Coding As ... Art?

Make All. The. Things.

At first glance, it may be hard to find the relationship between coding and art — the dominant tech culture and perceived mathiness don't necessarily scream "creatives apply here". But talking with LaunchCoders who are also artists in Kansas City, known for its booming arts community, we found the connections are definitely there. We sit down with these four creators to hear about how their arts and code experiences compare.

What skills or qualities have you found are helpful in both art and code, and why?

Mariah: The ability to envision the big picture and then break it down to its individual parts is quite helpful in art and code. Both require determination to see a project through, even when it seems hopeless. They require faith that there is an answer, even if it may take a while or tweaking to figure it out.

Tricia: Creativity, problem-solving, tenacity and thinking "out of the box" are helpful in both art and code. 

Rob: The ability to pay attention to details helps me create a more stable algorithm.

What about writing code feels similar to making art?

Ashley: Starting with an idea and not really knowing where it is going to take you. You have a problem and don't really know how you're exactly going to solve it, but by the end, you have this beautiful masterpiece that you couldn't have imagined in the beginning.

Mariah: Whether I'm coding or designing, any complex task I do starts with paper. I'm writing, drawing, or graphing out aspects in a very readable way. Then, I apply the specific skills to accomplish the tasks. And yes, there are usually tweaks or even major overhauls along the way, but I always start with that blank page.

Tricia: I'm learning various ways to wrap up complex topics in a short snippet of code that people who know the code can decipher. When looking at one of my knitting patterns, a developer friend said it reminded them, a bit, of BASIC. Also, I'm starting with almost nothing and picking this from here and that from there, altering each just a bit, and putting them all together to create something unique. I love seeing it and knowing, I MADE THAT!

Rob: It's all about how to finish a good product.

In what ways are making art and writing code different?

Ashley: Code is text-based, art is based on shapes and colors. Also, art is visual, while code is reading. That's the hardest part for a visual person like me.

Mariah: The way I practice coding and the way I practice dance are quite different. In dance, I do the same skill over and over, hundreds of times refining and building that muscle memory until it is a natural extension of myself. In code, I practice the same skills a lot too, but I'm using them in new ways each time, to solve different problems. Also, there is a huge consideration for my body and overall health that never goes away when I'm performing. I will stretch while I watch TV, I eat chocolate while I code.

Tricia: Coding is more analytical. There are more rules and you have to learn a LOT before you can make something even a little complex. With art, you can make something unique with simple techniques that you can learn in a few hours. With coding, it takes much longer to learn the basics.

Rob: To make art you need the inspiration to motivate the artist, in coding it's not necessary.

Writing code is solving problems, and creativity is critical to problem solving

How is writing code creative?

Ashley: Writing code is solving problems, and creativity is critical to problem-solving — thinking up solutions takes creativity.

Mariah: There are plenty of creative choices to make beyond just styling a page. Thinking about what features might be important to include, what might a potential user be missing here, or if there is a more efficient way to accomplish the same idea, all require creativity. 

Tricia: There are many paths to a finished object. You can make a simple program but, even then, the code you write will almost never be exactly like someone else's. If you decide to get "fancy" you can add "color" and design to both your code and the result. And if you are making your own thing, you get to design it from the very bottom. What you make is truly your own and truly unique.

What has surprised you about learning to code?

Ashley: How basic computers are — they just run code that humans write really fast. I didn't realize how much you have to think for the computer.

It surprised me how collaborative coding can actually be

Mariah: It surprised me how collaborative coding can actually be. Sure, it's possible to do by yourself, but working on code with others is actually encouraged. I've met some really great people through learning to code, with lots of diverse backgrounds and interests. We talk about coding, but also sports, museums, family, favorite restaurants, all sorts of topics.

Tricia: The level of frustration I feel when it doesn't work. I fail more in code than I do in art. I get very frustrated when my program is supposed to do something and it refuses to cooperate with me. It usually turns out that I am VERY close to what it needs to be and I just forgot a comma or a period or something.

What would you say to a fellow creative who is considering learning to code?

Ashley: DO IT! You'll be better than you think you are. It's not just math and numbers. You'll get to use your creative skills every day. It gives you an advantage! Click to tweet

Mariah: Learning to code is a lot of hard work. It's dedication and faith, especially when nothing seems to go right — but you've been there before, and you've made something wonderful. Do it again. There are plenty of people, resources, and support to help you get there. It's up to you.

Tricia: Do it. I get such a feeling of elation when my code works — I truly feel like I have accomplished something huge. I recommend that feeling to everyone. With coding, you can truly impress yourself!

Rob: Coding is art but in a different form!



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