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Feature:Open Source as an Ant Farm 92

Occasionally someone submits a feature that really raises my eyebrow. Jack William Bell did just that by submitting 'Open Source as an Ant Farm'. Its a really interesting piece that talks about code as art, and much more. Its quite funny, and its got a lot to think about. Click now, you won't regret it.

Open Source as an Ant Farm

by Jack William Bell

Where Open Source is concerned, hyperbole from the digerteratti hype meisters proliferates nearly as quickly as the hyperlinks they hype. Let's face it -- Clapton has been deposed; Linus Torvalds is now God. And those pundits shouting his divinity the loudest can^Òt even tell a stack register from a walrus. I wonder if Jesus had the same problem?

This constant lionizing of Linus is getting on my nerves. I mean, he is probably a great guy and all (if you know what I mean), but a great man? Usually you wait until people are safely dead (and unable to further embarrass themselves) before heaping those kinds of laurels on their heads. If I was he I would start worrying about that strange human proclivity for taking our living idols down a notch once in a while. Or even nailing them to a tree. Not to mention burning at the stake, drawing and quartering and satirizin g on TV.

But I knew things were getting ridiculous this last week when I saw three different weblogs pointing to the same dumb article using variations on the same dumb caption: 'Open Source as an Art Form' . I mean come on, just because a bunch of nutzoid art types gives Torvalds an award for Linux doesn't mean that an operating system or a development model is art! Yeesh!

Not that I don't think of programming as art mind you. After all I am a programmer myself and I often like to compare what I do to the creation of art. A kind of raw industrial art perpetuated underneath the digital world by Morlo cks like myself while the Eloi cavort on the surface, unaware of the immense complexity (and fragility) of their world. In other words code is art, but it is exclusionist art. No more approachable to the everyday person than a Jackson Pollock work. And twice as incomprehensible!

After all if everyone could do it, it wouldn't be art, would it? It would be just another craft. And if everyone could appreciate good code the way I appreciate the Impressionists then it would be 'Classical' (read 'Dead') Art. Not something alive and thriving. Bubbling and fermenting and making funny smells the way the process of hacking out good code does.

But, you say, it is being appreciated just as you would like! After all, isn't that what the award was all about?

Well, no frankly. Not even close. In my opinion if you can't write good code you can't appreciate good code. At the most you can only appreciate the end result, the compiled program. And, while some programs are definitely 'art' in their own right, many others cannot be described as such based on their even visible-to-the-user external features. And Linux, while a work of art in my programmer eyes, is really just a kernel. A piece of code that, if everything is working right, the user will never see directly. Some of my peers would agree with this. Some will not. As always opinions are all over the map...

One poster on Slashdot tried to have it both ways when he opined "Which part of the programming is the art? Is it the code, neatly formatted, with creative comments and clever algorithms or is it the finished product? When you look at 'art' in a museum, all you see is the finished product . . . So which is the art? The code or the program? I personally think it's the program, and beautiful programs usually have very nice/efficient/clean code."

While another lamented "When the New Yorker compares Open Source to the Algonquin roundtable, the seventh seal will be complete and Microsoft will be free to release Windows 2000."

And another asks "So how is this art going to be displayed? Will art galleries have framed printouts of C code, or will they just give out Linux CDs?"

How indeed? Well, if you read the dumb article I mentioned above you will find the author's thesis is that neither the source code nor the compiled Linux kernel code is the issue, rather the art in question is the Open Source development model that built it! He bases this proposition the following facts:

  • China Youth Daily used the Microsoft consternation over Open Source for propaganda purposes.
  • The Open Source development model (as described by Eric Raymond) is about cooperation and participation.
  • Indian Potlatches were about cooperation and participation.
  • The Surrealists did some stuff that involved cooperation and participation.
  • A lot of twentieth century art uses 'quotation' (like painting soup cans or sampling 1970's Rock and Roll for Rap music) and 'quotation' is kind of like Open Source, isn't it?
  • John Myatt's art forgery scam was kind of like 'quotation' too! And it was kind of like art as well
  • When some people share a pseudonym to do wacky performance art, and then someone else uses the same nom de plume to crack a web site or to write an on-line 'tag-team' novel you have cooperation and participation and quotation and propaganda all rolled into one, with an Internet connection as a sweetener!

My first thought on reading the article was "Huh?" Then I reread and listed the salient points above and reiterated "Huh?"

Clearly Harvey Blume isn't a programmer. If he was I wouldn't trust him to code a 'for' loop based on his demonstrated grasp of simple logic. Nonetheless if he had simply stated that Open Source programming with the Bazaar model is 'Art' because he says it was art I would have much less to quibble with. After all art, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder. Only he didn't. Instead he chose to defend his allegation using arguments that indicate he doesn't understand anything about the subject. In other words, I cannot say Mr. Blume is wrong, but I can state with near certainty that he is the wrong person to make the claim. He might be right, but for the wrong reasons.

So, assuming you can call a development model an art form -- how do you hang it on the wall? I would argue that it is already there. The main point about Open Source is that it is (wait for it) . . . OPEN! Duh^Å Unlike 'Closed' development the source code is available for all to see. And often the discussions between developers are available as well, archived on one list server or another. In the Internet sense you can't get up against the wall any more that that!

But what does the average art lover see hanging there? Open Source as an Art Form? I think not. More like Open Source as an Ant Farm! At most they will get a glimpse of we scurrying workers as we toil underground. But they will never, ever understand. As I said before, I am OK with that.

Non programmer types can present art awards for Linux or even Sendmail if they like, but it doesn't signify to me. In my opinion these awards mean nothing until they are given by someone who understands why the jargon file definition of 'Recursion' is funny. Until then I would rather they just threw money. Wouldn't you?

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Feature:Open Source as an Ant Farm

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  • by Anonymous Coward
    Linux isn't art. Bits of Linux are art, the VM system is one of the clearest and easiest to follow I've seen (especially compared to the Mach derived BSD one). However bits of Linux are _really_ ugly, take drivers/scsi/st.c for example, a 500 line function to write to the tape that does _everything_. ICK! (I'd fix it if there wasn't an IPR conflict). We need to recognize Linux's flaws. Accept that it isn't perfect. Those who work on the kernel know this all too well. The rest of us mortals need to accept this too.
  • by Anonymous Coward
    All art/creative efforts go through the same process, no matter what type of art they are. Step 1: The creator has an idea about what he wants to create. Step 2: He attempts to express this idea to the best of his ability in his chosen medium, be it paint or clay or code Step 3: His work is viewed by another, when his work is viewed, the viewer is interacting directly with the mind of the artist. So code is art in the sense that all three of these steps occur in the process of creating code. Take for example, Linux. Torvalds had an idea: to create the perfect operating system Torvalds and others coded this operating system into being. Others use and appreciate Linux, thereby recieving the benefit of Torvalds' original idea. Code is Art!
  • by Anonymous Coward
    I found way too many dead links in the article.

    Bring out yer DEAD (links)!


    Bring out yer DEAD (links)!


    Bring out yer DEAD (links)!

    link: But I'm not dead yet!
    Now you are.

    Bring out yer DEAD (links)!
  • by Anonymous Coward
    I see some people here denying that code is art. Those same people go on to talk about the potential of code to be "beautiful."

    I hold that if something can be beautiful then it can be art. I take pride in my code. I'll do things the long way if it's more elegant. The very act of bending the computer to your will to do something neat could be considered artistic. And I consider it, at some level, art.

    Saying that code can only be art if it's never compiled is also silly. How many symphonies were created and never revised? How many novels go out without an editing process and sometimes years of revision by the author? While the majority of our work might be considered "Engineering" there is a lot of creativity we put into our work as well.

  • Hehe, that is pretty cool... .. .nyagh! You're richieb of mzx-devel fame. It's a small world after all..
  • HaHa Hrrrm... Pretty entertaining article.

  • If (a dead sheep in formaldehyde == art || a crucifix in a tank of piss == art)
    mozart is not art and piccasso is not art and rembrant is not art and dega is not art and cezanne is not art and bach is not art, etc, etc

    But, IMHO, this statement is not true. A lot that passes for art is not art, it is eqo saying it is art and making you say that it is art also.
  • by jd ( 1658 )
    I'm going to argue this from a Software Engineering point of view, strangely enough. When you design a program, or whatever, using SE principals, you don't look at what you are making at the "functional" level. Rather, you describe the specification, and derive the function.

    The specification contains no "for" loops, no fopens, no mallocs. It is a sculpture, embodying the essence of what you are trying to make, without the details of what you are making. Most importantly, specifications are elegant and graceful, by necessity.

    But how does this apply to coding? Code is ONE possible implementation of that sculpture. There will be many ways to implement any given specification. The code you produce will be just one of these.

    The translation of that specification into code requires the application of imagination and taste. (If you implement it line-by-line, you'll produce slow, bloated code. Rather, it takes imagination to see what the specification is trying to say, and taste to choose how to implement that vision.)

    This gives you the second part of the definition of art ("The fine arts are those which have primarily to do withh imagination and taste") and meets the last requirement ("but the term is often confined to... ...architecture.").

    Can code be "beautiful", though? That's the one key requirement that's left. We've got everything else. To answer that, I'll ask "what is beauty?" If beauty involves everything working together (or not) in the way the artist intends, then code can be said to have that. Classical beauty is about symmetry and proportion. Structure, in code, gives a good approximation to these.

    So, by the dictionary definition, I can't see anything wrong with calling coding imaginitively "art". It seems to me to meet all the requirements.

    How about the OSS model? Well, that's slightly more complex. I liken the OSS model to the model used by Stoneage and Ironage storytellers. Each storyteller learned the most "recent" version they could find, adapted it to their needs, thus creating a new version, and singing or reciting that.

    Now, in terms of licence, concept and mechanism, the two models are practically the same. If one is art, then by implication, so is the other. (As I'm confining this to the MODEL and NOT to the product, I'm not going to look at the issue of what is produced by either.)

    This part is perhaps the most open to question, and I'll leave it for others to argue it out. However, whatever holds true for Bards holds true for OSS coders, and vice versa. If OSS coders are not inherently artists, neither were Bards.

  • by jd ( 1658 )
    Pseudocode is not a specification. It's a confused muddle, invented by software engineers who weren't bright enough to learn either Z -or- a programming language.

    That confused jumble by Cygnus would be barely usable, even if you had the time to study it.

  • I'm sorry [] but I [] don't have the time [] or the bandwidth [] to follow [] all of the links [] in this article. []

  • And Hail Eris!

    You'll never know the whole truth. Where would be the Fun in That?

  • by Denny ( 2963 )
    Why is posting a comment 'grinning' at a funny article off-topic?

    Pointless perhaps, but not off-topic...


  • by richieb ( 3277 )
    Here is my contribution to "software as art": Mondrian Applet [netlabs.net].

    The source is art and so is the result.... ;-)


  • So if a plumber bakes a cake, we call it plumbing?

  • I must add, however, that getting the Arts Community in general to vociferously subscribe to the idea that "PissChrist" IS Art was *truly* a great work of Art!

  • Maplethorpe was a master, no doubt. His pictures pushed buttons and provoked, BUT, unlike a swastika on a bathroom wall or a religious icon in a urinal, his images took patience, skill and cleverness to create.
  • artifice \Ar"ti*fice\, n. [L. artificium, fr. artifex artificer; ars, artis, art + facere to make: cf. F. artifice.] 1. A handicraft; a trade; art of making. [Obs.]

    2. Workmanship; a skillfully contrived work.

    3. Artful or skillful contrivance.

    4. Crafty device; an artful, ingenious, or elaborate trick.

    Does it apply? I think so.

    This definition is exactly why I think works like "PissChrist" are NOT Art, but simply cultural provokation and sophmoric button-pushing. There's nothing clever OR skillful about it. The fact that we respond emotionally to something does not (alone) make it Art.

  • Re your last paragraph, that was Richard Stallman, not Linus. RMS is the free software visionary, Linus is the pragmatic and supreme expert engineer.

    We're damn lucky to have such a pair, and indeed others like Alan Cox that stand on the very same pedestal in my book.
  • When it comes to Art, I'm more comfortable with something by Mucha or Parrish or even Escher, but what makes Mapplewhatsisname's work Art is that if I used the same equipment to photograph the same subjects most anyone would be able to compare the results and see that one of us knew about light and shadow and color and the other one of us was me.

  • Much as a shoemaker or smith of yore. There is a an artistic element to be sure, but there is a pratical result. Think of the guild system: apprentice, journeyman, and master. I think the parallels are strong. You can appreciate a handcrafted sterling teapot made by a master of his craft, but that's so different from a Picasso.
  • There's nothing *simple* cultural provokation and sophmoric button-pushing.

    To invent/create something that "we respond emotionally to" indeed takes (mental) skill and is an "ingenious, or elaborate trick."

    Just try it your self!

  • "In my opinion if you can't write good code you can't appreciate good code."

    The Prix Ars Electronica award had nothing to do with code! It was about art. It was about social movement, and philosophy. It was about how a bunch of deep-thinking, smart and creative individuals (thousands of them) have set out and created something (what exactly isn't important here) realively original, and stirred up a lot of thought/emotions/attention. To such extent that our whole society is affected. Those involved in the making of creative works (of any kind) in the future will have to take the FS and OS philosophy into account. Facing up to history, just like they have to with Rodin, Picasso, Pollock, Warhol and all the others.

    "But what does the average art lover see hanging there? Open Source as an Art Form? I think not."

    And I say: If you don't know anything about art and art theory you can't appreciate, and comment on, good art. (This is of course somewhat arrogant, but so is the whole article. Ignorant and arrogant!)

    Modern art is not just about objects. It's about ideas, creation, participation, performance, objects, and all sorts of other things. It's complex, and where they're gonna hang it just doesn't enter into it!

    Open source has not been declared an art form. Just think about it... - The award was just given for something that has potentially affected art in a serious way.

    Just deal with it guys. What you are making is affecting artistic and creative work all around you.

    It is (probably) not art in itself, but it sure is affecting art. - It is probably going to have tremendous permanent effect on the art world as we know it!

    So step down of your arrogant poles and take off your ignorant head-bags and smile, because you're doing something important, and you are being appreciated for it!

    (P.S. I'm an not-so-humble art-student and I can tell you that at least my artistic philosophy has been greatly affected by the free-software and open-source ideology, and I think the Prix Ars Electronica for Linux was well deserved.)

  • That's a pretty narrow and naive definition of 'art.'

    Art is activity (and the products of that activity) that participates in art-discourse. Yes, that's almost a tautology. It means that if Jackson Pollack creates a work identical to something a hyperactive chimpanzee in a paint factory created, that the former is art and the latter is only art if someone takes it and experiences (looks at it as, treats it as) art.

    Mondrian was trying to create aesthetic objects using his own theory of color and form. He was also expressing what he interpreted as Tantric ideas of sexual polarity using horizontal and vertical lines: he was, in fact, strongly influenced by Indian religion and philosophy.
  • Linux is cool and all....and I am glad Linus saw fit to release it. I am also glad so many saw fit to work on it and contribute to it. I have been using it for 4 years and it has been something that I am constantly impressed with......
    .......but why does it *have* to be art. Is it less of a thing if it is not *art*?? By the same media that once denounced it, it is now elevated to ArtHood. Please, ....in the end Linux was and is, and those that used it saw that it was good, and having used it, gained productivity and reduced hair loss. So it has been written and recorded unto time hence forth....etc., etc, ...so forth and so on.
  • In the most basic of generlizations, all endevors can be borken into science or art.

    Science is about discovery, research. If your findinng out how something works - its science. That could be astronomy, physics, math. I could also be reverse engineering somthing - in essence physicics are reverse engineering the universe. It can also be sitting on a pillow doped up just thinking - philosophy.

    Art is about creation. Taking what the physicsts and philosophers have come up with and making something out of it. It could be a bridge for CE's. It could be a symphony for musicians. And it could be code for programmers.

    It isnt, however a performing art, nor a graphic art (wtf do you call [paintings+sculptures+...]?). We generaly dont apperecate structures for there engeneering aspects. They might look good, but only other ring knockers can realy understand its structure.

    But the real distinction here is utility. One generaly gets some utility from a bridge or a program. The only utility you get from more traditional art forms is emotional and prehaps spirtualy utility. Using linux or the result of other open source programs dose not give me a warm and fuccy feeling. However, knowing how it was build does. The methods - open source - dont give me any practical utility, they do give me emotional utility thouugh. Therefor they can only be Art.

  • The article was interesting, but it looks to me like there was so much time spent making the article appear a la Suck (note the last URL, incidentally), that the real focus of the article is lost.

    Suck manages to lightly pepper their columns with URLs. IMO, there are so many here that it makes it hard to track what's really being said.
  • It all depends on what we consider art then, doesn't it?

    After all, an uncommon work of architecture, such as the Parthenon, Notre Dame Cathedral, the Guggenheim (sp?), Chrysler bldg, or even some contemporary private residences are artistic.

    They are the realization of a unique vision, rendered in stone (or whatever) for all to see. Much like a great symphony, they immortalize their creator, or even become cultural cliche.

    BeOS and NeXT are certainly works of art in this respect. Linux is more like the Red Rocks, or the Grand Canyon. Shaped by the forces of nature and tailored by their environment. Art is the creation of a single vision, whereas GNU and Linux are more jargon than a piece of poetry. More or a common Bazaar minstrel than a Cathedral hymn, eh? But how many folk songs are considered art?

    Works of art often represent the culmination of an era or style, i.e. Gothic, Baroque, etc... By this token, a mid-70's hunk of GOTO ladden FORTRAN spaghetti is also a work of art. It's a reminer of the glorious splendor of our decadent past. Y2K anyone? Let them eat cake!

    We can draw a number of comparisons between software and building architectures. Take the mach kernel and the minimalist geodesics of Buckminster Fuller. Or the the massive 3rd Reich designs of Spier and OS/360 :). Or the Microsoft Wal-Mart minimalls...
  • Is it art, what's art? Wow, lofty questions.

    But I think the fish-in-formaldehyde or crap-in-a-tin Is/Isn't art debate can be cleared up by saying this:
    There's two categories: in and out.
    I can attach a probe on your brain and measure brain waves (Outside) but to find out what you are thinking I have to ask you (Inside).

    So if in every fibre of your being you have slaved and dedicated your energy to creating a feeling of elegance, illumination and clean-ness in Your code, then you're an Artist with his/her Art. (Inside)

    If a number of users remark "hey, this system is clean, powerful, almost Beautifyl" then that's Art (Outside).

    Neither category can be reduced to the other. Each is valid in it's own right.
  • I thought the use of links was, well...ART!

    Follow them if something strikes you as interesting, but if familiar with the underlined text it's nice not to have to scan through a laborious explanation.

    Efficiency--I love it.
  • I recently saw something that made a similar confusion -- alleging that historically, "art" was made by men, and women made only "crafts". The difference, allegedly, between painting and weaving.

    I didn't buy it then, and I don't buy it here. The historic status of craftsmen was high. The respect given a blacksmith or a stonemason was in proportion to the quality of their work. (Try to get a decent tuckpointing job these days ... but that's a different story.)

    The difference, then, was between art being something luxurious and unnecessary, and yet an expected part of life, and craft being the art, as it were, of making necessary things unexpectedly well. To me, programming falls into the latter camp. And that is a mark of respect.

    A good coder is a good craftsman. The code does something necessary (the end result) but the virtue of being good code is not necessary to that end result -- it is simply doing the necessary well.

    Open Source may help this process along, encourage it, even make it practically mandatory in certain circles. Of course, Open Source isn't the only way to get there. Good craft comes from within, from the personal pride of the craftsman, from the knowledge that his skill is something special.
  • There is no such thing as art. High culture is an illusion. Art is just people running around like ants trying to define themselves as gnostics and being "different". So even if you agree that Linux is Art, you're not really saying that much. Maybe we're not being fair to ant farms.
  • Art is discovery, too. Nothing gets created ex nihilo. Everything is an inspiration or a muse or a Platonic Idea. Shakespeare's plays were already written. He just had this dim voice in the back of his head telling him what to write.
  • That's craft more than art. Art is generally more
    than cleverness and determination, as that project
    certainly exhibited. Some of the Obfuscated Perl
    Contest code are closer to art (utter inscrutability
    helps, IMHO); for example:
    *_=\$#;$/=q#(.)#;$#=10;$^X=~s|.*/||;$\=chr;$#=gm time
    $#;substr($#,$^F#^F*$^F**$^F-1)=al;s$\$/( )\$/\$/$e\
    $2\u\$^X\$2\$3o\$1r$ && print time


    $k=100,$_=P,$n=200;print while(($z++?($_="",$z):
    ($_.="6\r$n $k $n "))0)*sin(log abs $p-5),$#[int(($l=$a)-70)

    On a side note, I learned Pig Latin ended -ay,
    not -a. Hmm. Maybe a continental question?
  • pleasant mix of sarcasm, wit, and common sense.

    And look everyone, it's posted by The Burrito Man, instead of by whatz hiz name. ;-)

    oops. what a useless post.
  • The question has been asked for centuries, about pretty much everything. If a dead sheep in formaldehyde can be considered art (not to mention a crucifix in a tank of piss), then why not code, or even the open source paradigm? (sorry for saying 'paradigm'; it won't happen again). Whether you consider it art is a personal thing. Me? I don't, but I'm willing to listen to people who want to convert me.
    As for the apotheosis of Linus; every cause needs a figurehead, and it's natural for some to place that figurehead on a pedestal. It's no biggie.
  • I'm sorry but I don't have the time or the bandwidth to follow all of the links in this article.
    Neither do I. But I still consider this to be the ideal web-based article; links to everything, and you can follow up on whatever you're interested in.
  • by srhea ( 22301 )
    specifications are elegant and graceful, by necessity

    You must be reading different specifications than the one [cygnus.com] I've been reading...

  • I thought the use of links was, well...ART! I thought it was some wierd kind of prose in the "Related Links" box.
  • Yes. Of a sort. It wouldn't appeal to everyone in the same way that pencil sketches often don't appeal, no matter how good they actually are, to people used to full color oil paintings.

    Mel's program would be sort of like the hidden art of Bev Dolittle (?) where there's a simple nature scene and hidden in it, if you know where to look, are ten wolves, or a man on horseback, etc. Or maybe it's be like some piece of kinetic sculpture that appears to be out of an MC Escher book.

    But yes, he wrote a program in ways other people have problems understanding, and it worked faster and better because of this, so yes, there is art in that.

    Not that I'd want it hanging on my wall, for two reasons. One, I usually like big colorful things, regardless of actual artistic merit (ie, sat. pics of the area, N.G. Maps of the world, etc) and two, while it may have been artistic, that just means that everything Mel did was probably that way and this was just the minor job that was later given to someone untrained enough to have to wrestle with it yet enlightened enough to be able to grok it with study. This is probably as artistic to Mel as the canvas Rembrandt cleaned his brushes on.
  • Almost anything we do can be done quickly and haphazardly, or carefully and elegantly. What makes one elegant work art and another not? Functionality.

    Most people are pompous asses and refuse to call something art if it has the slightest use. Can you use a dead sheep in a tank except as a footrest (or sex object for programmers. :) No, so it's art. Can you use a well-designed bridge? Yes, so it's 'just' a bridge.

    Code is one of these functional items. Except perhaps for tiny snippets in a textbook, we expect code to work. The most beautiful 'looking' code is totally worthless if it doesn't work, and well, and people would praise line-noise if it was an efficient kernel when run in intercal (not that this is likely...)

    Contrast this to 'art forms'. FLW's architecture had many groundbreaking elements, but was also a failure in many ways. If it was a program we'd see it as a nicely indented example in COBOL (worthless) instead of 'Art'. This is because programming isn't seen as artistic and is judged primarily on getting the job done. Only if code is as fast and robust as reasonable, do we start looking for elegance.

    In the 'art' world, elegant failures are still successful. In the real world, failures are failures, elegant or not.

    So, art is something which has no use. People have a hard time seeing art in anything which actually does something useful, and are also willing to overlook nearly any failings in something called art.
  • But then if we code AI's, or CS people that research this, would be "making art"? As they are in fact, trying to distill out the humanity of man.

    I understand that this isn't really what you mean, that you want to look at a painting/whatnot and come to a more profound understanding what it is that makes us human. But if you can make a program that acts like a human, and you read that code. Would that piece of code be art? (Assuming that you could actually interpret the code.)

    In my own personal definition of art is that it's something made by a "master of the craft". Some math proofs could be considered "works of art" IMHO, as they approach the problem from an a different, and new, angle to find a solution. (Euler's solving to the Königsberg bridges problem fall in this category IMHO.)

    Naturally this is something that not very many people are able to appreciate, because you need to be a bit "enviromentally damaged" by too much math classes ;-). But does that make it less "artful"?

    And is it less art if the artist does something because he knows that it will affect the person in a certain way? (Escher's "Concave - Convex" comes to mind here.) Or do you need to "just do it" because you think it looks good? When a computer "composes" a symphony does it make it non-art?

    Or perhaps the question here is: Is it the product that is important and it's beauty; or the intention of the artist that makes the product art? Or perhaps a combination?

    And again, you want to learn about human nature. Look at some code of a real "hardcore" coder (There are stories about this in the jargonfiles that are quite enjoyable.) and then tell me that you don't get a deep insight into his/her mind by looking at how they have solved a problem.

    It fit's your criteria for art, is it art? That's up to you to decide I guess. Me I think I'll just say that there's art, and then there is Art. :-)

    //Hast, Lund, Sweden
  • I think that this will satify almost everyones definition of art.

    Pig Latin Code in the shape of a pig [ioccc.org]


  • Some code is lever-pulling work. Drivers require following instructions and schematics.

    Some code is craft. Driver architecture requires the ability to identify common structures all drivers depend on. The design and interaction of the different objects in the code is what makes Unices powerful.

    As for art I'd say languages are art. Perl is very well done, aside from the fact that one must get used to /\$#@! in code.

  • and art like Linux is that art follows a philosophy that may or may not be well defined.

    Functional architecture or that which is Just Code(TM) is driven by momentary winds, like 3-D is hot now let's put 3-D in our software. Or just a set of code that performs one function.

    I agree BeOS and NeXT are works of art. I patially agree that Linux gives into the demands of the world it lives in more than those two, thankfully. However, the philosophy is still there. Only more subtle. It emulates the Unix style in striving for clean, versatile code, though not necessarily small.

    Look at the efforts with Video 4 Linux and especially ALSA, where they keep a collection of processor interface code so that they can access the chips on different cards without rewriting code for each card. Beautiful.

  • Would you consider the code in 'The Story of Mel, a Real Programmer' in Hacker's Dictionary: Appendices [kent.edu] to be a form of art?
  • The C code that produced this [tfn.net] is definitely not art! However, not all of my code is so artless. ;)

    Seriously, I believe that code is art. At least some of it... and that has to include Linux!
  • Mondrian is art? Personally, I disagree.

    The fact that you can generate his paintings with a program demonstrates that they express no emotion or otherwise attempt to convey some sort of meaning. This is what I consider the definition of art: trying to express some feeling and evoke a similar feeling in the viewer.

    Now, make a Magritte generator, and I'll be impressed. Actually, this probably isn't as hard as it might seem.

    (On an unrelated note, it's really funny to listen to your Art History prof, who has a very strong German accent, trying to pronounce "Broadway Boogie Woogie".)

    Yes, we do have art at Caltech.

  • To throw my thoughts on the pile... art is where form is beyond function. A simple truss bridge to cross a river is not art, but an elegant bridge that is more stylized or intricate than necessary may be art.

    A simple "Hello World" program is not art, but many of the programs in the "Obfuscated C" contest accomplish as much as the 3 line "Hello World" that is C Programming 101, but have a form that is far beyond what is required by function. Thats is "art", IMHO.
  • But I know what I like!
  • To judge something to be art or not on the basis of usefulness seems a bit strange to me. Look at modern architecture. And it isn't even always about being esthetically pleasing (something that will be different for different people). Art can definately have practical use. a building can be art. people can live in it, and even like living there. also I don't agree with calling a method art. IMO it's too vague. it's like saying writing is art. painting is art. I think it isn't. individual books are art. individual paintings are art. The model is the utility to build the art.
    Oh well.. that's it for now :)

  • Anyone can put paint to canvas. Some can make it look like something. Very few can turn it into art. But in the end, Art is where you find it.

    But really, I think someone spent more time digging up the links in the article than thinking through what he was linking... I mean writing about.
  • What about kinetic art? That often has to be designed and debugged, and to some degree aesthetics have to be ruled by functionality.

    How about architecture? Function is every bit as important as aesthetics there, maybe more, but some architecture has to be viewed as art as well as engineering, I think.

    There isn't a definite boundary line, some things are artier than others in some peoples opinion.

    In fact if code is designed to be elegant and appealing, sound in structure and fit to purpose, isn't there an aspect of art to it? Don't try selling microfiches of Linux source at any art shows, but lets give the creators some credit for aesthetics as well as engineering.

    How else can you explain the nearly universal rejection of Hungarian notation "because its ugly"?

  • ... it just shouldn't be exaggerated.

    People like Linus, Larry Wall and Richard Stallman have become something like heroes among geeks, and I think there's nothing wrong with that. After all, what they have accomplished is quite remarkable. And I really don't think most of the geeks take it too far.

    But because of the success of Linux and its potential threat to MS's dominance, the media have caught on to Linus Torvalds, and I think they make it a bit ridiculous sometimes.
  • Why can art only be appreciated or even recognized by the initiated?
    It is possible that I don't understand the brilliance behind a working application but I can still percieve it as a fine piece of work. Of art even, as it seems to outshine all other applications with it's ability to get things done.

    Admiration from your peers is always more desireable, but to disregard every one else's is quite arrogant. Don't you think?

  • All the debate flying around! My my. Is coding art? Ask yourself... are you an artist when you code or are you an engineer (or both?) If the answer is yes, then your code is art... maybe not to anyone else but YOU... but since when does the feelings of the scads of faceless people mean anything to you personally? If ya wait for the masses to tell you if what you made is really good or not...that means you never asked yourself...

    --de m0ng00se
  • >Almost anything we do can be done quickly and haphazardly, or carefully and elegantly. What makes one elegant work art and another not? Functionality.

    Not true. Ask any art teacher and s/he'll ask you what makes you think this. Art, I think, in it's simplest definition is best identified by asking the creator of said piece. ("Is it art?" "Yup", "It looks nice, is it art?" "Nope, but I did design it to look nice.") Only the creator truely has a handle on the original intent of the piece.

    There no reason to believe a dead sheep in a tank is art unless it's creator says so. And even then, it sounds like bad art, unless the creator can justify it's existance. But art, as with music, dance, etc relies on a set of referances or 'school', and often employs certain tehniques and modes of thought. At it's simplest, it can be something that looks nice. As it becomes more complex, presumably, it has something to say about the world around us. Certainy art can be functional, but in this case said functionality is often a comment of the piece's surroundings all it's own. A bridge can be art too, but only if you design it as such. If you don't give a rats ass as to what it'll finally look like, and you design it just to work, it ain't art. I don't really consider anything art unless it has something to say about the world around us - after all, this was and I believe still is the primary intent of art. To act as a sort of societal 'mirror', to look into a frame and see how someone sees us back.

    So now programming ... how do we treat it? When you sit down at your computer to write some code, you have no intent to make social commentary; this I'll take on faith. You do employ skill, and often employ a 'style', and obviously there is an infinate set of possible blocks of code you could come up with to solve any given problem. But that's just it - you sit down to solve an initial problem, and design your code around how this problem might change in the future (extensibility of code). You're primary intent is to solve a given practical problem. I charge that this is not the case with the vast majority of what I've been referring to as art. I'm not saying art doesn't have to be functional, but I /am/ saying it should have something to say to the viewer. Taking your argument that coding is art could also be used to call carpentry an art, or cooking an art. In fact, often these types of skills /are/ called art, and I have no problem with that. But this is using the term losely, as the primary goal of both trades is to provide a solid, long lasting structure and tasty, interesting food. While they may both be done in such a fasion that the asthetics are pleasing to look at, and that the process employs originality and creativity, their primary goal is not to comment and critique the world we live in, nor 'just to look nice'. And thus I argue that they, along with coding, are not approrpiately referred to with the term 'fine arts'. Sure, just like we use the term "the art of war", there is also "the art of coding." I'll concede this.

    So maybe I can sum it up: "Coding is an art, but code is not art." Does that make any sense?
  • by SirSlud ( 67381 ) on Tuesday August 24, 1999 @05:24AM (#1728704) Homepage
    "art \Art\ ([aum]rt), 4. The application of skill to the production of the beautiful by imitation or design, or an occupation in which skill is so employed, as in painting and sculpture; one of the fine arts; as, he prefers art to literature." .... "The fine arts are those which have primarily to do with imagination and taste, and are applied to the production of what is beautiful. They include poetry, music, painting, engraving, sculpture, and architecture; but the term is often confined to painting, sculpture, and architecture." [dictionary.com]

    In so far as this little blurb from www.dictionary.com, and I do assume here that everyone is trying to ask if coding is a "fine art" rather than the more general application meaning learned skill (ie academia).

    I'd have a hard time being convinced programming is an 'art'. A builder can make a beautiful bridge, using ingenious methods, to form an athetically pleasing, safe way to cross a river, but we rarely refer to the process of designing it as 'art'. I'm not sure why coding would be any different. Granted, I accept the fact that one can find a piece of code 'beautiful', but more often than not, the primary purpose of coding is to implement functionality and practicality, where as in art, the asthetics are generally more important than the functionality of said art piece (although, as with everything, there are walways exceptions).
  • There is nothing quite like a good satirical smack on the hindquarters! All things considered, the salient point that we have taken ourselves (the individual elements of the design model) way too seriously should be a wake up call.. I can't help thinking that if we were to sit down with (nay, chain down) the most rabid members of the Gospel of Linus and force them to understand, even in the weakest way, how the Initio SCSI driver works, they would not be so predisposed to 'flame on' at the smallest slight. We would endow them with enlightenment of the fact It is just code! Nothing added to, nothing taken away!
  • Any time a system takes on some shade of elegance there is a temptation to make it an aesthetic affair. Humans appreciate alot of things that don't ask to be appreciated. And like this article almost says, every time we gaze on something and get all gooey, we simultaneously expose the innocence/ignorance that makes the appreciation possible.
    There is a relationship between Science and Art. Some would term this relationship as inverse, or antagonistic. Others would say they are both part of a progressive maturity toward a truly synthetic model of a phenomena. Anyone heard of E.O. Wilson? HE is the one who should be talking about open source as an ANT FARM!
  • then wright's architecture is not art since it serves some purpose...


  • >Why can art only be appreciated or even
    >recognized by the initiated?

    You get more out of any artistic experience, the more you know about it, but some types of art are easier to appreciate (in ignorance) than others.

    Architecture and painting (for example) are easy to appreciate, even for those who's never picked up a paintbrush (or CAD application) in their lives. However equally, no-one would expect someone to find a mathematical proof beautiful (closely related to "art") without a thorough grounding in maths (and often, not even then :-).

    >It is possible that I don't understand the
    >brilliance behind a working application but I can
    >still percieve it as a fine piece of work.

    Of course, but to do so based upon looks is only one aspect of the artistry. If you go solely by looks, Windows would be considered by many to be far more artistic than Linux/Unix (notice, please, that I make no such claim myself - I only indicate that many people may think so).

    It is entirely possible to consider works of Mozart (for example) to be great solely because they look visually beautiful when written down on the stave, but to do so misses the entire point of the art itself. If someone says that Mozart was a genius because he wrote neatly, everyone realises that they are completely missing the point - why should software be any different? In fact, the only difference between this example and programming is that people generally understand programming even less, and so miss the point even more thoroughly.

    The main point of software-as-art should be the sophistication and elegance of the code, not just the attractiveness of the user-interface. I can design you a beautiful GUI, but if it runs only slowly on a top-end PIII, the operating system as a whole would hardly be considered a work of art, would it?

    The problem is that, whilst an individual piece of code may be beautiful, the entire program may not. Someone who understands programming can (to a certain extent) separate the different (and sometimes hidden) aspects of the program and appreciate them individually. Someone who cannot program can merely look at a program in its entirety, and make a shallow judgement based on what they can see.

    >Admiration from your peers is always more
    >desireable, but to disregard every one else's is
    >quite arrogant. Don't you think?

    Not at all. One should always listen to anyone's opinion on anything they are *qualified* *to* *talk* *about*. My girlfriend, for instance, knows what constitutes a nice-looking UI, but I'd never ask her opinion on how to actually go about implementing it.

    Just some thoughts,
  • From the essay: "In my opinion if you can't write good code you can't appreciate good code."

    Do you really believe this? Haven't you never read someone else's code and learned something from it? Or is it that you did, but didn't appreciate it?

    Art or not? Only the person looking at it can answer that question. Those who see the beauty are enriched and those who can't see it deny it's even there, possibly even rant about the people who do see it in extreme circumstances...

  • Hey! I thought it was really related to Ant Farms! Back to my little home. :(
  • Most would argue (and several have said or implied on this thread) that the purpose of code is to control a computer.

    I disagree. IMO, the primary purpose of code is to -communicate with other programmers-. Controlling a machine is usually also important (but not always, think of example code), but this should never be allowed to unduly interfere with the primary purpose.

    If code is a communicative medium for humans, then surely it is possible for it to be art...I just don't think that's very important. I'd rather see a much higher percentage of well-"craft"-ed code.

    90% or more of production code in use today is utter crap. And not because it doesn't instruct the machine - it does (albeit usually poorly). No, it's utter crap because it does a terrible job of communicating to -humans-, thereby making the code much less reliable and maintainable in practice. We as an industry should be ashamed.
  • Sorry. Mucked up that submission... flames/comments can be directed towards he who is irresponsible mpb20@columbia.edu


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