans, we have to begin to understand the chemistry of our materials, much as Leonardo and company had to know the chemistry of pigments and binders.

    I’m sure you noticed this statement of Dave Winer’s:

    “To be creative in either technology or the arts requires an understanding of both.”

  2. andrew Says:

    Just in: Slashdot Games reports a new ongoing tutorial for learning to how to program the Atari 2600.

    Here’s Fun & Games: An Introduction to Art-Based Game Modding at Siggraph03.

    Authoring systems to make your own adventure games: Adventure Game Studio and AGAST.

    Also, I just found a handy beginners guide to Creating a blog with Movable Type.

  3. eric l Says:

    guilty too. i’ve tried to learn flash like 100 times and each time i just hit my head and say, this is not for artists. how com ei can understand photshop so easily, and flash so poorly? is it that the artists need to learn the tools, or is it *really* that someone needs to come up with tools for artists?

  4. Arthur Elsenaar Says:

    Missing from the list of languages is the notorious Max/MSP / Jitter suite. And the Open Source alternatives Pure Data and jMax.

    Links added. – Ed.

  5. may Says:

    along these lines, some other links of interest and inspiration




    As for whether someone should be coming up with more “intuitive tools” for “artists,” one of my professors in architecture school told me many years ago that if you always rely on a programmer to make your tools, you’ll be limited by the scope of their thinking. He wasn’t a programmer but I think he saw clearly how technology, culture and innovation are inextricably tied.

  6. Chaim Gingold Says:

    How come everyone agrees? Surely someone must disagree, at least to make the conversation interesting.

    Janet Murray isn’t comfortable with the strong claim, if I understand

    her right, and the gist of her argument is that we can’t expect

    a large number of people to be polymaths, able to be both talented programmers and artists.

    I wonder why it is difficult to move between these subjects, as some artists in this discussion have stated?

  7. andrew Says:

    Yeah, it seems like too strong of a claim, as well as elitist, to insist that all computer-based artists be programmers. Perhaps the question is, at what point do artists need to program?

    This whole “artist programmer” issue really comes up when talking about making computer-based work with certain characteristics, for example, generativity, and “deeper” interactivity. (No coincidence, these are the kinds of work that excite me the most, and what I think would be interesting to talk about here.)

    Perhaps a more focused way to frame this discussion would be to ask: what kinds of work require programming; what qualities does programming bring to a work that makes it worth the effort; what does an artist need to do/learn to be able to make works of this kind.

    Additionally, we could debate whether or not these kind of works will ultimately raise the bar for computer-based art making, to the point that programming will become de rigueur?

  8. Marc Hudgins Says:

    Having worked side-by side with programmers to implement my art for so longas a game developer, I have a numberthoughts and opinions on the matter.

    Frankly I wonder if the requisite mind-set of art-making and programming can be in such opposition that containing the two tasks in one’s head simultaneously is destructive to both processes. Programming is linear and logical, art is intuitive and requires parallel thinking, subtle adjustments and is never really as right or wrong as code is(in the sense that it works or it doesn’t work).

    I’ve experienced a similar conflict when animating (the hand-drawn kind). Much of animation is about working out timing and where the keys and break-down drawings belong to get the desired effect. This is a very organized,linear, analytical process. Drawing the actual drawings on the other hand, is all about feel, acting, and empathy. Seamus Culhane talks about this in his book Talking Animals and Other People. He describes struggling with a scene and finally just going into a right-brained trance-like state -rapidly drawing an arm here, an eye there, just to capture the essence of the action. Then, after all of that, in a different mind-set altogether, organized and analyzed the material into something that could be worked with. In my estimation, of all the visual art diciplines, animators would most likely make the best programmer-hybrids due to the linear, object-oriented thinking needed to put together a scene.

    All that said, with my own experience with coding (Flash Action Script), I can attest to the power of combining art skills with coding skills. The benefits run from automating what would be a tedious, repetive task on the art side (such as introducing random factors to multiple images and animations) to allowing the artist to achieve effects that just aren’t possible though pixel manipulation alone.

    Moe thoughts to come…

  9. spot Says:

    The essential property of computers is that they are programmable. If

    you just use photoshop as a canvas with undo and some fancy filters,

    you are still a painter, not a computer artist. If you are not

    programming, then you are not a computer artist. That said,

    programming languages come in many forms and many levels. It’s not

    black and white. When a sound designer tweeks their first Max/MSP

    patch that they copied from someone else, they have just become a

    computer artist. I am not saying you have to use C, but you do have

    to manipulate a turing-complete generative syntax.

    Hudgins said that programming is in opposition to being an artist

    because it is linear and logical. He goes on to say the same about

    animation, basically because it’s tedious and lots of work. I

    completely disagree. Neither is code really right or wrong — sure a

    crashed program is wrong, but that’s like saying a painting that falls

    off the wall or a film that burns up in the projector is wrong. The

    real question of good and bad art only begins when the program/film

    runs and the user receives the message.

  10. Zack Simpson Says:

    Should every artist be a programmer? Of course not. However, those who think computers are interesting tools for creating anything are missing out of most of the fun and beauty of computers if they don’t know how to program.

    Programming is a wonderful sport and it is not that hard, it is just very intimidating to get into for the first time like sky diving.

    I’ve worked with lots of artists in my former career in the game development world and everyone of them had the ability to learn to program. I’ve also worked with countless programmers and I know that everyone of them has the ability to learn how to, say, draw. I can support this claim because at Origin we used to do just that — I taught a class in C++ 3D graphics programming to the aritsts (they built a fully working flat-shaded 3D renderer) and we also had life drawing classes in which several programmers joined and within about 2 months were creating respectable drawings. Did the artists turn into nerds overnight? Were the nerds putting on gallery shows? Of course not. But both were able to learn and appreciate the other’s discipline and both were better “artists” of their disciplines. I believe that learning other disciplines is always a way to improve your own.

    In my opinion, the thing about programming that’s so beautiful is learning to understand behavior and this is directly related to visual art as well. Visual art teachers often say something like: “to draw is to see.” Meaning that you don’t really understand how you perceive things until you are forced to reproduce them. You look at your paper and you look at reality and you say: “Hey, they don’t match.” and you are forced into noticing details and you’ve never seen before. It is the same with programming. When you sit down to write a program to create some effect you are forced to contemplate how things behave. Examples: particle systems, physics systems, swarming, flying, rotating, bouncing, etc. Only when you try to reproduce the effect on a computer or a mathematical model are you forced to recognize what it is that you don’t really understand about the way things work. That’s what Nygaard meant by “To program is to understand.”

    For those artists who have tried to learn to program something like Flash and hit their head against a wall, I sympathize. I feel the same way when I can’t get colors that look good together. Keep at it, read books, try different languages. Don’t give up. Rah, rah, go team!

    Which brings me to the issue of languages: programming is programming. I am extremely skeptical of claims whereby someone says: “we’ve created this new scripting language/visual flow thingy/design-pattern based whizzy wang language and it will let lay-people be programmers.” My skepticism is based on the fact that I have personally made that claim about 4 times and I finally had to admit that although the langauge/tool definately made a difference in terms of sexiness/interest/marketing, etc. it made very little difference in terms of getting non-programmers to program. Ultimately, to program you have to think like a computer (which, again, isn’t that hard) and fancy attempts to hide that just reveal the fallacy and often, IMHO, just make it even more confusing and obfuscated. That doesn’t mean that learning flash, html, python or whatnot isn’t easier than C, it just means that all are in the same ball park and you’ve got to walk into that ballpark ready to think like a computer. No one can bring the game to you.

    A bit more on that subject: I’m also tired of this supposedly left-brain / right-brain difference between programmers and artists. It’s nonsense. I once was awarded the “left brain award” at work for being a good programmer. It was nice jesture, of course, but if you go look at the supposed theory, I fall squrely into the right-brain category… I’m TOTALLY visual. I program by visualizing PICTURES of the data structures I want to create. I didn’t learn to read until I was about 17 years old yet I was programming when I was 10. How is that possible? I could decipher the words enough to undertstand them (I wasn’t illiterate), but I did so at about 1 word per second so effectively I couldn’t read — and I didn’t. (Incidently, it wasn’t until I dropped out of school and started reading books that I WANTED to read that I learned to read.)

    Anyway, my point is this. What is programming? It is speaking a language — and I haven’t met a single artist who is mute. Many of them, as a matter of fact, are quite eloquent. If you can learn the rules of English grammar you can learn to program for English is 100 times more complicated than any computer language. And everyone’s brains are wired to learn languages. That said, learning the language is the easy part. It is learning all the data structures and algorithms, math and tricks-of-the-trade that make you a “real” programmer and not a dabbler in the same way that learning about light and shadow and form and shape and jesture, etc. make you an artist and not merely someone who can hold a pencil.

    My $0.02


  11. Jim Andrews Says:

    Very interesting discussion.

    The fundamental phenomenological observation one can make about computers is that they are programmable. This is what sets them apart from other machines and what gives them their deep flexibility as machines, flexibility to the point where there they appear to be sufficient to create thinking machines.

    But does this imply that significant digital art can only be accomplished by programmers? I don’t think it does.

    Consider, for instance, the work of Alan Sondheim or Mez. Neither of them could program their way out of a wet digital bag and probably never will. But they are doing significant digital art.


    First, their writing is often pretty extrordinary. They’re unique and innovative writers. And that ain’t easy anywhere.

    But, also, their writing is both totally hooked into and also generative of a whole writerly thang on the net. They post to and read quite a wide range of lists. And visit sites, are almost knowlegable about the art of the web, which is more than you can say for most other print heads.

    Did I say print heads? Well, they don’t publish much in print, actually. Most of their stuff is published on lists and on the web. And it lives there, that’s where they operate, that’s a big part of where their writing comes from, is informed by, is devoted to.

    They have a significant presence on the Net. They are part of the Net. The Net is part of them. They also help build a net of innovation in writing. It isn’t really a matter of them possibly being better off publishing in print.

    So, I think you see my point.

    I should add that I’m an artist-programmer and have had some knock-down-drag-em-outs with Mez and Sondheim. Because they aren’t much in helping to nurture artist-programming on the net or elsewhere. It’s hard to find public space where this can be furthered, and they are threatened, to some degree, as are most non-programmers, by the role of programming in art. Yet even though we sometimes fight like cat and dog, I recognize that they are committed, innovative, brilliant digital artists. They’re not going away. Neither are the artist-programmers. For the most part it’s a healthy scrap, an interesting scrap.

    While programming will become more ubiquitous an activity, it’ll never be the case that the level of literacy in programming is as high as it is in reading and writing. Humanity is not that smart. But art is not so much about being smart as being human. And digital art is not so much about programming as taking on the machine as a meaningful extension of our humanity.

    All that said, there are amazing vistas available to the artist-programmer.


  12. andrew Says:

    A side comment, in which I’m attempting a two-way link between this artist programmer thread and the Reading Nelson thread: Noah had mentioned Nelson’s ZigZag – it’s worth checking out, with its proclamation, “It is time to return real programming to users and even beginning users, to whom it has been denied since 1984.”

  13. Lewis LaCook Says:

    (I was a poet first, so code came easily)



  14. andrew Says:

    More examples of the debate:

    Paul Graham’s essay Hackers and Painters

    “Hacking and painting have a lot in common. In fact, of all the different types of people I’ve known, hackers and painters are among the most alike.”

    From a Gamasutra article “What Ever Happened to the Designer/Programmer?”

    “It’s a sad truth that designers who cannot program are at the mercy of the game’s programmers and what they feel like adding to the project.”

    1995 Leonardo article by Mike King, available here, addressing the question “why should an artist learn to programme?”

    From a recent discussion on the “biome” list

    “Of course, a person can be an artist and a programmer. (I am) And I do think programming is a creative thing. But that’s not the point. Creative and Art aren’t the same…”

    From a BBC article on generative art:

    “In generative art, the artist-programmer and machine work in partnership to disrupt tired old mythologies of creativity – emphasising that art conforms to formal structures, and that computers might be particularly useful for manipulating these structures.”


    “If you want to be really ‘needed’ in the marketplace I think your should get as much exposure to programing as you can tolerate”

    Inspiring quotations: Programmers are artists

    From a discussion that occurred on

    “I think that it’s designers that “really push” the boundaries of what the code can do, not programmers”

    The current issue of dichtung-digital, “Paris Connection”, examines the work of several artist-programmers (this collection would be a great topic for future GTxA posts!)

    I’ll throw in another two cents, excerpted from my essay about deeper, “conversational” interactivity:

    To create a computer-based artwork that captures the processes at work in a conversation requires programming. There is no escaping the fact that to make an artwork interactive is fundamentally to build a machine with processes; anything less would simply be a reactive work without autonomy — ‘push button’ art. Artists must think procedurally to create truly interactive art, and fashion these procedures to express their artistic intentions. This requires the artist to have a firm foothold in both artistic practice and computer science. The most precocious new media academic departments are requiring their students to become equally proficient in both disciplines.

    For those artists not ready or willing to take the leap into coding, there is always the hope for the creation of more sophisticated authoring tools that will carry the burden of the programming. But it is not obvious to me that this will be possible, especially for truly conversational interactive works; there becomes an irreducible point where the creation of procedural behavior can only be achieved with programming. Non-programmer artists can overcome this challenge by collaborating with programmers to implement their ideas, but in doing so are now sharing in the authorship of their work. The more complex an artwork’s interactivity becomes, the more the decisions made during programming will impact and define the essence of the experience. In such cases the programmer becomes less of a technician and more of a fellow artist. Collaboration can be beneficial to both the artist and programmer, for in the process each gains greater understanding of the strengths and limitations of the medium.

  15. Sean B Says:

    Just as another data point, the Indie Game Jam, which we’ve run successfully two years now (despite not getting around to updating the web with year #2) is built on the premise of all the participants being designer/programmers. We tried to get a couple designers to participate the first year, with limited success. In general, though, there just isn’t time for iteration between programmer and designer, given the time frame of the event (a single long weekend).

    And another data point is the continued existence of the single person designer/programmer/writer in the IF community, which still manages to generate at least a hundred games every two years, 96% of which are solo efforts.

  16. Doug Goodwin Says:

    Artist-programmers are presumably taking the media into places it has never gone before. Antecedents include painters who mix their own paints, musicians who craft their own instruments, and pilots who design aircraft. One hand is impressed with the depth of their mastery, the other thinks maybe they might be happier (and more effective) working within the existing constraints of their medium. Some ineluctable vision drives them forward. The same is true for us.

    More questions–

    Aren’t you satisfied with the existing state of our media? Why cut trail when there are thousands of perfectly good jobs to be had in the world? Do you feel an urge to explore new territory? Do you seek glory? Is something telling you that programming has become an artistic medium? Can programming produce something more viable than commercial software?


    Why accept arbitrary divisions of creativity, especially when the divisions are as tired as left vs. right brain? These divisions are useful only to employers and the IRS. These divisions will alienate anyone reaching outside their narrow scope. We seek something new in our work and we should demand the same from our titles. Yes, this will make business cards and letters to grandmother more challenging. Throw away your two hats! Get out of those boxes!!


    Most helpful to those who have chosen this path might be this observation recorded from a sculptor in New Guinea:

    I’m not an artist. I just do the best I can.

    –Kalifornisches Schinkensandwich mit Künstler und Programmierer

  17. Jim Andrews Says:

    Concerning work that does use programming, the programming provides a significant aspect of the form. But there are often other aspects of form.

    For instance, consider the stir fry texts at . These require IE for the PC, by the way.

    There’s the form of the writing itself. Pauline Masurel, in “Blue Hyacinth”, wrote something very different from what Brian Lennon wrote in “Log”; each has different literary form in the writing itself. Pauline’s Blue Hyacinth is such that the syntax holds together more than in Brian’s Log. And Pauline’s is more fictive/vignette, whereas Brian’s is sort of langpo in the phrase, and it isn’t the syntax but the mood and tone and purpose that holds together.

    But they were both written specially for the stir fry form or mechanism. And this is a very significant aspect of the form of the works in that they were written for this form/mechanism and their literary form as writing presupposes this context.

    Pauline and Brian are good enough writers that one wouldn’t say the mechanism dominates the writing or whatever. The mechanism and the literary forms they have created work together rather than one stealing the show. I regard these as wonderfully successful collaborations. Which means that it’s fifty fifty or something like that.

    You can see what I mean about the role of the programming regarding form. And keep it in mind concerning the role of programming in other works that use programming.

    Though there’d be other roles of programming as well.

  18. andrew Says:

    Jim, I like how you point out that even in works that involve lots of original / custom programming, we shouldn’t forget that the programming is often just one part what contributes to the work as a whole. That, of course, non-programmer writers / visual artists / animators / sound artists / etc. create amazing art within the framework created by the programmers. And, we should emphasize that all this talk of the role of programming in new media art shouldn’t make non-programmers worry that they’re in danger of getting squeezed out of the process (I just think there are times they need to share artistic credit with the programmers, that’s all).

    [Here’s an empyre post Jim made last May on the topic of collaboration, that I liked.]

    This makes me wonder, when is a framework “just a tool”, and when is it something that so fundamentally influences the creation of an artwork that the creation of the framework itself is one half of an art-making collaboration (e.g., I think this is true for StirFry texts)? Should artists that create work in Photoshop, Flash, Shockwave, HTML be sharing artistic credit with the original programmers of those frameworks? Where do we draw the line?

  19. Anton Soderman Says:

    Very fascinating discussion underway…

    J. Andrews makes an astute and acute distinction when he separates formal aspects into 1) the form of a particular text and 2) what he calls the “mechanism” of the text (such as the programmed form that drives the “stir-texts”). We are quite familiar with questions concerning form when it comes to “writing” (rhetorics, style, PoV, etc) especially when the blank page is taken for granted as a writing space, but we are currently witnessing an explosion of “mechanisms” or programmed forms that provide a page-space or structure for electronic texts. These programmed forms (like any poetic form) can be extracted and re-used in provocative ways. For example, the different uses of the Stir Fry form, or the simple mouse trail of words in Martha Conway’s Everything After That which is also used in Gabriela Golder’s Postales. These uses of essentially the same mechanism, the same code-behavior, produce distinct expressions.

    Indeed, we can separate both these formal qualities from many “electronic texts” we see today – it only requires the initial distinction to see the difference. More often than not we see the programmed mechanism and the writing that fills the mechanism as a single unit (which is essential for textual analysis, or to use Hayles’ terminology, Media Specific Analysis), but once we realize that we can extract the mechanism and use it as a potential “page” space for other texts then we have a new entity on our hands, a new “formal object” that can be studied in its own right. Perhaps someday, just as we have people that are known for their design capabilities more than their writing, we will also have programmers known for their ability to construct interesting forms or mechanisms that other writers can textually inhabit. It’s like a playwright who “composes” a play without text, who designs a stage, who choreographs the movement, behavior and interaction of characters, and then lets another writer fill in the words that these actors will say…

    I think most of us believe at this point that writers and designers/programmers MUST share credit: perhaps this is because most of us already “see” the distinction between the formal aesthetics of writing and the formal “mechanistic” aesthetics of programming. Yet, I think it is safe to say that all collaborations won’t be “50-50” as J. Andrews suggests of the stir fry texts, making it possible for a critic to decide which “side” of the collaboration is most effective formally. Just looking at many of the collaborations at, say, Born Magazine, I am sometimes intrigued with the designers, not the writers, and then sometimes, vice-versa (honestly, for the most part it is the design that catches the eye these days, and I’m tempted to think that our modern predilection for “writing style” will be replaced by the “stylistics of the mechanism”).

    Finally, as to question posed by Andrew Stern, I do not think that artists need to share credit with the creators of Flash, Photoshop, etc, that is, list them as collaborators in the production of a specific art work. Their credit is implicit, and their engineering contributions will be examined in the annuls of social technological development. I think, more importantly, that the question becomes political: artists must be conscious of the ideological implications when choosing certain “spaces” for production. I’m thinking here of Matt Fuller’s It looks like you’re writing a letter: Microsoft Word. I think that A. Stern hits on a huge question of programming: should programmers (especially those doing art) create works within already existing platforms, or is the true art of programming the creation of the platform itself?

  20. shane cooper Says:

  21. Jim Andrews Says:

    “This makes me wonder, when is a framework “just a tool”, and when is it something that so fundamentally influences the creation of an artwork that the creation of the framework itself is one half of an art-making collaboration (e.g., I think this is true for StirFry texts)? Should artists that create work in Photoshop, Flash, Shockwave, HTML be sharing artistic credit with the original programmers of those frameworks? Where do we draw the line?”

    The boundaries are kinda blurred, for sure, but I do have some thoughts on the matter.

    The more flexible a tool is, ie, the greater its possibilities in terms of composing form and content, the less it will supply necessary content and necessary form.

    It will be more like a machine for making machines than a machine to make a particular artistic form.

    About all you can say about what Photoshop dictates is that you make an image. What type of image? That’s entirely up to the maker. It tries hard to *not* dictate what the results must necessarily be so that it can be a general image processing piece of software. Of course there’s “photoshopped” work, but that’s a matter of using the filters in predictable ways, and photoshop is about more than filters.

    If it’s evident that the piece needs to share credit with Photoshop, the piece is a dud, ie, it just looks like yet another “photoshopped” piece.

    So one shares credit with Photoshop when one produces doo doo.

    Works of art that are, in part, tools, tend to supply some of the content and invite the viewer/player/whatever to rearrange and transform it, add to it, etc. They tend to invite the player to see the piece and its content amid a combinatorium that is not as vast and is more proscribed than what we encounter in tools for making stuff from scratch.

    The stir fry code does not impose any particular content. The code keys on the innerHTML method. So the stir frys can be made of text or image or other media types you can work with in HTML like Shockwave or Flash or Real Media or whatever.

    But it does dictate the form quite strongly. It’s a far cry from an HTML editor.

    So maybe it’s a question of how strongly the mechanism dictates form and/or content?

  22. Jim Andrews Says:

    “I’m tempted to think that our modern predilection for “writing style” will be replaced by the “stylistics of the mechanism”).”

    Ha. Interesting. Not too many people have a feel for that, at the mo. But I share your appreciation for it in digital works of art.

    “Finally, as to question posed by Andrew Stern, I do not think that artists need to share credit with the creators of Flash, Photoshop, etc, that is, list them as collaborators in the production of a specific art work. Their credit is implicit, and their engineering contributions will be examined in the annuls of social technological development. I think, more importantly, that the question becomes political: artists must be conscious of the ideological implications when choosing certain “spaces” for production. I’m thinking here of Matt Fuller’s It looks like you’re writing a letter: Microsoft Word. I think that A. Stern hits on a huge question of programming: should programmers (especially those doing art) create works within already existing platforms, or is the true art of programming the creation of the platform itself?”

    I probably spend more time than I’d like programming stuff that is somewhat preliminary to the work of art, and I’m using what is currently the most sophisticated multimedia programming tool for the Web: Director. I shudder to think of how much more time I would spend doing work preliminary to the art itself if I were using some other platform or, worse yet, building a new platform from scratch.

    For instance, I’m working on version 4.0 of Windows for Shockwave (version 3.0 is at ). This is a tool for Shockwave developers. But it’s also a tool for me toward works of art for the Web that are nicely windowable using Shockwave. My own art-dev practice more or less needs good windowing. And that isn’t supported in Shockwave (though it is in Projectors) so I’ve had to write it myself.

    This has been quite a bit of work. And it’ll more or less be finished, for my purposes, after version 4.0 is done. Then I’ll be able to make the apps I want to make for the Web, ie, Director supplies the rest of what I need, currently, concerning functionality and speed, connectedness, and so on.

    Programming, as you know, takes quite a while to produce a relatively small result if the platform is not up to what you want to do. Building a platform from scratch would have to involve great programmers beautifully coordinated in their efforts over geographic distances, and most of the work would be invisible for a long time.

    Concerning the politics of the platform one chooses, yes, that’s true. But just what the politics are of, say, using proprietary tools versus ‘open source’ tools is not as simple as the ‘open sourcers’ often present it as being.

    Director, for instance, is often portrayed as an expensive tool inaccessible to artists, and a tool made for corporate use, a tool controlled by strictly corporate interests.

    But, you know, Director has been around since 1987; I see long-term committment there to excellence in digital multimedia. And Lingo was invented by a black man from New York named John Henry Thompson whose interests have centrally involved art for many many years. And the Director Engineers who work for Macromedia are most of them on various Director lists and they’re pretty open to suggestions and criticism. When I was writing Nio, I was in correspondence with the Manager of the Audio dept for Director, and he is an electronic musician/programmer who has performed with Eno. He helped me figure out the audio commands in Director a lot.

    So I’m OK with Director at the mo.

    An odd/funny/weird thing: recently on one of the Director list one of the old timers was saying basically “bring back the old Director logo”. Don’t know if you recall the bossy white guy on the logo in a suit holding a megaphone pointing confidently into the future or something. And there was a ‘director’s chair’ beside him.

    The guy was done in a constructivist style. And his name was Otto Animate. So there were actually Nazi overtones to the logo.

    We just had a big argument over it on one of the Director lists. I was pointing out that indeed there were these Nazi overtones and some others were going “No! No! No! It’s Hollywood and drama and acting! No Nazi overtones!” But they basically had to admit it when several of the programmers who work on Director at Macromedia said, “ya, we thought it had nazi overtones too.”

    did you ever see the WKRP in Cincinnati episode where, as part of a marketing campaign around

    Thanksgiving, they released 100 turkeys from an airplane flying over the city? As the turkeys

    splatted on the sidewalks, Less cried ‘O, the humanity!’. No one on the project team realized

    turkeys couldn’t fly.

    i presume that, somewhat similarly, no one on the logo team realized it had nazi overtones.

    or didn’t care.

    marketing. strange strange strange.

  23. Jim Andrews Says:

    I just finished a new piece that I feel has some relevance to this forum. The piece is called ‘On Lionel Kearns’ and is at either (take your pick) or .

    Lionel Kearns is a Vancouver poet who did some prescient work in the sixties-through-the-eighties in books such as ‘By the Light of the Silvery McLune: Media Parables, Poems, Signs, Gestures, and Other Assaults on the Interface’ and ‘Convergences’. ‘On Lionel Kearns’ is a tribute to his work and extends it into contemporary digital poetics and software art. It’s a hypertext, of sorts, but also contains experimental video and considerable programming work on the videos, texts, and visual poems. Given the nature of Kearns’s poetics, these extensions of his work are virtually ‘of a body.’

    This piece is an attempt to create a hypertext that is able to deal in a readable and focussed way with extended texts but also introduce programming usefully to both amplify and extend the texts.

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