Editor's Choice

Editor's Choice
Programming as Art?

Thorin Klosowski | 11 Mar 2008 12:43
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The man sitting across from me is a programmer by heart. He is not a programmer by fortune. His name is Joe Flores, aka Mojiferous Industries, aka Admiral Mojiferous J. Colossus, Esq., and he makes art on the internet - art in the non-conventional but still tangible meaning of the word. When Marcel Duchamp said, "I am interested in ideas, not merely in visual products," Flores grasped the concept and took it a few steps further.

"It's not hanging a urinal and calling it art," Flores says. "More like painting the urinal and still pissing in it everyday." His useless programs range from Lobster Petting, where we are tasked with petting a lobster in a variety of settings, and Zoltan, where a giant stone head gives out useless information and changes with the weather, to Desktop Cigarette, which merely sits smoking on the OS X dashboard. His future projects include an MMOG in which players are tasked with "setting off on a quest, only to find out you were duped by some crazed homeless guy that you mistook for a wizard, and he sent you to Tulsa to get a can of beans," Flores says. "Or maybe you have to battle a huge group of tricycle-riding bears and clowns with nothing more than a herring." Also on the brink is Atomic Combat, a game that operates similarly to Battleship but has a difficult time defining any clear winner.

But certainly this isn't art. Art is something higher, further reaching - a mind-touching, heart-cradling mirror of social culture, no? Flores believes art can be something completely different. "Everything I do is always a work in progress. There aren't enough programmers with an artisan's sense. They see it as a finished project, something to sell."

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Maybe the word "artisan" needs to be defined to include a section on binary code: "the beauty of logic and problem solving." A computer program could have just as much appeal as a Mona Lisa or a Nude Descending a Staircase. It could symbolize our society as a whole just as much as a film or piece of music. Why not? We have been able to define civilization by its branding; why not on its graphic interfaces? Perhaps we can learn something from programs that have tricycle-riding bears and wicker robots. If inspiration and expression define the beginnings of art, it's hard to argue certain programs aren't art.

"I'll be sitting there at 3:00 a.m. and it'll just hit me. 'Oh, that's what I did wrong,'" Flores says. "Inspiration can come at any moment but usually arrives at the most inopportune times." As much stress, thought and anguish go into one of his "pieces" as any work of modern art. Instead of a brushstroke you solve a problem; instead of splattering paint on a canvas you create a lobster that makes sounds when you click it with a mouse. Obsession, too, plays a key role. An artist might find himself painting the same woman's face for years before realizing he hasn't done anything else; a programmer might find difficulty letting go of a certain adorable little crustacean.

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