Aesthetic Coding

I am going to present a co-author paper (with Shelly Knotts) at School of Creative Media, City University of Hong Kong as part of the conference “Art Machines: International Symposium on Computational Media Art “.


Date: 5Jan 2019 (Sat)
Time: 11:45 am
Venue: M6094 Future Cinema Studio, L6, Run Run Shaw Creative Media Centre, 18 Tat Hong Avenue, Kowloon Tong

See the abstract here :

Learning to code has started to be part of the core strategy in educational curriculum, from primary school to higher education, especially in many developed countries that promote stem education [1][2][3], or at least coding is recognized as an important aspect of science and technology development [4][5]. In the art and design-related disciplines, creative coding emphasizes code as an expressive material [3][6][7][8], and embraces exploration and experimentation of code beyond functional applications. OpenFrameworks, Sonic Pi, p5.js Processing and ml5.js are some examples of open source platforms that facilitate creative and expressive creation through sharing and remixing code. In other words, the community of creative coding expands the usual way of learning to code beyond science and engineering disciplines.

However, with the increasing demand of computational practices in emerging disciplines such as software studies, platform studies, new media studies and digital humanities, coding is increasingly considered as “literacy” [9] to humanities. This perspective of coding literacy becomes a critical tool to understand the history, culture and society alongside its technical level, especially regarding our digital experiences are ever more programmed, both technically and culturally.

This presentation introduces two cases where two artist-coders consider code practice as a mode of aesthetic and critical inquiry, and they teach coding (in a format of workshop delivery) in a critical way through engaging with their artistic and coding practice. This aesthetic approach includes not only introducing coding practically and creatively but also cultivating an open space where discussing and reflecting on computational culture is possible. This is similar to scholar Michael Mates describes as ‘procedural literacy’, which is to connect social and cultural issues with coding through theoretical and aesthetic considerations. In particular, how “the culturally-embedded practices of human meaning-making and technically-mediated processes” are intertwined [10].

By introducing two different hands-on code learning workshops, this presentation examines how aesthetic production or critical thinking can be cultivated and developed through learning to code.  We suggest connecting code with social and cultural issues through performing, showcasing and discussing code-related art and performance as a departure point to develop code or procedural literacy. Without losing sight of exploring code technically and creatively, the two hands-on workshops illustrate how the suggested aesthetic coding approach could be realized in both epistemic and practical levels. The first workshop was conducted in 2017 titled ‘Feminist coding in p5.js | Can Software be Feminist?’ by Winnie Soon [11] and the second case was conducted in 2016 titled “Rewriting the Hack” by a live coder Shelly Knotts and curator Suzy O’Hara [12]. We argue that the practice of aesthetic coding provides epistemic insights to explore computational culture beyond creative coding, shedding lights on how to work with code across disciplines and to consider coding practice as a means to think critically, aesthetically and computationally.


  1. Xie Yu, Michael Fang and Kimberlee Shauman, “STEM Education,” Annual review of sociology41, (2015): 331–357.
  2. Brzozowy Mirosław, Hołownicka Katarzyna, Bzdak Jacek, Tornese Pietro, Lupiáñez-Villanueva Francisco, Vovk Nick, Sáenz de la Torre Lasierra, Juan José, Perelló Josep, Bonhoure Isabelle, Panou Evangelia, Bampasidis Georgios, Verdis, Athanasios, Papaspirou Panagiotis, Kasoutas Michael, Vlachos, Ioannis, Kokkotas, Spyros & Moussas Xenophon, “Making STEM Education attractive for young people by presenting key scientific challenges and their impact on our life and career perspectives,” (paper based on a talk presented at 11th annual International Technology, Education and Development Conference, Valencia, March, 2017). INTED2017 Proceedings,
  3. Chung Bryan, Pong Lam & Soon Winnie, “Computer Programming Education and Creative Arts,” (paper based on a talk presented at ISEA, Hong Kong, 2016) ISEA2016 Conference Proceedings.
  4. Heaver Stuart, “STEM education key to Hong Kong’s ‘smart city’ plan, but long-terms steps must be taken now, experts warn (2017)”, South China Morning Post, accessed August 31, 2018,
  5. Jing Meng, “China wants to bring artificial intelligence to its classrooms to boost its education system (2017)”, South China Morning Post, accessed August 31, 2018,
  6. Soon Winnie, “Executing Liveness: An Examination of the live dimension of code inter-actions in software (art) practice,”(Ph.D. diss., Aarhus University, 2016.)
  7. Maeda John. Creative Code: Aesthetics + Computation (London: Thames & Hudson, 2004).
  8. Peppler Kylie & Kafai Yasmin, “Creative coding: Programming for personal expression,” (paper based on a talk presented at Rhodes, Greece, 2009). The 8th International Conference on Computer Supported Collaborative Learning 2, (2009): 76-78.
  9. Vee Annette, Coding Literacy: How Computer Programming Is Changing Writing (MIT Press, 2017).
  10. Mateas Michael, “Procedural Literacy: Educating the New Media Practitioner,” The Horizon. Special Issue. Future of Games, Simulations and Interactive Media in Learning Contexts 13(1), 2005.
  11. Soon Winnie. “A Report on the Feminist Coding Workshop in p5.js (2017).” Aesthetic Programming website. Accessed August 31, 2018.
  12. Knotts Shelly & O’Hara Suzy. “Rewriting the Hack (2015)”. Accessed August 31, 2018.