The Shape of Everything
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July 13, 2015

Dave Wiskus at Better Elevation:

"But fuck that. Music is art, and someone who makes art is an artist. More importantly: who sits around waiting for labels to be bestowed upon them? I get to decide who and what I am."

This is something I feel pretty strongly about myself (my twitter bio even has a note to that effect).

What about software? Are programmers artists? I struggled with this one for a long time and came up with the conclusion that no, software isn't art. It's a craft, much like building furniture is. Because for something to be art, it had to have no utility, to be something unto itself. A chair or table can look amazing, but it had utility so it wasn't art. Leonardo's Mona Lisa has no utility, therefore it is art.

I was pretty happy with this definition of Art for many years. I almost majored in art, I took more art history classes than I'd like, and I generally love art. So I felt I was qualified to come up with this definition and was happy with the logic of it.

It also meant I didn't have to wonder if I was an artist or not. And since I didn't fall on the artist side, I didn't have to wonder / be afraid if I was a fraud or not. Because being an artist means you have to put your work out there to be judged as good or bad art. And that's a very weird kind of pressure.

Then one day, while sketching at one of my usual lunch places, an employee walks by, sees what I'm sketching and says "Oh, you're an artist".

For some reason that statement completely locked up my brain and I had no response. I sat there, unable to answer the question. Instead my brain basically entered this loop:

10 Someone just called me an artist. What does this mean?
20 I do not consider myself an artist, what I'm doing is training my brain to see correctly.
30 Is being labeled an artist like the old school definition of being labeled a hacker?
40 goto 10

For some reason, something changed in my brain right then and there. Computer games are art, right? Why not all software*?

There's all kinds of art out there, good and bad, high and low. And there are all kinds of artists as well- some even make a living off it! But I think what it comes down to is this: If you make something which provokes emotions inside someone, if the result is more than the sum of its parts, if there is a beauty to it, then you've got art. And if it was your hands which put it together, congrats - you're an Artist.


* I don't actually think all software is art. It was merely a question that popped up in my brain. Thanks for Dave for prompting this note.

** Also: I absolutely love Frank Krueger's response to this post:

"If I'm not an artist, I'm certainly living the artists's life. I make stuff. People judge it. If they like it, I get to eat."