Computer Science as Art

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by Tucker Downs

by Tucker Downs

By: Tucker Downs –

“At its core, art is human expression,” according to Mark Moak, a professor of the art program here at Rocky. I have been wondering lately what art is and whether or not computer scientists are doing it. Certainly there are some computer scientists creating art in traditional mediums. RMC’s newest CS faculty, Melissa Holmes, says she really enjoyed taking the art history class last semester and also that she likes to paint with oil or acrylic paints in her free time. However, there are other computer scientists putting their efforts into a less traditional medium. Andy Wildenberg, another CS professor, has put a lot of time into creating photo mosaics. His first works, like many people’s first works, are rather simple, but when you look at some of his more advanced work, it is rather unique.

Some would argue that by creating these images, programmers are expressing themselves creatively. Like a mathematical proof, there are often many algorithms which could solve the same problem. When setting out to design one solution, the programmer must think about the techniques he will employ and in what order. In this regard, it could be said that algorithmic art is human expression.

Others would argue that it can’t be art, because a person isn’t the one making the decision on which color to place where – which is true. Technically, in this “algorithmic art” a computer makes the decision based on whatever parameters and calculations it has been directed to consider. As Prof. Moak told me, “There is a difference between typing and calligraphy. When I pick up the pen, I can see the ink, smell it. I can reach out and touch the paper.” He said that this was true for many art forms. In other mediums, the artist is closer to the final product. They can shape it as they are doing the work. With an image generated by an algorithm, all the programmer can do is wait until the work is finished. From there, he or she can make a few adjustments and then run the program again.

It’s a hard line to find between computer imaging and art because, of course, computers impact other forms of art. In photography, for instance, it isn’t uncommon for a photographer to apply an algorithm written by a third party to an image to affect its appearance. And most modern photographers use a camera with more computing power than was required to put a man on the moon. Do all of the decisions made by a camera during a shoot declassify photography as art? Are images generated by a well-defined algorithm art? It’s a question that a lot of computer scientists are asking.


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