Thursday, November 29, 2007

Writing and Coding, Part 3: Artistic Expression

All right, I'll admit it. I've been putting this part of the series off. This is a huge topic, and the more I've thought about it, the less I feel I can do it justice in the time I have to prepare and the space I have to expound on it here. So instead of doing an in-depth exploration, I'm going to provide a very high-level overview. Put on your running shoes. Artistic Expression Programming seems to be a creative, artistic endeavor in two ways. First, you have phenomena like perl poetry, where code is explicitly, consciously used as poetry. This is related to the school of thought that looks at programming's primary purpose being communicating algorithms to a person. Executing the code on a computer is secondary, a means of making sure you are correctly expressing the algorithm. Aesthetics: De Gustibus Non Disputandum Personally, I tend to having simple, regular syntax, even at the expense of having simple, regular semantics (although I like that to be simple also). This bias is evident in a couple of ways: First, I prefer Python to Ruby. Ruby's semantics are probably more regular (everything's an object vs everything's an object, but it may be a classic object and some things are sealed), but the few times I've attempted to learn Ruby, the syntax just seems a little irregular. Not in a bad way, necessarily, but enough that it's squelched what little motivation I've had so far to learn what is probably a fine language. But that's beside the point. What I'm trying to illustrate is that people judge programming languages partially according to criteria that is strictly non-utilitarian. Having simple syntax doesn't make any difference in how capable Python is at building, say, web apps. (As I type this, I'm mentally constructing an argument that it does, but in general, I stand by this statement.) Of course, the academic in me is wanting to step back and define terms now. What does aesthetics mean? Maybe it's time to step back, pull out some literary theory books, and see where this leads us. Is there anything more dull than someone who is both a literature- and computing-geek?

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