Have you ever experienced true novelty? Something so mind-altering that it questions your definition of what you’ve known to be true for so long. I imagine the first people to watch a film or see an airplane felt this. It’s an inexplicable energy that has the power to redefine. In many ways, artists have been at the center of challenging commonly held beliefs, and using entirely new mediums to express speculative ideas.
While never the first thing to come to mind when discussing art, creative coding is revolutionizing what art is and can be. As we enter a more digital world, creative coding may be the contemporary art movement we need in order to articulate major societal challenges we are facing as technology advances.
What is creative coding?
Put simply, creative coding is an emerging specialty that utilizes code and programming as a medium to create art. Programming’s versatility and ubiquitous nature makes it especially expressive, allowing it to manifest itself as digital paintings, data visualization, or even robotics.
Unlike the functional focus of most uses of code - like the code lines of a navigation app - creative coding uses programming languages for a solely artistic purpose.
As artists, we generally hold a stigma regarding coding having high barriers to entry, and as engineers, we also hold a stigma surrounding the difficulties of creative expression. However, these fields no longer need to be separate entities, as they are more closely tied than people expect.
How to get into creative coding
With programming resources being incredibly open-source and creative inspiration democratized across the internet, getting into this field is as easy as watching some coding tutorials on Youtube and making a Pinterest board.
Here are some interesting fields within creative coding that you can experiment with once you get started:
Machine learning: The development of computer algorithms that automatically learn and improve their performance through experience and data.
Projection mapping: A technique to project video on irregularly shaped surfaces, such as sculptures or buildings.
Generative design: An iterative design process in which a program, usually using algorithms, generates a certain number of outputs based on a set of constraints.
Live coding: A form of performance art in which coders program in real-time. It usually involves sound, image and light design.
To get some ideas flowing and inspire your own creative coding pieces, here are some examples of how expansive, stunning, and novel creative coding can be.
Creative coding examples
Audience by Random International
New Nature Digital Petting Zoo by Marpi Studio
Everything in Existence by fuse*
Infinite Command Team by Casey Reas
Land Lines by Zach Lieberman
ALGOBABEZ by Shelly Knotts
XYZT: Abstract Landscapes by Adrien M & Claire B
Tecnicontrol by Bradley G Munkowitz (GMUNK)
PEmbroider created at Frank-Ratchye STUDIO for Creative Inquiry
Learning to See by Memo Akten
1. Audience by Random International
Random International is a London-based experimental art studio that has been pioneering the creative coding space for well over a decade now. Their work touches on deep social themes and has been exhibited internationally in spaces like the MoMa.
Audience, one of their earlier pieces of work from 2008, uses motion tracking software and creative coding to create an almost uncomfortable, anthropomorphic experience. As a gallery visitor steps in front of rows of individually dancing mirrors, they instantly synchronize and lock onto the viewer. With 100 mirrors now looking right back at you, you then become the focal point of your own onlooking.
2. New Nature Digital Petting Zoo by Marpi Studio
Created by Marpi Studio, New Nature is a digitally interactive petting zoo that relies on gesture-based technology and programming to create virtual organisms.
Through machine learning, Marpi has forged a virtual terrarium of creatures and plants that rely on the physical interactions of the viewers to come alive. As viewers engage with the digital creatures, the artwork responds with real-time computer-generated motions, simulating the movement of an organic creature being pet.
3. Everything in Existence by fuse*
Everything in Existence questions our perceptions of reality. Using real-time data processing tools and algorithmic software, fuse* creates a living piece of art that constantly evolves and adapts depending on its interactions with onlookers.
The artworks are constantly generating new visuals in response to the viewers, their social networks, sound and more. This solo exhibition by fuse*, which premiered in Washington DC in 2019, creates digitally interactive experiences independently of an artist. Its self-sufficient and generative nature suggests an entirely new form of artistic expression.
4. Infinite Command Team by Casey Reas
Casey Reas’ Infinite Command Team investigates the relationship between particles that are encoded to construct images, and the code that forges those particles.
Using pixelation of different weights and sizes, the piece creates a digital mosaic of television signals that become abstract and collage-like, reminiscent of TV channel-surfing. The piece is a celebration of art and technology that showcases the potential of combining digital fragments into a holistic piece of work.
5. Land Lines by Zach Lieberman
One of the most exciting aspects of creative coding is that it’s so readily available. Regardless of where you go in the world, there will always be code present guiding new innovations or digital platforms.
Creative coder Zach Lieberman takes advantage of how constantly present code is in our lives by using Google Maps to create art. In his project Land Lines, Lieberman uses machine learning, optimized algorithms, and card power to harness images from Google Maps and match them with viewers’ drawings.
Lieberman asks his viewers to draw shapes and lines on the screen, which in turn are converted into real spaces on earth that resemble the line they drew.
6. ALGOBABEZ by Shelly Knotts
Shelly Knotts takes creative coding to an entirely new plane in her live-coding pop band, ALGOBABEZ. Based in the UK, Shelly collaborates with other musicians and programmers in her pseudo-improvised live-coded music performances. Her coded music has been played to international audiences and explores themes of data, music, networks, and code.
7. XYZT: Abstract Landscapes by Adrien M & Claire B
Created by the company Adrien M & Claire B, XYZT explores the intersection of mathematics and imaginary landscapes.
Leveraging technology, programming, and lighting design, XYZT allows visitors to explore the four primary planes of existence: horizontal (the X axis), vertical (Y), depth (Z), and time (T). The exhibit allows for unparalleled interactivity across each of the planes, responding to visitors’ motion and creating new visuals in real time.
8. Tecnicontrol by Bradley G Munkowitz (GMUNK)
In his creative coding work Technicontrol, Bradley Munkowitz, also known as GMUNK in the art community, investigates the ways in which robotics, code and screen content can result in a choreographed piece of work.
Rather than using typical projection-mapped canvases, he pushed for LED-screen-wielding robots and a motion-controlled camera. The end result is a whimsical, technology-driven video piece with a truly marvelous storyline tracing the steps of a television abduction.
9. PEmbroider created at Frank-Ratchye STUDIO for Creative Inquiry
PEmbroider is an open-source computational embroidery library. The goal of the creative coding library is to empower artists and craftspeople to make generative embroidery work for free.
Usually, tools such as this would be costly, and oftentimes are inaccessible to most artists or hobbyists. By creating an open-source repository, PEmbroider allows anyone to forge new, generative embroidery work through code.
10. Learning to See by Memo Akten
Memo Akten is an artist and researcher who examines the nature of vision and perception through computational creativity and artificial intelligence. In his series of works, Learning To See, Akten has developed an artificial neural network to view and make sense of the world around us.
By comparing everyday objects with their interpretations through the eyes of neural networks, Memo Akten is able to digitally emulate the way we humans observe the world and make sense of objects.
As he states, “it can only see through the filter of what it already knows. Just like us. Because we too, see things not as they are, but as we are.”