Code as a creative expression?

I just stumbled across this really interesting MA project by Gavin Jocius at Duke University called Change the Code, Keep the Text – do check it out!

It’a a multimedia project in the fullest sense of the word, making use of written text, digital video and different sorts of computer code, i.e. HTML, RSS, CSS, Javascript etc. Basically Jocius asks a number of interesting questions I’ve been thinking about myself as well, whether code can be creative or whether all that’s really to it are instructions to the machine, diminishing and regulating creativity in a sense. The research question, Is code a form of creative writing? is discussed throughout the thesis by means of different case studies, examining works by Jessica LosebyJodi, and Jim Andrews amongst others.

I enjoyed his elaborations on coding with the grain versus coding against the grain. So for instance glitch art would be to code against the grain while most programming necessarily is to code with the grain, that is to act in accordance with the underlying computer system. Using these distinctions one could definitely understand most software art or to essentially be about coding against the grain, of challenging the underlying system in one way or another, so as to appear differently, to reveal the inner workings by disturbing it.

One of the things that interests me in particular is coding in the age of social networking, or the use of code by the web 2.0 savvy Internet generation. On the one hand there are voices that proclaim the final death of coding as necessary knowledge as web 2.0 platforms have made coding skills more and more obsolete since all you need to do is to make yourself a profile by simply filling out the template provided. I find this template driven identity production quite interesting, and I intend to write more on this in a future blogpost. On the other hand code has become more and more visible as well and users are learning how to deal with it, just think of all the iframe elements, or embed codes that are now frequently copy pasted into blogs and websites, whether a YouTube video, or Facebook Like button. Also, and this is the topic discussed by Jocius are the many amateur design practices using different layouts in social networking sites to customize their profiles, as in MySpace for instance. Discussing the case of Whateverlife, a website offering MySpace design layouts for girls, Jocius makes a point of how this “opportunity to code with the grain of a popular social networking site has in turn given rise to a new breed of coders”.

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