Recognizing Your Creative Power in Coding

I miss Art. I miss the pre-pandemic days of viewing art in a gallery or a museum, and I miss the days of seeing dancers, musicians, and performers at their best. I especially miss art because I took an honest inventory of my life and acknowledged that my career as an artist wasn’t going anywhere. I decided to change things and I’m now enrolled in the Flatiron School Web Development Fellowship.

Coming from an art background, I expected coding to be completely foreign to me (and don’t get me wrong, it still is), but I am also experiencing a deeper education about creativity in coding than I ever could have expected.

The Two Fridas, 1939 by Frida Kahlo

Frida Kahlo

In the fellowship, we’re all learning remotely due to the pandemic. I would be lying if I said it isn’t frustrating. It is. I do love the flexibility of being at home, but in the past I felt that I learn better in person. Occasionally, I’m a vampire because I don’t see the sun for days at time (this is never recommended!).

In this strange time of quarantine, I am inspired by one of my favorite artists: Frida Kahlo. Over the course of her life, she was often confined to her bedroom due to disability and illness. Undeterred by her confinement, Kahlo painted her beauty and anguish into a magnificent and surreal universe. If you’ve ever had the privilege of seeing her paintings in person you may unknowingly clasp your chest when you see the image of Frida’s bloody heart. It was often painted exposed and bared open for the world to see.

Despite never knowing Frida, you empathize and feel for her, simply by viewing a canvas of brushstrokes. For Frida, life was tumultuous and painful. She reminds me that:

  1. I have my health.
  2. I should make the most of my circumstances.
  3. Creativity should be allowed to blossom.

Through creativity, Art has transformative power to evoke emotions and to affect others. As an artist learning to program in a software engineering fellowship, I’m discovering that coding has that power too.

Programming is Art

Programming is a form of art, and all programmers are artists. I had no prior knowledge of software engineering before enrolling in the Flatiron School, but it’s not lost on me that Create is the first of the four basic functions of persistent storage in computer programming (CRUD: Create, Read, Update, Destroy). More than anything else in our education, we create.

Photo by Nikhil Mitra on Unsplash

Every day, we are asked to create something from nothing, to manifest something from the simple act of pressing keys on our laptops. Whether it be paint on canvas, words flowing from a pen, melodies from a singer, music from an instrument, rhythm of a dancer on a stage, or lines of code performing an action: Art is the act of creating something from nothing.

Don Knuth, known as the father of the analysis of algorithms, stated in 1974 that programming is an Art because it requires skill and ingenuity, and especially because it produces objects of beauty.

“Those who don’t believe in magic will never find it.” — Roald Dahl.

Objects of beauty are created every day in my cohort. In a matter of weeks, my classmates have elevated simple code into functional, beautiful programs, and they’re all works of art. This transformation is no different than using simple art supplies to create a masterpiece.

There is a magical alchemy of thought, structure, and technique when creating art, and my classmates wield that power every day with code. They inspire me to learn as much as I can and to create as much as I can. I know have a lot to learn, but I now understand that code is a new way for me to be creative and to express myself. I used to think that I was leaving art behind, but by being in this fellowship, I’m once again immersed in creativity.

My Classmates are Secretly Artists

Sometimes I hear my classmates make comments along the lines of “I’m not into front end development,” “I’m only into functional programming,” “I can’t make art,” or “I’m not creative.” In my opinion, they couldn’t be further from the truth.

Everyone is inherently creative and my classmates demonstrate their creative abilities all the time. They solve problems, they learn new programming languages, and they take a spark of an idea and bring it into existence as a tangible program. Like it or not, they’re artists! There are computers that create code on their own as a pure function, but even these machines had to have been conceived and created.

Completion

With every new lesson in our program, it becomes more apparent that as my classmates and I use code, the process of creation is not complete. The artist Marcel Duchamp, pioneer of the Dada art movement, said “A work of art is completed by the viewer.”

The same is true for code. Programs are not complete without a user. As developers, we create programs with people, and at the same time, create programs for people. It’s critical to be aware and mindful that we are building a connection between programs and users. Functionality and technique can only go so far. A program can’t just work, it must engage.

Look at the code all around us. Ask yourself: which websites engage? And why? Answering that question gives you your voice, your point of view, and that is the basis of your code. Recently, I attended an online Flatiron School alumni panel entitled “Creative Coding: From Artist to Web Developer.” The central point being made that night was “Know Your Why.” Surprisingly enough, I remember the same question being asked of me in art school. Time and time again, my professors would compliment my technique, but never know my “why.”

Tom Hanks As Walt Disney and Emma Thompson as author P.L. Travers in the film Saving Mr. Banks.

For me, keeping the user, first and foremost in my mind, will ensure engagement and make a connection with my audience. We are coders, we are artists, and we are storytellers. Whether making a doctor’s appointment, finding a restaurant, or adopting a pet, the success of failure of our code is based on the connection with the user. What is my Why? For the moment, anyone who is going to use my code!

Taking inspiration from Frida Kahlo and other artists,

I have made it a point to try to:

· Be Present.

· Embrace my weird. Live my truth. Be Myself.

· Look at limitations and boundaries as tools to innovate and create.

· Fail a lot.

· Remember to Self-Care.

· Be open. There is no one way to think.

· Stop comparing myself to others.

· Remember it’s about all of us, not just me.

· Remember that people will never forget how you made them feel.

· Ask myself: would I use this? Would Eric’s Grandma use this?

· As an artist: face it, embrace it, or fight it. If there are demons in my life, face them and take my power back.

· Remember to go outside.

· Remember what Carrie Fisher said, “Take your broken heart and turn it into art.”

· Draw from what I know.

· Express my emotions. Suppressing them does no one good.

· Always find the time for my dogs.

“Take your broken heart and turn it into art.” — Carrie Fisher

We are the architects of our own creations. We are all capable of creating great beauty. Code often serves a function based on logic, but function does not have to get in the way of a programmer expressing an idea through beautiful, elegant, and lasting code.

Artist turned Coder. Dog Dad. 🏳️‍🌈 https://www.emmanuel-jose.com/