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Is Programming Art? 462

chromatic writes "A constant question for software developers is 'What is the nature of programming?' Is it art or science? Does creativity or engineering lead the design and implementation of a program? John Littler talked to several well-known and well-respected programmers (including Guido van Rossum, Andy Hunt, Bjarne Stroustrup, Paul Graham, and Richard Stallman) to find their answers; he shares their thoughts and his own in Art and Computer Programming." From the article: "What the heck is art anyway, at least as most people understand it? What do people mean when they say 'art'? A straw poll showed a fair degree of consensus--art is craft plus a special degree of inspiration. This pretty much explains immediately why only art students and art critics at a certain sort of paper favor conceptual art. Conceptual art, of course, often lacks a craft component as people usually understand the term."
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Is Programming Art?

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  • Not a fine art (Score:5, Insightful)

    by fembots ( 753724 ) on Tuesday July 05, 2005 @06:18PM (#12989346) Homepage
    I think Richard Stallman put it quite nicely:

    "I would describe programming as a craft, which is a kind of art, but not a fine art. Craft means making useful objects with perhaps decorative touches. Fine art means making things purely for their beauty."

    When you have to take functionality into account, it often kills the artistic side of the creation.
    • Re:Not a fine art (Score:5, Insightful)

      by SIGALRM ( 784769 ) on Tuesday July 05, 2005 @06:21PM (#12989375) Journal
      Since programming is an art, we ought to be able to classify types of programmers. Here is a start;

      The Picasso programmer: As a whole the system works, but each piece is a warped view of reality.

      The Jackson Pollack programmer: Throws code at the system, trying to see what works.

      The Georges Seurat programmer: When you step back from the system, you can see the overall pattern, but close up each piece is totally distinct from all of the others. (Actually, this is a pretty good description of OO design).

      The Michalangelo programmer: Has a grand, sweeping view of what the system should do, but each piece is done in such meticulous detail that it takes years to finish anything.
    • Re:Not a fine art (Score:5, Insightful)

      by ShaniaTwain ( 197446 ) on Tuesday July 05, 2005 @06:23PM (#12989389) Homepage
      When you have to take functionality into account, it often kills the artistic side of the creation.

      That would mean that architecture, furniture design, etc lacks in the artistic side? I dont think this is the case at all - giving something functionality doesnt remove the artistic side, they complement each other and are not mutualy exclusive.

      • Don't you mean, marketing?
      • by khasim ( 1285 ) <> on Tuesday July 05, 2005 @07:29PM (#12989814)
        With 100% pure functionality (and pure ugly) at one end ... ...
        functionality mixed with aesthetics in the middle ...

        And at the other end, 100% pure aesthetics with no functionality (apart for the materials used).

        Of course, why limit it to one dimension? How about 2 dimensions (a square). In one corner, a bad woodworker who is also a bad artist will make a crappy, ugly chair.

        In the opposite corner, you have a very skilled woodworker who is also a very good artist who makes a very beautiful, yet very functional chair.

        In the other corners are a bad-woodworker but good good-artist and a good-woodworker but bad-artist.
        • by Politas ( 1535 ) on Tuesday July 05, 2005 @11:31PM (#12991123) Homepage Journal
          Definitely separate dimensions. More than two, though.

          It's about focus and the amount of care taken. If someone cares about aesthetics, then they tend to make more aesthetic things. If they care about functionality, then they will make things with greater functionality. If they care about robustness, they will make things that are more robust. If they care about speed, they will make things faster. If they care about cost, they will make things more cheaply. Not all of these things can be combined, of course.
      • Re:Not a fine art (Score:3, Interesting)

        by shitdrummer ( 523404 )
        When you have to take functionality into account, it often kills the artistic side of the creation.

        That would mean that architecture, furniture design, etc lacks in the artistic side? I dont think this is the case at all - giving something functionality doesnt remove the artistic side, they complement each other and are not mutualy exclusive.

        Well, if I take a piece of wood, place it on 4 other pieces of wood and call it a table, is that art? However if I select a nice big tree and carve an ornate tab
    • Re:Not a fine art (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Tackhead ( 54550 ) on Tuesday July 05, 2005 @06:31PM (#12989472)
      > I think Richard Stallman put it quite nicely:
      > "I would describe programming as a craft, which is a kind of art, but not a fine art. Craft means making useful objects with perhaps decorative touches. Fine art means making things purely for their beauty."
      > When you have to take functionality into account, it often kills the artistic side of the creation.

      Depends on the code. Depends on the art.

      I'd consider every entrant into contests like the IOOOC (or obfuscated-your-language-of-choice), to be art. I'd consider any esoteric computer language (a whole line of 'em including INTERCAL, Brainf*ck, Ook, and so on) to be art for art's sake.

      But as for functionality "killing" the artistic side of the equation -- sometimes the most functional things are the most beautiful. Lamborghini, Ferrari, Aston-Martin, Rolls-Royce, Bentley, XB-70 Valkyrie, SR-71 Blackbird, Concorde. Very functional machines, designed to perform very different functions, for very different people. And all very beautiful.

    • Re:Not a fine art (Score:5, Interesting)

      by lskutt ( 848531 ) on Tuesday July 05, 2005 @08:00PM (#12989992)
      I agree, but not completely. Paraphrasing the czech theorist Jan Mukarovsky[1]: art is when the aesthetic function is greater than all other functions.

      Therefore, I would conclude that programming per se is not art, but that it very well can be - if intended. Consider the IOCCC []. While all competition entries do perform some kind of practical function, the main purpose of each one is to be elegant, beautiful, ingenious etc.; properties which we usually associate with art.[2]

      [1] Mukarovsky, Jan, "Aesthetic Function, Norm, and Value as Social Facts.", 1936.
      [2] Note to self: I need to learn english grammar and spelling.
      • Paraphrasing the czech theorist Jan Mukarovsky[1]: art is when the aesthetic function is greater than all other functions.
        Paris Hilton serves no function. Although Paris Hilton's aesthetic function is low, all other functions are even lower. By Jan Mukarovkey's definition, Paris Hilton is art.
    • Re:Not a fine art (Score:4, Informative)

      by Desert Raven ( 52125 ) on Tuesday July 05, 2005 @08:40PM (#12990222)
      Wow, I agree with Richard on something.

      All programming is a craft. Some of it may be crap, and some may be outstanding, but nonetheless, it is craft. Think of it like woodwork. Some pieces are shoddy little boxes nailed togather with scrap. Others are beautiful and extremely strong, with joints so tightly fit that the only way you even know they are there is by the change of the wood-grain.

      *Some* programming is art. (Not much in my opinion.)

      In addition to being a programmer, I'm a leatherworker. Most of what I do is pure craft, but not necessarily art. Belts, straps, repairs, pouches, etc.

      *Sometimes* what I do is art. These are functional pieces with elaborate carving, painting and even occasionally gold leaf and such. They are one-of-a kind pieces that even if another craftsman copied them, would never be quite the same as the original.

      That said, the vast majority of code out there is not even up to journeyman standards, let alone master-craftsman level.
  • Both! (Score:4, Interesting)

    by ssimontis ( 739660 ) <(moc.liamg) (ta) (sitnomis.ttocs)> on Tuesday July 05, 2005 @06:19PM (#12989353)
    I'd say it is mostly science by nature, but you can make it into an art. You can make just about anything into an art with enough creativity. I can see how you might think it could be an art without doing anything special, but I feel it is a lot more technical.
    • Re:Both! (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Triggnus ( 738288 )
      I agree. I feel that even the most menial chore can be done artistically. And there is a certain "art" to making code elegant and functional. The same applies to math, science and other highly techical things.
  • Drivel (Score:2, Insightful)

    by bgog ( 564818 ) *
    What a load of pseudo-intellectual drivel. Coders do what they must to get the job done. Some because it's a job and some because they love it.

    It's like a janitor contemplating whether a clean hall is art. Why not spend your time examining better methods of developing portable/maintainable code or something. I mean really, let's say you get your answer. "It is art" or "It isn't art", what has been accomplished other than the ability to puff up about what you do?

    This is no different than a bunch
    • Re:Drivel (Score:5, Insightful)

      by slavemowgli ( 585321 ) on Tuesday July 05, 2005 @06:24PM (#12989396) Homepage
      If coders *only* do what they must to get the job done, then how do you explain Perl poetry [], for example? What about Perl golf?

      How about things like quines, or programs that are valid and working programs in more than one language at once?

      Aren't these things art? If not, why not? A programming language is, per se, just a tool - just like a brush. You can use brushes to simply coat things with paint, and there are many people who do just that for a living; but you can also use them to create art. The same goes for programming languages, doesn't it?
      • Re:Drivel (Score:3, Insightful)

        by bgog ( 564818 ) *
        Ok it's art. My point is that it's a question and classification that serves no useful purpose. I wasn't arguing that it isn't art.
        • Re:Drivel (Score:3, Insightful)

          by Tim C ( 15259 )
          It's an interesting diversion to while away a few minutes with in between tasks, or over lunch or whatever. A rest for the mind, allowing it to return to more pressing matters refreshed. Isn't that purpose enough?

          If people only did that which served a useful purpose, life would be a much poorer thing, I think.
      • things that you described do exist, but those are mostly what I would call 'fine art' programs. Sure there maybe a use for them (picture on the wall also has a use, it covers a hole on the wall :) but in reality those are not created to be useful but to stand out of the rest of software, to be truly beautiful in some sense. You can't compare such things with most of the software projects that are going on anywhere. Banking software is not built to be beautiful, it is designed to be functional. If some
      • Re:Drivel (Score:4, Funny)

        by AvantLegion ( 595806 ) on Wednesday July 06, 2005 @12:22AM (#12991313) Journal
        >> how do you explain Perl poetry

        Geeks without dates.

    • It's like a janitor contemplating whether a clean hall is art.

      More like an author contemplating what he does is art. I've often thought writing a book and programming are excedingly similar.

      "It is art" or "It isn't art", what has been accomplished other than the ability to puff up about what you do?

      You get to put the subject under the Art Dept or Math dept at the university. Which is a major thing. My local school treats comp sci as a subset of math, so to get the BS, you have to do ungodly amount
      • Re:Drivel (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Tyler Eaves ( 344284 ) on Tuesday July 05, 2005 @06:32PM (#12989481)
        What should problem happen is a split.

        Have to programs, "Comp Sci", which would remain what is is, and "Programming" which would focus much more on "real world" issues. Think of it kinda like Physics vs Engineering.
        • Re:Drivel (Score:3, Interesting)

          Been there done that.

          Got myself a Bachelor of Business Computing (they've since renamed it...) from a local school. It covered some Business Stuff, OO, Design Patterns, Project Management, Usability, Extreme Programming, and similar. Had a couple of pure language classes too. Had I done Comp Sci, I think I'd be a more l33t coder, but this set me up to be far more useful in the Real World. We'll just have to wait for the established Universities to make this kind of move.
      • Good point. I agree comp sci should be it's own catagory. However if it was in the art dept you'd be able to make the same complaint that you had to do a bunch of sculpting that wouldn't see real world use. :)
    • "art refers to all creative human endeavors, excluding actions directly related to survival and reproduction"

      If the Janitor created a clean hallway from a filthy one can it not be appreciated by anyone who takes the time to look?

      Get two or three programmers to write a small application and you will find, sometimes, stunning differences in the way they achieved the same goal. Which to me implies that programming is something that is very creative and it is also very closly tied to the individual who wr

    • More Drivel: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Boronx ( 228853 )
      Coding is technical. User interface is an art, debugging is an art, optimization is an art.
  • Well... (Score:5, Funny)

    by Donniedarkness ( 895066 ) <> on Tuesday July 05, 2005 @06:20PM (#12989360) Homepage
    Programmers do meet one of the requirements that you have to meet to be considered an artist: They make no money.
    • 2 more actualy (Score:2, Insightful)

      by dnamaners ( 770001 )
      B.) Like artists there appear to be quite a number of programmers that insist on making true crap and calling it "programing", while only a few make truly good programs.

      C.) and like art many people seem to actively pursue the work of some of these programmers and place high values on their works. However, they do so with little regard as to weather the works belong to the "crap" or the "skilled" categories.
  • Emotion? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday July 05, 2005 @06:21PM (#12989373)
    For me, art must express some level of emotion. Good art communicates that which cannot be said.

    While Windows sometimes makes me cry, to what degree does programming convey emotion?
  • It's engineering (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday July 05, 2005 @06:21PM (#12989374)
    Same as usual, a bridge can be beautiful to look at, beautiful in how it copes with it's load etc, same as code, it's just people don't like looking at code as engineering for some reason.

    • It's both a science and an art. The science of computer programming dictates that there is at least one optimal way of solving a problem that can be solved algorithmically. Sometimes the one optimal way is actually the only way. Sometimes there are many optimal solutions and it's the artist in us that decides which optimal solution to choose.

      There may be many ways to build a bridge, but the artistic civil engineer will choose something cool. :)
    • Re:It's engineering (Score:5, Interesting)

      by BenJeremy ( 181303 ) on Tuesday July 05, 2005 @06:41PM (#12989544)
      Well, to some degree, engineering can be art.

      Consider great works of architecture... certainly, the simple task of building a bridge, or some building can result in the most straight-forward, brute-force application of a solution, but the results would not be as elegant or noteworthy.

      Similarly, code can be kludged to hell, lacking any elegance and as a result, impossible to enhance or even maintain... or a software engineer could architect a system that is elegant and even mostly reusable (or even better build such a system out of a large library of code already written).

      Unfortunately, the difference is lost amongst probably 80% of the "programmers"
      out there, who have more of an attitude of "get 'r done" and "if it ain't broke...". We talk about patterns, algorithms, processes to developing solid applications and systems, but end up dealing with managers or clients who couldn't give a rat's ass about it until a quality audit is announced.

      I know a handful of very talented engineers who can design "on the fly" - elegant design work, and as a bonus, they know the engineering side, as well. Put the two together, the SCIENCE of applying basic engineering principles, along with the ART of intuitively understanding the best flow of an application, and you've got solid code.

      To put it another way, I've seen guys who know the process side of software engineering inside and out - but couldn't code their way out of a paper bag, and certainly cannot architect a real software system. They know the science, but lack the artistry (i.e the creative thinking).

      • by yoha ( 249396 ) on Tuesday July 05, 2005 @07:12PM (#12989697)
        it's the architecture of a bridge that's art. the engineering is science.
      • Consider great works of architecture... certainly, the simple task of building a bridge, or some building can result in the most straight-forward, brute-force application of a solution, but the results would not be as elegant or noteworthy..

        I don't think building a bridge can be considered "simple" but that's not my point.

        Expanding on the bridge / software analogy, a bridge would not be nearly as beautiful to look at if:

        1) The load requirement was doubled halfway through the project
        2) To pay for #1, y
    • Re:It's engineering (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Bob9113 ( 14996 )
      same as code, it's just people don't like looking at code as engineering for some reason.

      One of the core differences that makes it so hard to compare software engineering with other engineering disciplines (particularly bridge building and building building) is that software is fundamentally more malleable.

      If you build a condominium, then decide you want the first floor to be six feet taller, it is exceedingly expensive to change it. Furthermore it is obvious to the layman why it is expensive to change i
    • As a professional Mechanical engineer, I *hate* it when average code monkeys call themselves "software engineers". I'm sorry, but engineers perform analysis. *Mathemetical* analysis. Some software engineers do this: they develop algorithms to optimize code and prove that they work. Most programmers don't. I'm sorry, but if you don't analyze your work to prove that it works, you don't get to be an engineer. Having QA people push buttons until something breaks is testing, not analysis.

      Also, engineers h
  • by mister_llah ( 891540 ) on Tuesday July 05, 2005 @06:23PM (#12989382) Homepage Journal
    If a well-composed essay is a form of art... I would have to say an efficient program is certainly a form of art.

    You just have to remember the appeal of art of this sort is MUCH smaller... you need to understand it to really enjoy it... and unlike abstract art or modern art (where very few understand it and very many say they do) ... you have very few who understand it... and not a lot of people who care a lick about it.

    So, yes, it is an art form... for a very small subset of the population.

    My two cents, anyway...
  • What is art? (Score:2, Informative)

    In days gone bye, even science was considered an art form, but nowadays it's all science and the only artists left seem to be the people who once were musicians.

    If Britney Spears can be referred to as an artist then gees, there's enough computer porn out there for programming to qualify as an art.
  • by DanielMarkham ( 765899 ) on Tuesday July 05, 2005 @06:24PM (#12989395) Homepage
    Load up the cannons -- here's the perfect slashdot story: programming art or science?
    That's like a story that's titled, "Chocolate Ice Cream, better than Vanilla?"
    Art is subjective. If you believe that some part of science is subjective as well, then you understand that there is no easy answer to the question posed. If you think science has no subjectivity, then welcome to the food fight!

    Quality: It's a Numbers Game []
  • No, it's a craft (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Linus Torvaalds ( 876626 ) on Tuesday July 05, 2005 @06:24PM (#12989401)

    Art is aesthetic, not useful. While you can use those aesthetics for a useful purpose (e.g. selling it to people who appreciate those aesthetics), that doesn't mean it's intrinsically useful.

    Programming is a craft. It is useful, which distinguishes it from art. A certain sense of aesthetics, skill and experience is necessary to program effectively, which distinguishes it from merely being a profession.

    • Which raises the interesting question, if you plumbed in Duchamp's "Fountain" would it stop being art?
    • If you think about it, programming is most similar to architecture or civil engineering. It has strong engineering elements, but at the same time, offers a tremendous amount of room for personal expression, and is one of those things in which talent matters more than anything else.

      Think about a large engineering project like the Brooklyn Bridge. The lead engineer designed the bridge to be not just functional but beautiful as well. Or consider something like the Guggenheim, in which the architect didn't jus
  • by AuMatar ( 183847 ) on Tuesday July 05, 2005 @06:24PM (#12989403)
    Computer science- the concepts of bits and bytes and memory addresses is a science. There is a right and wrong answer for pretty much everything. Its researchable and falsifiable.

    The design of a computer program is an art. There is no defined standard for what is or is not good design, its not falsifiable. And its not something that can be taught by rote in a college course. Picking the right design for your specifications and requirements is an art, and one that too few people really understand.
  • Computer science is something completely different from the norm. It's almost surreal. I think it should be classified in a realm all by itself. You can make some incredibly dense scientific code, and yet also at the same time, the code can be quite poetic -- artistic even.

    Not to mention the possibilities that computing offers us - I don't think of it merely as science nor merely as an art - to me it's both.
    • by Anonymous Coward
      Computer science is something just like everything else. Seriously, get over yourself, you aren't that special. (And our generation isn't special for knowing about computers. Teenagers thought they were smarter than their parents/teachers long before they had computers.)

      Now, computer science is an immature field, and has a long way to go. That means it has some challenges to go through as it develops. It also has a different front-end than other fields, sure. There are plenty of differences, but the basic
  • by YankeeInExile ( 577704 ) * on Tuesday July 05, 2005 @06:25PM (#12989413) Homepage Journal

    ... there was no question in my mind. And, tying to another thread some months ago, it is what differentiates the mere coder from the true hacker. To draw an analogy to the painter: On the one hand you have Hank the Housepainter, and on the other hand you have Michelangelo. They both apply paint to surfaces, and as good a housepainter as Hank ever becomes, he will never be an artist.

    Similarly, designing a complex system looks to an outsider like merely writing one line of code after another. It is only when you step back and see how the lines of code merge into a subroutine, and subroutines coalesce into cogent modules, and these modules get connected together to become a useful system that you can see the art. One square centimeter of yellow paint is not art, that square in the middle of one piece in a series of paintings on a theme is.

    There are a lot more housepainters than artists. There are a lot more coders than there are hackers.

    • ... designing a complex system looks to an outsider like merely writing one line of code after another. It is only when you step back and see how the lines of code merge into a subroutine, and subroutines coalesce into cogent modules, and these modules get connected together to become a useful system that you can see the art.

      I think this highlights an important difference when talking about whether programming is an art, a craft, or a science. Specifically, it depends on your point of view.

      In your

  • Why diminish programming by comparing it to art? Art is easy. Art is boring. Anyone can make art. Artists are a dime a dozen.
  • Code as art. (Score:3, Interesting)

    by kesuki ( 321456 ) on Tuesday July 05, 2005 @06:26PM (#12989428) Journal []

    Now that code, is art. Most code is just craft, but to make a working perl program, that is an ascii-art of a camel, that is True Art..
  • Art is as Art does (Score:5, Interesting)

    by ScentCone ( 795499 ) on Tuesday July 05, 2005 @06:27PM (#12989431)
    There's just no one big bucket called "programming." To the extent that one's code interacts with, or communicates to a user, there's ample room for an artful implementation. Especially when the code's purpose is, through that interaction, to inform or pursuade. Yes, that's getting into "content" rather that programming, but the line between those is very, very fuzzy, especially in web development.

    That being said, I think there's a certain intrinsic beauty to the way that I indent my subroutines.
  • If it doesn't make someone angry, then it's not art. If you write programs that regularly fill some people w/ rage (and others w/ delight), then you're an artist.

    If you accept my definition of art, then DVD Jon is an artist. Bram whatshisface is an artist.
  • by Quirk ( 36086 ) on Tuesday July 05, 2005 @06:29PM (#12989457) Homepage Journal
    Rigor []

    from wikipedia:
    "Mathematical rigour is often cited as a kind of gold standard for mathematical proof. It has a history, being traced back to Greek mathematics, where it is said to have been invented. Complete rigour, it is often said, became available in mathematics at the start of the twentieth century. This relies on the axiomatic method, and the subsequent development of pure mathematics under the axiomatic umbrella. With the aid of computers, it is possible to check proofs mechanically; throwing the possible flaws back onto machine errors that are considered unlikely events. Indeed, mathematical rigour may be defined as amenability to algorithmic checking of correctness. Formal rigour is the introduction of high degrees of completeness by means of a formal language. Most mathematical arguments are presented as prototypes of formally rigorous proofs, on the grounds that too much formality may in fact obscure what is being said."

    Robustness []

    from wikipedia:
    "In computing terms, robustness is reliability or being available seven days a week, twenty-four hours a day. Robustness is an important characterists of the internet because network design is a key factor in the availability of data."
    This also can translate into portability.


    from wikipedia:
    "The proof of a mathematical theorem is considered elegant if it is surprisingly simple yet effective and constructive; similarly, a computer program or algorithm is elegant if it uses a small amount of intuitive code to great effect."

    Euclidean Geometry was long thought to demonstrate all three qualities. If one wants to attribute art to elegance then programming can be said to be art.

  • I'm inclined to think that programming- or at least the vast majority of programming- is craft rather than art. The essential difference is that art is itended as a form of communication with others, while craft is primarily functional. In programming, the functional necessity of the job at hand tends to overwhelm the expression of the programmer.

  • Unless if said programming is done with a help of a Brillo(TM) box.
  • by Shadow Wrought ( 586631 ) <shadow,wrought&gmail,com> on Tuesday July 05, 2005 @06:32PM (#12989480) Homepage Journal
    Keep in mind that for every Monet, there's half a dozen Thomas Kincaides.
  • by RobotWisdom ( 25776 ) on Tuesday July 05, 2005 @06:32PM (#12989482) Homepage
    Bill Budge is not a well-remembered name, because his heyday was the Apple ][ era, and his masterwork was Pinball Construction Set (8-bit object oriented GUI).

    But he did a couple of 6502 tutorials in an Apple magazine just before it went bankrupt (Softalk?), and the way he defined variables struck me as exactly like poetry-- he seemed to have meditated on the deep meaning long enough that he knew how to create exactly the right variables, and name them the right names.
  • If by "programming" you mean getting a computer to do what you want it to, then no, programming is simple "code monkey" work.

    If "programming" includes designing what it is exactly that you want the computer to do in the first place (a.k.a. "design"), then programming becomes
  • It's not art (Score:4, Insightful)

    by brkello ( 642429 ) on Tuesday July 05, 2005 @06:33PM (#12989493)
    A constant question for software developers is 'What is the nature of programming?' Is it art or science?

    Maybe I am a strange software developer, but these are not the questions going on through my mind at night. Maybe "how can I improve the design" or "what does the customer really want from this product" but usually it's "how can I get that cute girl back to my place". Seriously though, these people have too much time on their hands. I didn't RTFA, so it may be brilliant. But programming is definitely a science. The thing is, that as programmers, we can recognize beauty in the design and implementation of a program. In that sense, to us, it can be beautiful. We might say the programmer is so good that he is an artist. But this is true in any field. We have someone install our networks and truly, he is an artist. He takes the spaghetti of thousands of cables and makes it so neat and logical it would make an artist weep. But is it art? No...that's a stupid question.
  • Hacking is an art. When some coder develops something in visual basic because he has been told too do so by his boss, and he gives a given ammount of work hours to finish it as fast as he can, it's usually not art. But when J.R. Hacker writes something in C & Asm just to see if he can actually do it, it's art, because of the motivations for developing the software, the hacker will try to make it as best as possible, and the reason to write many parts of the software will be to make it beatyful and elega
  • If by "programming" you mean getting a computer to do what you want it to, then no, programming is simple "code monkey" work.

    If "programming" includes designing what it is exactly that you want the computer to do in the first place (a.k.a. "design"), then programming becomes a form of art. It is "problem solving" with such a large number of possible solutions that it takes a certain amount of inspiration to come to the best answer.
  • by The Pim ( 140414 ) on Tuesday July 05, 2005 @06:37PM (#12989520)
    One of the responants, Erik de Castro Lopo:
    Programming OTOH is tightly restrained by what our programming languages actually allow us to do.
    Hmm, I wonder what programming languages he uses? Oh: "coauthor of C for Linux Programming in 21 Days". I prefer to use languages that don't tightly restrain me, and can be more creative that way.

    I don't want to overstate the point--artistry is found in all forms of programming--but I think it's telling that the advocates of higher-level languages in the interview are more inclined to see programming as art.

  • by mark-t ( 151149 )
    Programs are brought into being solely by the will and creativity of the author.

    They enrich our lives in that computer programs can do things that people may find either useful or entertaining.

    Computer programming is art. No question.

  • Back in the day when "computer programmers" had degrees in mathematics and not "information systems", it was art.

    Then the dot-com thing happened, and nobody differentiates someone with a mathematics or engineering degree and some kid with a "certification". The result? Lousy software for everyone!

    That's why I left the field.

  • I tend to think anything that is creatively inspired is a form of art. This ranges from the sciences and the non-sciences. Beauty is derived from creative inspiration. Some us see beauty in equations and others see it in paintings. The idea that you can create an absolute measure which determines art goes against what being creative is.
  • by 5n3ak3rp1mp ( 305814 ) on Tuesday July 05, 2005 @06:41PM (#12989547) Homepage
    People who come to enjoy programming, in my experience, come from all sorts of backgrounds. I have met coders who were formerly big into music, or poetry, or photography, etc. I myself was a psych major (albeit a CS minor), which might explain my interface-nazi tendencies with regards to UI design ;) I couldn't be a CS major because I kept messing up ::cough:: flunking ::cough:: my "weedout" engineering calc classes (which were a CS requirement at my school), but in hindsight, I liked being able to take lots of electives. So, although I would be at a loss to create a new useful compression algorithm, and am probably not the BEST programmer out there, i really like to design and develop nice code/nice backend database schemas, that result in something that someone thinks is kickass.

    Unlike a lot of coder geeks I know, though, I got A's in advanced english classes, AND art classes ;) So I can actually document my own stuff pretty well, and I've been client-facing for a while so I know how to write courteous emails with lots of e-business-speak... ;)

    My boss at my former job used to play football and now codes. Can you imagine?!?! Football! While I spent summers geeking out, he was learning what a button-hook was. The horror. lol. (i pretty much have zero interest in sports. it seems like a lot of pointy-haired types do, though. oh well, to each his own)

    Meanwhile, the two coders I know who I used to secretly idolize because they actually WERE cs majors, got tired of coding and are now both getting MBA's (which seems like a boring thing to do, were I to do it). Their complaint was that coders get shit on at corporate jobs, and they were just tired of the whole design/code/test/deploy/debug/support cycle.

    Screw 'em, they also liked football ;)

    I know what they're talking about in the former case of feeling taken-advantage of (not to mention that I am TIRED, TIRED of working with Microsoft-only technology, from an ideological/stuck-in-the-Microsoft-bubble standpoint!), and my solution to that is probably going to happen soon. Take my savings, quit my corporate job (which has done nothing for my technical development lately) and code freelance for a while. Wish me luck (I'm a little nervous), I have a few ideas and I'll be starting by diving headfirst into Ruby/Rails and seeing where that takes me ;)

    Perhaps I'll never be a millionaire (or perhaps I will), but building stuff (the craft of it, and the type of creativity required at times) that someone else thinks is cool really floats my boat.

    Who cares what programming "is", as long as people stop frickin' stereotyping us. The only thing that all programmers have in common, is that they program. The rest of it, like the difficulty in dating the opposite sex, is just positive correlation ;)
  • To me, if a piece of work creates a desired emotional response in the part of some of the viewers- then it is art.

    So I do not see code as art. I like stallman's view of it as a craft.

    However, I think people are saying it in the sense of "more art than science" which means that you can do it in a nifty way which is elegant, smaller, tighter- or in a "machine" way which gets the job done but is ugly, repetative, less efficient but maybe easier to maintain or generate.

    In this sense, coding will alway
  • When answering that question, one has to apply it to already-defined modes of Art.

    For instance, does a nice brushstroke in a painting count as Art? No. It may be considered masterful, but it is not in itself Art. In the same way, a clever line of code is not itself Art.

    So, then Art is more than the sum of its parts. While someone's code may be sublime in its composition, but it is only when you take the sum of that code (and therefore, also the execution of that code) can you determine the worth of the a
  • Free your mind from duality and the dilemma magically disappears!

    ... but then there will be no article and no lots of feel good fanfare ... hmmmmmmmm
  • by edwinolson ( 116413 ) on Tuesday July 05, 2005 @06:46PM (#12989586) Homepage
    I believe that computer programming is like brick-and-mortar architecture.

    The vast majority of buildings are just buildings. But every once in a while, a building is a work of art.

    One of the things I like about architecture (and computer programming) is that the buildings always serve a purpose. They don't arise out of the ether to express a purely abstract thought, but arise from the need to create something useful.

    But don't delude yourself by thinking that you're an artist just because you're a computer programmer. The vast majority of buildings are cinder-block, minimum-cost affairs, and the same is true for code.
  • by blackhedd ( 412389 ) on Tuesday July 05, 2005 @06:58PM (#12989604)
    Mozart considered composition a craft. So did Bach, who regularly turned out a new cantata most weeks for his job at the Thomaskirche in Leipzig. The notion that artists have special access to some emotional content not available to ordinary craftsmen is a nineteenth-century idea. But everyone agrees that both Mozart and Bach had access to some pretty unusual stuff- we hear it and respond to it.
    The content of programming is perhaps too instrumental (i.e., interesting for its usefulness more than its inherent qualities) to rise to the level of art. But this may be changing with the state-of-the-art games. In a hundred years, people may look back at today's game developers as the inventors of a new art form!
  • by Doc Ruby ( 173196 ) on Tuesday July 05, 2005 @07:01PM (#12989620) Homepage Journal
    Art is anything people make. Which really means any change people make in any medium. Craft is a kind of art: more functional than representational. Good art is just art that I like.
  • View of a BS + BFA (Score:3, Insightful)

    by tverbeek ( 457094 ) on Tuesday July 05, 2005 @07:06PM (#12989652) Homepage
    Way back when I was getting my degree in CS, I opined that it wasn't really a "science" degree, because there was obviously (to me, at least) a lot of creativity involved in the field. Not just in terms of interface design and making pretty widgets (which weren't really taught in those pre-MS-Windows, Mac 128K days), but even something as mundane as code formatting had an aesthetic aspect to it. (I thought the way one of profs formatted his code was ugly; I insisted on defying his example.) And although sorting algorithms and such could be ranked mathematically, many of the choices of how approach a problem seemed creative to me.

    Several years later, I went back to college, this time studying graphic design and illustration, with a foundation of ye olde fine arts thrown in. I was only mildly surprised to have an instructor start talking about the Fibonacci numbers and the Golden Section. It learned that there are even objective and verifiable standards for what humans usually perceive as "balanced", "unsettling", and even "beautiful". This doesn't mean that art can be verified quantifiably, but it does mean it isn't 100% subjective, either. (Rob Liefeld is a bad artist. Full stop.)

    "What is art?" is a subject that will get even art students into heated debate with each other. But if you include architecture and poetry (and I think most people would), then programming has to be at least within the grey fringe.

    Personally, I don't care much for attempts to distinguish between (for example) fine art, commercial art, design, craft, etc. Part of that's because I took classes that arguably included each of these, and what I was doing in one or another them wasn't fundamentally different. My art school has majors in Furniture Design, Sculpture, Illustration, Photography, Painting, Interior Design, Graphic Design, etc. and hardly anyone around here tries to separate them into categories of craft/art/design etc.

    There's art in science; there's science in art. That's certainly the way Leondardo approached his life's work, and it's how I try to approach mine.

  • by under_score ( 65824 ) <> on Tuesday July 05, 2005 @07:18PM (#12989741) Homepage
    And as a programmer (the black sheep of the family), I strongly believe that programming is an art form. The article talks about finding examples of software that are "art"... but I think every instance of programming is art. I recently got into a fairly in-depth discussion about this topic: Programming: Technical or Artistic []. I think one very interesting point is that both software and "normal" art have an audience. The programmer creates a work of art in the medium of a programming language and a physical computer system. The audience, the customer/user of the created software system, may appreciate the software or not: there is no objective measure to say that software is "correct". Software, like art, does what it does, and the audience determines its value, beauty, utility, and esthetics.
  • by sakusha ( 441986 ) on Tuesday July 05, 2005 @07:32PM (#12989837)
    The US Supreme Court made a definitive ruling on the definition of art in the 1929 case Brancusi vs. US Treasury Dept.

    Constantin Brancusi imported his famous metal sculpture "Bird in Flight" and was assessed a 40% tariff by Customs, categorizing it as "Machined metal implements, Kitchen Utensils, and Hospital Supplies" rather than the 0% tariff applied to art objects. Brancusi sued the Treasury Department to recover the tariff.

    Eventually the Supreme Court agreed with Brancusi that the object was art rather than a mere machined metal object. The core definition of an art object is: something made with the express purpose of being an art object, made by someone recognized as an artist by other artists.

    Well, that is a fairly circular definition, in part, but it does clearly lay out the rules. Artists (those people society generally recognizes as artists) get to define art. The corollary: programmers do not get to define their work as art.
  • by Greyfox ( 87712 ) on Tuesday July 05, 2005 @07:54PM (#12989961) Homepage Journal
    I feel that programming, when at its most artistic, is very similar to Zen painting. In Zen painting you strive to express the inner nature of your subject in as few brush strokes as possible. With programming you strive to express the inner nature of the work to be done in as few expressions as possible. And if you don't, some guy hits you with a bamboo stick until you get it right. Very similar...

    The difference is that a painting is not as easily changed as a computer program. So the program may evolve toward perfection (refactoring) over time, while the painting only has one shot at it. But then, when you consider it, they are all perfect...

  • by voidphoenix ( 710468 ) on Tuesday July 05, 2005 @08:49PM (#12990286)
    I think the central problem is the misguided assumption that art, craft and science are mutually exclusive, as are beauty and utility. As some have already stated, there can be beauty in functional things: the Lamboghini Countach, the SR-71 Blackbird, the Golden Gate Bridge. Leonardo da Vinci is considered among the greatest artists, and yet he was a scientist, inventor and engineer. There is such a thing as beautiful code, programs which can be considered art. Not everybody can appreciate them, just as not everybody appreciates the beauty of a fugue, a poem, a painting or an essay. Most programmers write code to simply fulfill specifications, but the artists among us fulfill those specifications with beautiful code. Therein lies our art.
  • I have been programming for about 17 years and my background is mechanical engineering. For many years I saw programming as the kind of thing a technician does. A technician is a guy of at least some intelligence with the proper training and experience. He gets the job done. The funny thing is that as years passed I never changed my basic opinion on the job as a whole.

    Then one day my boss was chewing my ass off for God knows why, and he complained that the problem with programmers is that they are artists and that opens a huge can of worms. We argued about it for a while but he left me convinced that yes, real programmers are artists, not technicians.

    When was the last time you read a bit of hacked together code that looked so nasty that it made you smile? Sure, it looked like hell, but it got the job done. You could probably recognize who actually wrote that particular piece of code because eventually the great programmers develop their own particular style.

    When was the last time you read a tiny little bit of code, a really small function that did just one lousy little thing, but not only it did the job, but it took you a split second to figure out what the hell the programmer was thinking when he/she wrote it? That's art.

    If programming was purely technical, then we would never get into the zone in the middle of the god damn night, or solve a problem while in the can or taking a shower.
  • by Anthony ( 4077 ) * on Tuesday July 05, 2005 @09:32PM (#12990526) Homepage Journal
    Art to me reveals itself when it, by its existence, evokes an insight into something greater then the obvious and mundane. I feel transformed after wandering through an art gallery, finishing a well written book that touched me or listening to music that "struck a chord". It is not just the finished product, but the human effort to achieve that product that moves me. The continuous practice of the musician, the inspiration and perspiration of the composer and writer. The baffling achievement of the artist. Glancing at my bookshelf, I see the "Linux Programming Bible by John Goerzen" with its rational layout and copious sample code. I can use it as a reference for "how to do X", but it does not move me. OTOH, TAOCP by Knuth does move me. Even comparing the complexity of the typesetting and the painstaking efforts of the TAOCP author to create the typesetting language in the first place! As for programming as art, one has to decide whether a utilitarian outcome can invoke a trascendental experience. I think good building architecture hints at this, however it is not often that the architect is the one who implements the design. Maybe programming can only be art when the design and the implementation are conceived and delivered by the same person. This precludes the large "sausage factory code" and includes a lot of single author creations such as Perl, Python, TeX, Emacs (regardless of subsequent contributions by others).
  • Art (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Caligari ( 180276 ) on Tuesday July 05, 2005 @10:42PM (#12990911) Homepage
    There is no concrete definition of what is art. The Modernists spent their time negating every successive art movement. You think that art has to be beautiful? Baudelaire showed us that art could be about the ugly too. You think art has to be painstakingly made by masters who dedicated great portions of their lives to painting or sculpting? Duchamp showed us that art could be regular industrial products like urinals and snow shovels (the readymade). Warhol took this a step further by becoming the industry himself (his famous gallery/workshop known as "The Factory"). Today, you can buy socks and postage stamps - each one a work of art! - from the great contemporary artist Ben Vautier [].

    In truth, art today has merged with marketing and advertising. To be an artist today is to be a master of communication, a master networker.

    The question is not is programming art but rather can somebody convince you that programming is art.

  • Yes (Score:3, Informative)

    by cspring007 ( 705809 ) on Wednesday July 06, 2005 @01:58AM (#12991739) Homepage Journal
    Programming of any sort of value is most certainly an artform
    Well, at least, that is what i think of it as. Anyone can write code. Writing code well and being innovative is an art.

    this is also an art []
    Coolest thing i have ever seen.
    ...Now if only he could somehow hook it up to google maps..
  • by Master of Transhuman ( 597628 ) on Wednesday July 06, 2005 @02:03AM (#12991764) Homepage

    The only thing "artistic" about art is the decision what to be "artistic" about. Everything else is engineering - putting together known quantities of known materials to generate a desired effect.

    HOW you put together those materials - say, for least cost to greatest effect - might be imaginative, but it's still engineering in my view.

    Any programmer who think he's doing "art" is probably a piss-poor programmer - and probably has never documented a single program in his life.

    Which is just about every programmer I've ever known, seen, heard about or read about.

Make it myself? But I'm a physical organic chemist!