Misconceptions in Programming

Having been in college for the past 41 months in pursuit of a CIS (Computer Information Systems) degree, I fancied myself somewhat knowledgeable in the area computers and (to a very small degree) programming. However, courtesy of a class that I have had the good fortune to be enrolled in, my views on computer programming have shifted, and that is what I would like to share today. The views expressed in the following paragraphs do not ONLY apply to computer programming, so even if you don’t have the slightest interest in computer code hopefully you can still find this short post somewhat interesting.

So, to begin with…some history. For most of the time that I have spent in college my number 1 question related to programming has been:

What programming language should I learn?

I asked teachers, recruiters, other programmers, receiving almost as many answers as the number of people that I approached. This pretty much described my life up until the beginning of this past quarter (started around Dec 1st of 2014) when I began taking computer science 120: intro to programming, and this brings me to my first point:TitleImage_Python

Programming is NOT about the language

Just like spoken words are not the main point of communication (communicating is), neither are the languages of computer programming the main point of software development. Spoken languages exist to facilitate the communication of ideas, truths, and emotions. Similarly, programming languages simply exist for the communication and creation of ideas and content. Think about it for a moment: the code behind Google Maps exists to represent reality (the geographic and topological layout of the globe) to enable people to get directions and find their way from one place to another. For years all I thought about was, “Which language should I learn to make myself marketable as an IT professional?”. However, the right question would be, “How can I better prepare myself to solve real world problems with a computer?”. As with spoken language, the ideas and logic that provide the foundation of meaning and purpose matter much more than the specific linguistic way it is finally expressed (e.g. Spanish vs. English). Ultimately, programming is all about problem solving just like engineering, theology, art, philosophy, plumbing, trash pick-up, and politics. In the computer science class I am currently enrolled in, the professor stresses the problem solving strategies and ways of approaching problems much more than the specific language we are using (Java).

However, this brings me to my second point:

Programming is an art form…

…like painting, sculpture, or music. After all, the purpose of visual and musical art is to communicate ideas and represent reality. Michelangelo didn’t create his amazing sculptures without some intention of them representing how people really looked and felt, and Bach didn’t write his music without intending to communicate and represent real emotions to his audience. Going back to my Google Maps example, the code behind the online service was written to mimic and represent the reality of the road systems of the world. Some artists paint on canvases, or with notes, or in languages (literary), but programmers paint in code. Just as the medium that Michelangelo chose to communicate (pencil, paint, sculpture) mattered much less than what he was trying to say, so the language used by programmers takes second stage to what they are trying to communicate/accomplish.

Do you want to be a programmer? To paint on a virtual canvas that millions (and maybe even billions of people) will interact with? Then learn how to solve problems; learn how to strive for perfection. Leonardo Da Vinci did not paint the Mona Lisa his first day on the job. Also, don’t be afraid to fail -without failure there is no learning. As someone who used to draw, I can attest that 90% of everything I created was junk, but that the ninety-percent had to be worked through before the good 1% (and mediocre 9%) could be created. Learn the tools of your trade, but more importantly learn how to communicate and solve the problems, ideas, emotions, and meaning that drive every aspect of human life. That is how you can become a truly great artist, engineer, plumber, truck driver, or programmer.

Easy To See, If Hard to Swallow

First, I must admit that I do not much care for Diego Rivera, though he is the subject of this essay. Off the bat, I don’t support his excessively pro-communist views.  As for his personal affairs, no pun intended, his lifelong conduct towards women was hardly honorable, to say the least.  What’s more, in my personal opinion (extra stress on personal), his murals, of whbg_diegorivera2_1ich he was so proud, are somewhat grotesque. In short, in my pessimistic moments, I consider him to be in his entirety an adulterous, lying pig, whose artistic style isn’t my cup of tea.

However, that whole rant aside, I consider his autobiography, My Art, My Life, to be one of the most enthralling books I have ever read, and Diego Rivera to be one of the most fascinating (albeit morbidly so) people I have ever studied. He is undoubtedly a dynamic, influential, downright intriguing man.  Author Alberto Híjar Serrano succinctly describes Rivera’s aura thusly: “Diego Rivera is an oversized man in overalls who carries an Apizaco cane, wears large shoes and a Sandnista hat (or does Sandino wear a Rieverian hat?).” (Serrano 638)  I must admit I had to look up who Sandino was (he was a Mexican revolutionary who resisted the U.S., and “died for the faith.”) Rivera lived in an age and a place and with a people that I admittedly don’t often think of. His opinions, however controversial, are as colorful as the art which he describes in personal detail. And when not discussing the grand moments of his life, the little anecdotes he relates make for amusing reads. Mind you, many of his accounts can’t be trusted to be entirely truthful, and thus don’t exactly flatter his character.

But whenever I become frustrated with Rivera’s tendency for questionable, though undoubtedly flamboyant facts, I remind myself that the greater part of the story told in My Art, My Life is actually a piece history. This is why I believe that Diego Rivera was, in a limited sense, a “great man.” But why do I make this claim, for someone I do occasionally despise?

The simple fact is that Rivera seems to me to be the a very famous (and therefore influential) person.  I recognize that at first, “being famous” may seem a rather shallow criteria by which to measure achievement. But I believe that it is what he did with his celebrity that truly merits the term “achievement.” However, as far as simple fame does go, if you were to inquire of people whether they had heard of Diego Rivera, a larger percentage of people would probably nod their heads in acquiescence. Or if they couldn’t place the actual name “Diego Rivera,” if you were to show them one of his popular piece of art, they would probably have seen it before.

The simple fact is that art is a different, and in some ways more versatile, medium than writing. Works by both authors and artists can be equally obscure, but I consider promoting one’s writing to be more difficult than drawing attention to one’s art. This may seem like a very obvious statement, but in order to be familiar with someone’s writing, a person must read it. Especially when it comes to books, a person must first find the title appealing, and then has to go out of their way to open the book and peruse the chapters. However, seeing is an automatic functional; we can’t really help what our eyes encounter. Since Rivera is such a popular artist, confronting his art at sometime or another is almost unavoidable. And of course, art does not need to be translated. For the most part, sight is universal; language is not.

To be sure, Rivera was not always so well-known as he is now. In the early years of his career, he was considered a talented artist, and had gained some degree of prominence among select artistic circles. However, by the early 1920’s, he was beginning to gain a more widespread audience through his new artistic medium: murals. These same murals, which I have so maligned, are nevertheless the very reason I consider Rivera’s carrier to be a great achievement.

In the first place, credit is due to Rivera for recognizing plain walls as a valuable canvases. As he states in My Art, My Life, murals “would not be a museum or gallery art but an art the people would have access to in places they frequented in their daily life—post offices, schools, theaters, railroad stations, public buildings.” (Rivera 66) Rivera is determined to be seen. And just what does he want his viewers to see? Rivera had long been involved the changing scene of Mexican politics, and according to Serrano, this “culminat[ed] in his murals at the Ministry of Public Education (1923-28) in which a new subject is included: el pueblo, the people.”

This is truly what makes Rivera, if not a great man, certainly a great artist. He used his highly visible art not just to bring aesthetic pleasure, but to bring hope and change for a demoralized people. Time after time, his murals include the people, the same people that were constantly being downtrodden, subject to one regime, one revolution after another. This subject matter wasn’t always popular; we hear much of Rivera being pressured to paint out communist or atheist elements in his murals, but in the same Ministry of Public Education mural, a poem by Carlos Guitérrez Crux exalting the lowly miner was required to be deleted. Nevertheless, Rivera continued to fight for what he believed in. Throughout his career, Rivera sought to bring dignity and voice to a downtrodden nation. And that, I must admit, is a noble thing, although I can still wish less of his philosophy was so pro-Stalin.

Indeed, however you lean on the political sphere, there is something to be said for artistic integrity, even with his more radical paintings, such as the Rockefeller Center mural, Man at the Crossroads. In a poem by E.B. White entitled, “I Paint What I See: A Ballad of Artistic Integrity,” the author of such children’s books as Charlotte’s Web humorously depicts and excellent portrayal of Rivera: “I paint what I paint, I paint what I see,/I paint what I think,” said Rivera,/“And the thing that is dearest in life to me/In a bourgeois hall is Integrity.” Additionally, Rivera can also be stubborn. In the same poem, “John D.’s grandson, Nelson,” points out “And though your art I dislike to hamper/…after all/It’s my wall.”

To which the poetical Rivera replies, “We’ll see if it is.”

 

Works Cited

Rivera, Diego. My art, My life: An Autobiography. New York: Dover Publications Inc.,

1992. Print.

Serrano, Alberto Híjar. “The Latin American Left And The Contribution Of Diego Rivera

To National Liberation.” Third Text 19.6 (2005): 637-646. Academic Search Complete. Web. 27 Oct. 2013.

Drawing!

And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. -Genesis 1:3

Being made in God’s image, man has the desire to create. Granted, he cannot simply speak and have fully developed, three dimensional, living things appear, but this desire can nevertheless be found in everything man does: engineering, computer coding, construction work, art, and music –  just to name a few. Drawing is one area of creating that has always fascinated me, and I wanted to share some of the insights that I have had during my limited experience to help encourage others thinking about taking it up as a hobby (or career), and hopefully help you waste less time than I did actually learning how to really draw.

Practice, Practice, Practice

001 (2)Like with anything else, nothing can replace just drawing. Early on I probably spent as much time reading ‘how-to-draw’ books as I did actually drawing. This was not completely unhelpful, but there is no substitute for taking up the pencil and actually applying it to the paper (or digital stylus to the computer). One great way to practice drawing (or anything for that matter) is to set aside a little bit of time each day to work on it. During my senior year in high school as part of a fine arts credit, I had to draw for a minimum of 15 minutes each day.  I would encourage anyone interested in improving their drawing skills to try and set aside time on a regular basis (daily, weekly) to drawing from life.

However, if getting the motivation to actually sit down for an extended period of time seems difficult to muster, try to find a friend or sibling who would also like to practice and make the drawing practice a group event. I find that most things are more enjoyable with a group of people. Also, by teaming up with another person, each person can critique and evaluate the other’s work. This can be useful as it encourages progress and prevents ruts.

002

While drawing regularly from life is the best way to learn, drawing from the imagination is also beneficial. Requiring the knowledge of God’s creation gained from drawing life studies, it requires the artist to take reality and then tweak it to visually communicate to the viewer. And even though I don’t really know what my message was, I always found drawing bearded guys with swords a lot more fun than drawing flowers anyway :).

Note: The notion that only a few gifted people are actually capable of drawing well is not true at all. Just like anything else, drawing is a skill that must be nurtured and learned. Like most things in life, drawing does come easier to some than others, but that does not mean that it cannot be enjoyed by the rest of us.

Know the History

MichelangeloStudying artists and the history of art was probably one of my favorite parts of learning to draw. While studying and copying great works of art from history is not a substitute to drawing from life, the importance of the techniques, stylistic nuances, and inspiration that existing art provides cannot be underestimated. Almost everyone has an artist or artists whose work blows them away. These artists are often the ones whose work directly influences our own. Personally, I was always drawn to the work of Michelangelo, Hokusai, Arthur Rackham, John Howe, and various comic book artists. While most of my drawings look absolutely nothing like these artists work, they have all had a shaping influence on the style that I do have.

Learning Resources

As I mentioned earlier, the ‘how-to-draw’ section at Barnes and Noble used to be the first place I would go every time I got a chance. However, there is a lot of useless junk whenever it comes to books on drawing. Most of them seem to mainly consist of copying, step by step, the art of the author of the book. However, I have read a few books (or partially read) that I hope will be useful to others who are interested in drawing, and will hopefully save some valuable time being wasted searching the drawing 003section at the local library or bookstore. First, even though I never finished reading it, Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain by Betty Edwards is an excellent book that helped me approach drawing in a more constructive way. For those interested in human anatomy, Gray’s Anatomy by Henry Gray, and with drawings by H.V. Carter, is an excellent way to gain a rudimentary understanding of the structure of the human body without a lot of the morally questionable drawbacks inherent in most artist anatomy books. Finally, if finding people who are patient enough to let you draw them is a problem like it was in my family, books of famous people of history with large pictures are often a decent substitute.