I think people like to believe in dualities. Democrats and Republicans, good and evil, men and women, art and science. Before, I too was a fervent believer in the yin-yang of everything–it made it easy to classify a person, object, or event. In fact, I used to enjoy the separation of logic and the humanities. Stemming from this was perhaps my most passionate belief: coding is not art.
My views have changed drastically since then. One of my English classes this year focuses on the ever-changing English vocabulary from its creation at the Fall of the Tower of Babel to the modern era. The word “art” at the time period had a vastly different meaning than it does now. It used to mean human skill–an overly general definition from which our current definition has departed. According to Keywords by Raymond Williams, in the medieval times, art meant “grammar, logic, rhetoric, arithmetic, geometry, music, and astronomy,” a definition inclusive of both the technical and the creative.
So it’s strange that art has taken an entire different definition nowadays. The overall term art branched into two subcategories, the fine arts and useful art. The former became what we commonly call “art” today, while the latter refers to the technical, logical form of art (the logic, arithmetic, geometry, and astronomy from the medieval era).
Maybe it’s counterintuitive that I’m using the archaic definition of art for today, but it would be shortsighted for me to not acknowledge the origins of the word. While the fine arts and useful arts are far and away different fields (each involves a different half of your brain. How dope is that.), they both rely on the same principles of creativity, intuition, and insight. Qualities that push us beyond the limits of our minds.
Programming is no different. By a more medieval definition, it can be described as a compounding of logic and mathematics, both of which have been historically considered useful arts. Simply by that reasoning, programming has inherently been a useful art since before its official genesis.
Nowadays, useful art and the fine arts are commonly mixed to create a new version of art. Architecture, pottery, vehicular design, etc. each epitomize the intersection between the two distinct forms of art. Each requires technical precision and aesthetic awareness. It’s initially strange to imagine coding in that category, but it belongs there. Developers put serious time not only into writing the fastest or most efficient lines of code but also into designing visually pleasing, well organized, and color-coordinated code.
It’s likely that not everyone will appreciate this view of things. There tends to be a certain romanticization of each of the two kinds of art from within their respective groups, which is just a breeding ground for a rivalry. I applaud those who use their creativity to build directly in that intersection between these two forms of art (think video games or web design). I think most people are inclined to agree with that.
So next time you see the next “computer nerd” clacking away at their keyboard in preparation for their next assignment remember who that is. You’re looking at the next Picasso, painting away at his masterpiece with each stroke of the keyboard; the next Michelangelo, ready to clone the statue of David of all Github repositories; the next Wiz Khalifa, deeply contemplating an even better way to demonstrate an appreciation for marijuana than an album literally entitled “Rolling Papers.”
Pay them due respect.