Programming Language Structure as Art

NFTs have brought an onslaught of consideration to gifs and other cellular phone-helpful passive media. But not all digital art tactics translate conveniently to singular, collectible assets. Esolangs, programming languages built as varieties of self-expression, are pretty quite possibly the the very least NFT-ready electronic artwork. Open up ended, group centered, and collaborative, they serve as a reminder that electronic art has other histories and other futures.

The time period esolang is a portmanteau of “esoteric” and “language.” It was coined in the 1990s, when hacker-hobbyists commenced developing odd languages with no sensible use. While they experienced small interest in the artwork context of their do the job, they brought a perception of participate in and conceptual sophistication that feels at residence alongside art by the MFA-educated. Then came digital poets and artists who recognized the possible of the medium.

One of the reasons esolangs have remained on the periphery of computational artwork is that they are programming languages, requiring a selected amount of pc-language literacy to realize and recognize. It is my aim to make them accessible and worthy of appreciation to the beginner and unfamiliar. I supply three entry factors drawn from 10 years of interviews I have performed with practitioners across the spectrum. To start with up is multicoding, a approach in which numerous meanings can be gleaned from the exact same textual content. Next, I check out ethnoprogramming, a current challenge to the hegemony of English in the text of code. And at last, we transform to conceptual languages, strategy-art that runs in our heads, not on our machines.


Piet, a laptop language developed by David Morgan-Mar in 1991 and named for Mondrian, is possibly the canonical example of a multicoding esolang, indicating a language that layers multiple readings of a single textual content. In the circumstance of Piet, that “text” is not textual at all, but an graphic that serves as code in the language.

A plan in Piet is an image, created up of blocks of shade known as codels. Each and every codel is like a letter in blend, they build a

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