Written by: Maddie
Art and technology have become inseparable. Interactive media is the result of artists and engineers working together to bridge the gap between craft—and programming.
Sometimes just the word “programming” has the ability to send some (such as myself, several years ago) running in the opposite direction. But, learning a programming language is not as daunting a task as it seems—especially if you begin with Processing.
As an American Literature and Culture major, I had no business enrolling in a course called “Interactivity.” However, it was one of the few design and media arts classes at UCLA that had an almost questionable amount of spots available for non-majors. On the first day, we were all given a piece of printer paper with a 6 by 6 grid on it. Our assignment was to describe the grid in such a way that someone would be able to replicate what we saw using only what we’d written. In retrospect, I cannot see how I missed the point. Programming, when it comes down to it, is simply dictating instructions for how something (the program) will exist.
Processing is intended for nonprogrammers who want to program animation and interactive media: it’s more intuitive than other languages, and has a simpler syntax that eases users into the process (pun intended) of writing code. As one can probably guess, Processing is why an English major was able to produce any interactive media at all. The language itself was developed in part by artist Casey Reas, a current associate professor in UCLA’s Design I Media Arts department. Alongside engineer Benjamin Fry, Reas initiated Processing during their days at MIT’s Aesthetics and Computation Group (est. 1996). Processing was revolved around giving users instant visual feedback—programming became something that provided encouragement and motivation through instant gratification.
As for the Stephen Gammell-esque “drawing” of PAIFF pictured above (Alvin Schwarz’s Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, anyone?), it was created with a drawing program coded in Processing. It’s creator, Mitchell Whitelaw, remade and simplified the more complex original, “Harmony” (which you can try here). The simplified version can be found on openprocessing.org, a community of programmers that share their Processing sketches in an environment that’s dedicated to giving feedback, and helps strengthen programming skills.
If you’re at all curious, or have ever considered trying programming, Processing is a great place to start. Their website offers a free download of the language, helpful tutorials, and a bunch of examples to play around with.