August 19, 2012

An Artist Trapped Inside A Software Engineer

Almost a decade ago, I thought I wanted to make games. I began building a graphics engine for that purpose, since back then, there were almost no open-source 2D graphics engines using 3D acceleration. It wasn't until later that I discovered I liked building the graphics engine more than I liked building games.

Times have changed, but I continue to tinker away on my graphics engine while going to college and learning just how dumb the rest of the world is. In the most recent bout of astonishing stupidity, my country has decided it doesn't recognize political asylum for people it doesn't like. It wasn't until reality had begun a full-scale assault on my creativity and imagination that I truly understood why artists feel compelled to lose themselves in their imaginations.

My imagination. It is something I could not possibly describe in any meaningful way. Art exists because some things can't be described, they must be shown. And yet, few things in my imagination are my own. I hunt down talented artists and visionaries, lose myself in the worlds they constructed, then take everything out of context and reconstruct my own worlds, perhaps based on another artist's vision, using the same concepts. I construct multiple visualizations, art styles, and game elements. My mental stage is fueled by awesome music, music that launches my imagination into incredible creative sprees. Sometimes I craft incredible melodies of my own, but rarely are they ever truly expressed in any satisfactory way in my music.

My life is one of creative frustration. I became obsessed with computer graphics as a way to realize my vision, but I wasn't interested in simply learning how to 3D model (which I happen to be terrible at, like everything else). I don't see the world as CGI, I see the world through the lens of a GPU. I look at things and ask, how might I render that? My imagination is not a static picture or movie, its a world that is meant to be explored. Sometimes I play games for the storyline, or the gameplay, but the one thing that has always grabbed me is the ability to explore. I played Freelancer for 5 years, installed hundreds of mods, and was constantly enthralled simply by the exploration, the enormous universe, finding new systems, and discovering new places.

I can't draw a leaf. But I can create a mathematical model of it. I can calculate the textures and patterns, the branching veins and how each has their own specular, diffuse and transfer lighting functions. I can build abstractions and simulations, genetic recombinations and simplex noise algorithms. After I build tools to procedurally generate all the elements of a world, maybe then I can bring my imagination to life. But then, it's not really my imagination, it's what other artists inspire in me. I want to get as close to an artistic vision as possible, and beyond. I want to expand their artistic ideas and make them into something that is truly beautiful and inspiring, a clear extension of their vision, where it's soul shines like a beacon instead of being buried under bureaucratic bullshit.

I am an artist who cannot draw. I'm a musician incapable of painting the sonic landscape of my imagination. I am a dreamer who has no dreams of his own. If I am a programmer, it is because programming is the only way for me to express my creativity. But programming itself is not simply a means to an end. Programming is my paintbrush, my canvas, and my palette. I know how to read x86 assembly. I have abused C++11 lambdas to create temporary closures that hold a mutable state. I've crafted architectures and APIs and object-inheritance schemes and functional undo/redo stacks and lockless queues and kd-trees. Programming is my art and my music, and every new language or algorithm I explore is another instrument for me to use when building my symphony.

Yet, many programmers hold little respect for alternative opinions. People who don't conform to strict guidelines are viewed as either terrible programmers or "cowboy" programmers destined to bring ruin to every project they touch. Everything must follow protocol, everyone must do things this way or that way. Instead of celebrating our diversity in programming languages, we viciously attack each other for using a "terrible language". Perhaps I have simply been inside a strange anomaly where everyone is obsessed with corporate practices and coding standards instead of building things.

Or perhaps I'm an artist trapped inside a software engineer.

1 comment:

  1. Interesting view on our world although it sounds a bit depressing from time to time. ;-)
    Your way of seeing the world as a programmer might seem very strange to many people because they are not able to really understand it. It's the same for other artists; take an (abstract) painter for instance, he paints images many people just don't understand what's about but from his view is a way to express his view on the world. The same thing applies to music, music is something one can not express in another way.
    On the other hand we don't live (yet) in a world where only our self, our dreams and our creativity is in the focus but we live in community where we have to make sacrafices and get out of our comfort zone to keep connect to other people, to satisfy the dreams/will of other people to get some money to survive. Sometimes we're more free in the way we want to work on such tasks and sometimes we get strict limitations. Sometimes the limitations seem logical to use and easy to follow but sometimes they just seem utterly stupid and need a lot of will and work to get done.
    To get a bit more concrete coding standards are often a pain but are nessecary to keep a clean codebase. This is a thing that has been proven over and over and over again. If a team of programmer can do whatever they want, implement things they've always dreamed of then the product will soon get a big pile of messy code. Of course there are situation where so much freedom didn't bring any harm but I'd say such developers had their own untold standards. ;-)

    Chasing after our dreams is one of the main drivers of humanity but we'll only reach such a state in a perfect Utopia and from my realistic view this will never gonna happen, except maybe in a Matrix like scenario where everything is simulated. :-)