What is Art? What is Code?

Yesterday, when I wrote about the semantics behind art and content and making and whatever it is I do, I said that I know that calling my code “art” was a stretch.

There is code that is accepted as art. Games or any code that creates visual art or music are examples. But what about the payment system for a B2B SaaS app? I think a lot of people would call that craft.

But, I recently read Art & Fear and I am convinced by their distinction between art and craft.

In essence, art lies embedded in the conceptual leap between pieces, not in the pieces themselves. And simply put, there’s a greater conceptual jump from one work of art to the next than from one work of craft to the next. The net result is that art is less polished — but more innovative — than craft. The differences between five Steinway grand pianos — demonstrably works of consummate craftsmanship — are small compared to the differences between the five Beethoven Piano concerti you might perform on those instruments.

[…] your job as an artist is to push craft to its limits — without being trapped by it. The trap is perfection: unless your work continually generates new and unresolved issues, there’s no reason for your next work to be any different from the last. The difference between art and craft lies not in the tools you hold in your hands, but in the mental set that guides them. For the artisan, craft is an end in itself. For you, the artist, craft is the vehicle for expressing your vision. Craft is the visible edge of art.

– Bayles, David; Orland, Ted. Art & Fear (CRAFT) / emphasis mine

To Bayles and Orland, the Artist is using craft to explore Thousands of Variations of an idea. They are not seeking perfection. If that’s the distinction, I personally resonate with the idea that my code is more art than craft. I could see others thinking the opposite about theirs.