Creative Coding Manifesto 2021

I developed this essay film during my studies in “Digital Media and Experiment” at the FH Bielefeld. It is an attempt to illuminate and explain the philosophy around my teaching.


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Computation is made by us, and we are now collectively responsible for its outcomes.

John Maeda / How to speak machine

What kind of times are we living in? We live in a time of an unleashed global economy, in which software is the driving force. A time of exponential, unreflected digitalization.

Have you ever heard of GAFAM? GAFAM stands for Google, Amazon, Facebook, Apple and Microsoft. These five american companies literally own the Internet.

We use Google the most: not just to browse the Internet, but also through its Android operating system, cloud services like Maps, Drive, Sheets, YouTube and many other tools where we don’t notice it.

Amazon controls global commerce. Facebook dominates our private communication (with Facebook, WhatsApp, Messenger and Instagram). Apple supplies us with the associated lifestyle products in the form of hardware. And Microsoft’s Windows operating system has been indispensable since the 1990s. The GAFAMs own a huge part of the global digital territory. Digitally, Europe is completely behind.

However, I find something else particularly disturbing: namely, the digital comfort zone that seems to paralyze and captivate us with its colorful apps, gadgets, new experiences, games and pseudo-innovations. We are consumers and data suppliers. And that doesn’t really seem to bother us. We simply lack the tools for digital reflection and literacy. And that turns us into powerless, actionless consumers. Artificial intelligence is just around the corner and will confront us with enormously difficult ethical questions in the future.

How can we deal with this problem?

Fortunately, I currently live in the city with the largest computer museum in the world. Some time ago, the director, Jochen Viehoff, gave me a copy of his doctoral thesis, It is titled: Code@Art. An elementary introduction to programming as an artistic practice. It calls for programming to be understood as an elementary cultural technique. To put it in the same line as reading, writing and math. In this way, programming can become our tool for digital empowerment. A tool to demystify the seemingly superior and overly powerful technologies

But to do this, we must cultivate the concept of programming anew, freeing it from the cliché of culturelessness. We must understand programming as an artistic tool and medium. That was basically what I always felt when I was learning programming, but could never put into words.

The idea of artistic programming is not new, however, under the term “creative coding” it has gained enormous popularity in recent years.

With the appearance of the Processing programming language in 2002, a technology finally appeared that made programming accessible to less tech-savvy people.

Processing is easy to learn, the code is short, easy to read and always produces a visual output. The technology thus appeals to visual learning types. In other words, creative people who think in pictures.

Processing is open source and therefore completely free. There is a very large community with forums, meetups, conferences and many creatives doing incredible work with it.

It’s worth taking a look at concrete added values for artists and designers.

Creative coding can be used to create a wide variety of media, including animations, vector graphics, static images, PDF files, 3D objects, fonts or smartphone-apps.

A big advantage over the software we use every day as creatives is that you can incorporate interaction and data.

Processing can be used to transform any kind of data and interaction into any conceivable medium. This is best illustrated by the input-output model.

On the left side of this graphic you can see hundreds of possible input sources that can be processed with Processing. On the right side are listed possibilities for the output.

Imagine using Code to turn music into visuals. Or your favorite book into a chair. Or the global stock prices into a sculpture.

The possibilities are truly incredible!

I have deliberately decided not to show images of projects here, because this topic can only be depicted completely inadequately.

Art and design education plays a central role here. We need new ideas, images, tools, products and startups that emerge from this mindset.

What particularly inspires me in this matter is the Bauhaus and especially the ideas of Johannes Itten.

As a co-founder of the legendary art school, he established the preliminary course. This dealt with elementary principles in design, basic geometric shapes, contrasts and colors systems. Itten developed a powerful basic vocabulary for design, which is reflected today in our environment.

Here is an exciting parallel to programming. Because there, too, there is such a basic vocabulary of variables, functions, loops and queries.

You could visualize it something like this.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t want to replace the old by any means, but merely complement them, so that old and new, or art and technology, stand side by side on an equal level.

This would be an appropriate direction to face the great challenges of our time with courage and curiosity.

I am fully aware that we cannot build our digital emancipation and a new attitude toward technology and the GAFAMs overnight.

I believe that in this way we can begin to counter the seemingly overpowering digitalization with something human in a playful and creative way.

I think that makes sense and is important.

And that’s why I teach Creative Coding.

Published by Tim on Wednesday December 16, 2020

Last modified on January 17th, 2022 at 8:45


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