7. Artist-Programmers

Artists who program their computers make use of the code itself as a material. They create a framework within which the art is generated. When the artist works at the level of the code, they are effectively designing their own medium and defining the structures that populate it. Instead of visual modification in response to changing visual structures, and the corresponding changes to their artistic understanding of a piece, they must instead conceive both appearance and execution, to some degree, before embarking on building their programs.

In this sense, Frank Dietrich’s idea of the computer as “a tool for thought experiments” is quite correct. Dietrich proposed that the digital artist not only makes art objects, in the traditional sense, but may also “create dynamic art subjects, machines that can themselves become autonmous devices capable of creating art.”[1] The computer runs through a situation set up by its programmer, encompassing a wider range of mental activity than that generated when using the mouse as a quondam brush, no matter how sophisticated (or indeed, artistically cogent) the result. On the programmer’s part, it involves both visual understanding of the work’s structure and symbolic understanding of how to achieve it through a sequence of instructions.

[1] Frank Dietrich “The Computer: A Tool for Thought Experiments” Leonardo, Vol.20, No.4, pp.318, 1987