Say the word “coding” and most people think of developing high tech computer software, phone apps, or websites. But since the 1950s, coding has also been used to create art.

Teachers from all over New Mexico recently attended the first-ever Computer Science for Art workshop during New Mexico Computer Science Professional Development Week at The University of New Mexico. This professional development for over 225 teachers was organized by the Computer Science Alliance in partnership with many programs including NM CS4All, a UNM initiative. 

The five-day Art with Computer Science workshop was taught by second-year grad student Amy Traylor, a masters of Fine Art student in Experimental Art and Technology who uses coding in her own work. 

“Code is currently my preferred artistic medium. With code I can dissect digital elements and then reconfigure them, make them interactive, animated, generative. Code gives me complete control over my process, without being constrained by the choices of already packaged software written by someone else. The only limitation I have is the ceiling of my own knowledge, which is mine to remedy,” Traylor says on her website.

“We’re trying to promote the connection between computer science and art and promote more coding in New Mexico classrooms – coding as an art medium. An early introduction to principles of coding prepares students for the increasingly interdisciplinary demands of careers in the art world,” she explained, pointing to a recent exhibit at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York as an example.

Using a programming tool called Processing, participants used images, videos, animation, colors, text, and other elements to produce works of art. Basically, Traylor explained, they were using pixels instead of paint to make their creations. The coded art can be projected on a screen, printed out and put in a frame, printed on fabric, and displayed in other media.

Few of the approximately 25 teachers in Traylor’s workshop had any coding experience but all of them were excited to take their newfound coding skills back to their classrooms.

“I’m getting knowledge and wisdom and I’m going to pass it on to my kids. It’s exciting and I’m an exciting teacher,” said Jerry Esquivel, who teaches photography, digital arts, film, and graphic design at Belen High School. “It’s a tool, a resource to take to our classrooms and open the door to teach this coding.”

Esquivel was creating a 100-page PowerPoint presentation to show students how to use coding to create art.

Michelle Hogan, a teacher at Santa Fe High School, had no coding experience before the UNM workshop. On her screen were four images nested in each other and she was trying to learn how to adjust the opacity of each one. She envisioned her students using coding to make art to showcase poetry, interpret stories, and in countless other ways.

“The longer we’re here, the more ideas I keep coming up with.” — Santa Fe High School teacher Michelle Hogan

Capitol High School science teacher Kati MacDermott had also never coded before. But she had already arranged several images and was trying to write the code that would rotate each in different directions. 

“The College of Fine Arts is really invested in more people coding for the experimental art and technology area,” Traylor said. “This is part of a broader initiative for me and the CFA to raise awareness of the creative technology field and experimental art and technology as an art medium. There is huge potential for coding in art.” 

“Lots of great energy came out of  Amy's workshop and there are many teachers that are newly inspired to think about computer science in a different, more integrated way,” said Paige Prescott, executive director of the Computer Science Alliance and a Ph.D. student at UNM Organization, Information and Learning Sciences.

UNM was ahead of its time, with a history of teaching computing for artists, possibly even before computer science was on campus, Traylor said. Professor Charles Mattox, for whom the Mattox sculpture building is named, was teaching computing for artists in the 1970s until he retired in 1976.