Software and life, mostly life.

11 January 2009

Big Ideas in Computer Science with Applications in Art

rough notes and a presentation idea

The only way to keep it from being too dry is to work backwards from application. Consider a given topic and why it is computer science, maybe? No, then the focus is on an intro to computer science through the window of art. The goal of the presentation wouldn't be to teach people computer science (or art), but look at an area of computer science that can be applied to a thouroughly artistic endeavor. e..g, network diagram + anti-aliasing + color = pretty picture. (Ha!, trivialize their field while you condescend, that'd go over well)

How can established areas of computer science be explored with an artist's eye? To answer that one I'd have to be an artist. "Established" is too limiting, perhaps there are areas that would be better left to an artist. Areas that lie within (crossover into) the realm of common human experience. Relatable Computer Science.

But, isn't the purpose of (some) art to make difficult or enormous topics relatable? Human computer interaction for example, at the border of every relationship between man and machine. How we deal with technology has changed very little in the last 30 years. Exploring with art could provide new direction, an unexpected shift in method and result.

What must art do to successfully aid computer science? Imagine, Explore, Experiment, Investigate. Can art do these things where science cannot or has not? Computer Science doesn't seem like it would be terribly welcoming, art must invite itself to the party.

How can technology be presented to non-technologists? Inspire, ignite, spark imagination. Putting hands on art.

I propose the following tenets for guidance in the art/comp sci border lands. The product of exploration should be: Relatable, Manipulatable, Interactive, Impractical, Conceptual, Humane


I must be able to grasp and synthesize the new idea with my existing world view for it to change me. It doesn't have to be easy, just possible.


The product must be plastic, and able to conform to shifting consumers. "Unchanging" must not be a requirement.


Similar to the previous goal, product should be responsive to change. It doesn't have to be sound or video, but those are the easiest examples to demonstrate.


To be different, I would suggested that artistic exploration doesn't have to produce something of immediate value. Instead of taking the professional software developer's approach of making things people want, we might try making things no one wants. That's too simple, though, it works more like this:

  1. ignore everything everyone says you have to do.
  2. think real hard.
  3. type code that does something no one has ever seen.


Art cannot be afraid to tackle ideas bigger than a single person in a single moment can take in. But it also shouldn't be afraid to try to squish those big ideas into a form that *can* be taken in by a single person in a single moment. Layered, nuanced, fearless, might all be good adjectives for "Conceptual".


We shouldn't lose sight of the human condition, not that we ever really can. But approachable is not the same as practical. "Nice" may not even come into it. Richard Gabriel called it "conscientious software" [pdf], software that is considerate of the needs and limited abilities of its users. The product should address itself to humans first, machines second.

Feel free to follow the progress of this document at my jottit scratchpad.

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Baltimore, MD, United States
Husband and father, software developer in Baltimore, MD.