What is Art? is code Art?

The musings of today’s Thought for Today on BBc Radio Four are often interesting perspectives that drive at something both personal and social. Today’s subject was the concept of modern art, it’s valuation and the way in which artists invest in the art while knowing little about it.

This got me thinking about code. You see code is something that requires an imense amount of creative thinking. Not just problem solving and puzzle mastery; but down right honest to god design and humble craftsmanship to boot. A piece of code must be more than just functional for the user, it must be maintainable in an ever changing world.

This requires that the code be readable and possibly even attractive to potential maintainers as a learning exercise. The best code is obvious where is can be and smartly presented where it needs to be clever. It must deliver it’s cleverness carefully and in reasonable chunks, much like a classical lesson in latin or a course of antibiotics. The code needs to cozy up to the reader and be as familiar with it’s patterns, syntax choices and variable naming conventions as a well worn pair of slippers.

Start using single letter names, odd abbreviations or inventing undocumented artifice and you’ll lose the audience. You’ll alienate the future from your comfortable seat in the past with a smug sense of converse hindsight. The arrogant developer assumes all things are known in the future and all maintainers are themselves or someone very much like themselves. And the trouble with people is, no matter how many you know, there’s always one strange outliers you’ve never met and one day they’ll be looking at your code thinking to themselves that you must have been enjoying your legal high quite a lot on the day you wrote /this/.

So what is art and how does it fit into this whole “understandable code” thought?

I’m not going to pretend there’s not seven billion ways to define art. But I believe art to be “the intentional communication through emotional language”. This means I consider stand up comics to be artists, I consider Fox news to be an arts show and music like rap to be one of the most powerful forms of art around today. But art can be bad like Fox, art can be good like Banksy and that doesn’t detract from it’s medium.

Art can be a failure when it fails to deliver the intended emotions like most modern visual art (to the general population anyway). We can feel disappointed in politicians for failing to be concise and factual, while at the same time marveling at their artistry for using their home spun bull shit to evoke the emotions they want in their audience. It’s wonderfully successful art, and a terrible education for the public. Not that art needs to be true, or that it needs to not be true of course.

Code in this narrowed definition of art, can be art. Sure as above we really want code to be artful as in crafted well; but we also could have code that intends to and successfully delivers an emotion. It has two ways. The usual way is that the code runs a game or some other intended visual art say. It’s the mechanism by which art is delivered and the code in there is part of the whole art.

I remember the radio head “Big Ideas” video that uses a specrum and hard disk array. That delivers art through it’s code is some interesting ways.

But I think most interesting to developers is how their emotions can be engaged by just reading code and repositories. I think source code poetry is a pretty well established way of making art out of code and I really enjoy reading some of it and running it. There are code flowers and other clever mechanisms that evoke wonder and joy as they are compiled and run.

But what of every day code. I think all our code evokes some emotion in those that have to read it and fix it. Mostly this is frustration and annoyance that you didn’t write it in a way more comforting to the reader. But there’s got to be scope here for making functional code that’s beautiful, interesting, passionate, lovely, hateful or just plain fun.

And not just for the user.

What do you think? Can your code be art?

Ubunchu Chapters 06 and 08 Need Volunteers

Ubuntu based manga originally written in Japanese for ASCII magazine company and released as Creative Commons. Many years ago I set up a project to translate the work into english. since that time the group has translated each edition that’s come out. A few people would transcribe, others would translate and I would edit them into English pages and publish online. Read more about Ubunchu here.

Seotch-san (the author) has just released two new editions in Japanese and I’m busy editing pages, and others are busy transcribing and translating in the google group. We could do with some help doing either translation or transcription of the Japanese intot he google spreadsheets. Information is available here if you can help us.

Also needed are two artworks which go on the Stop pages, to explain to English readers how to read Manga right to left instead of the western left to right. In the last edition I personally did the work taking over from the fabulous ~c-quel who did all the previous editions. You can see the past stop/go pages here.

So if you’d like to be involved in drawing some Manga art for Ubuntu, this is your opportunity. The work needs to be related to the chapter it’ll go into, and either be vector svg or high resolution raster png file format. Please comment below to get involved!

P.S. These are the last two chapters of Ubunchu, after this, I don’t think there will be any more.

Inkscape: Book Cover

Sometimes I do some graphics work as a side job. This book cover has taken a while to do (fifteen revisions), but I’ve very pleased with it. Made in Inkscape using Ubuntu 10.10.

Doing this piece I found there are a couple of pieces missing from Inkscape for doing production work, perhaps this is why so many people use Scribus-ng. The normal workflow from what I have seen is to make artwork in Inkscape and then transition to Scribus for the nitty gritty of doing production.

I also did the structural editing of the book contents. That is using LibreOffice to haddle all the titles, paragraphs and types as class styles instead of ad-hock ms-word inline styles. Also dealing with the pagination and a bunch of other production issues. LibreOffice was an ok tool, but a lot of the interfaces are confusing and could do with some more design being brought in on them.

Your thoughts?

Montreal: Libre Graphics Meeting

Hey there, I’m in Montreal this week for the Libre Graphics meetings. I’ve been here since Saturday and it’s been quite a blast already and the main event isn’t even here yet.

We had an excellent chat about how much the author of software can be said to be responsible or involved in the art expression and how software as tools are different or the same as physical art tools and art education.

There was a nod towards proprietary software being profoundly bad for education as well as a lot of mooting that control over your own art tools was very important from an artistic point of view.

I’d have gotten better notes, but I was completely zonked from work on Friday and 4 hours sleep. Then I had wine and was drunk and deathly sleepy. But I seem to remember there might have been Mexican food and a chat between Janine Melnitz and google maps to find the hidden hotel of the elves.

2 days later I’m almost completely recovered! Let me know below if you’re interested in LibreGraphics and if you’d like me to report on any issues that might be talked about.

Narwhals, Art and April 2011

For some reason I just love calling this release Narwhal instead of ‘natty’, something about the pleasing sound of the word narwhal just makes you want to feed it yummy fish.

This month we have some great additions to the Ubuntu Artists gallery, all done using a Free Desktop (usually Ubuntu) and Free Software tools like Inkscape, Gimp and MyPaint: