Code Art

It is hard for me to know what is art nowadays. I used to generally enjoy going to see art in galleries, but now I usually leave them feeling perplexed, underwhelmed, and/or annoyed. Who is this art speaking to, I wonder? Who is finding it beautiful, meaningful, and moving? (Or at least one of those things.) Generally, I like to think about art the way I think about people. One doesn’t usually click with everyone they meet and decide they want to be lifelong friends with them. So too, I figure I am not meant to like every piece of art I come across. But for some time now, I have been having trouble finding art I would even want to be remotely acquainted with.

One popular art trend is abstract geometric work, specifically paintings. This is one genre or style of art that I can often like and find quite beautiful. My problem with it’s current popularity is its ubiquity in the face of so much turmoil here and abroad. As the world becomes increasingly rife with society-altering problems, rich people, unsurprisingly, just want to decorate their homes with pretty, colorfully blank pictures. But why is this what artists are churning out? It seems to me that artists have a duty to, at the very least, reflect the age they are living in, or as Baudelaire put it “become painters of modern life.” Instead so many of them are complicit in rich people’s denial of the extreme woes of basically the entire planet. They are, instead of épater la bourgeoisie, (maybe because the middle class doesn’t exist anymore), playing Josef Albers to the 1%.

Maybe you think artists aren’t supposed to care about such trivial things as climate change, corporate tax evasion, or working conditions in Bangladesh. Maybe you think art is supposed to be timeless and about heady themes like beauty and the sublime. Well I believe there is room for that kind of art, too. But my problem with so much of this abstract work and the artists that create it, is the air of seriousness that surrounds it. Why can’t they just admit they are just making pretty pictures? Why do they have to act like they are doing something important, when really it has all been done before anyway? When did it become subversive to create decoration for rich people’s walls?

But recently I have found a source for abstract art that is thoroughly modern and refreshingly unserious at the same time. But to view these works as art, you have decide that images are made into art not through intention, but through the simple act of creation. This runs counter to most art thinking, wherein art is all about intention, and the creation can be quite secondary, or even just about non-existent. In art school, artists are taught they can conceptualize anything. Anything can be an art project, even the creation of a child, as the show Portlandia recently so brilliantly satirized.

These “artworks”, as I see them, are some of the projects on the web development site Codepen. Codepen describes itself as a playground for the front end side of the web. Basically web developers can use the site to build code in a combination of HTML, CSS, and Javascript. Projects can be saved, shared with other users, and scrolled through, making it kind of like a Pinterest for web geeks.

Using the combination of these three languages, authors can create pure code images, shadows, gradients, and even animation that are then viewable by anyone with a web browser. The most interesting ones to me, are, just like most abstract painting, purely formal experiments meant to push and play with the boundaries of their medium or of our own perception. But unlike most artists, the authors of these work mostly consider them play- silly, fun experiments, not important artistic works. And, as everything is open source, these works have a much more modern, and honest authorship. People give credit to people whose work they are building off of. Everything, like the rest of the web, becomes a shared, collaborative effort. Really, this is also much like the modern art world, except that the art world tries to pretend that artist assistants do not exist in order maintain an artist’s mystique.

Below are some screenshots taken from Codepen:

Pen by MombasaMombasa

Pen by Dan GriesDan Gries

Pen by Kristian DalgårdKristian Dalgård

Pen by Robert LemonRobert Lemon

You can see these works in motion, as well as my entire curated selection of “pens” on Codepen.

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