In each installment, we feature some of our favorite people, companies, and organizations doing innovative work at the intersection of art and tech.
Welcome to the inaugural installment of The Art of Technology. Today we’re with Brian Fountain, the Chief Creative Officer at The New York Code + Design Academy. Let’s start with a quick run-down of what, exactly, NYCDA is, and what, exactly, the CCO does there.
The New York Code + Design Academy offers full-time and part-time classes in web and mobile app development. Whether you are a beginner or an experienced developer, we have a class for you. Our overall mission is to empower those who seek to debug the world. As CCO, I guide the voice and vision of the Academy. This includes topics like how we market our products or how we tell our story to others.
Are many of your students looking to utilize tech for art purposes? What sort of creative-inclined project have passed through your doors?
In any given classroom there are always a few artists in the mix. We’ve seen some amazing projects through the years. This includes web-based music synthesizers, arcade games, creativity tools for children, visual toys where you can draw with someone else on the other side of the world. A recent graduate designed a music composition tool that allows the physically disabled to write music using only their voice.
These are all incredible—and incredibly varied, medium-wise. Coding can unlock ways of connecting and expressing, and yet there’s a measure of concern when in comes in contact with art. Across all mediums, there’s a choir of doubters who root for the analog version, the traditional. What do you say to them?
It does not matter if it’s a phone, a laptop or your watch. If humans are using it to connect with one another, artists are going to make it their own. Analog formats aren’t better, just better known. Give me some pixels, a little time and your eyeballs, and I’ll make you feel something.
Do you feel as though painting with pixels will come to be just as natural (as traditional), as painting with, well, paint?
If you consider the number of users who have played games like Draw Something or have doodled on a Snapchat pic, I would say that digital illustration is already more natural to them than traditional painting tools. The advantage is now their digital works can be shared with anyone around the world instantaneously with the push of a button. That’s a seductive proposition for any artist.
I think that points to the democratizing nature of technology. Not every one has the access required (financial or geographical) to obtain physical artistic tools, but nearly everyone has access to a computer. Is democratization, and breaking down barriers, a key tenet in how you see NYCDA interacting with the world?
Absolutely, we believe that anyone can learn to code. By 2020 it is estimated that more than 6 Billion people will have smartphones. That’s four years away! If we can teach them how to code and imbue them with a passion for creativity, we can change the world. Of course, we have so many other problems to solve along the way, but someone has to dream of a better world before it can be built.
Can you take us through some of the projects you’ve seen at NYCDA that blend art and tech in innovative ways?
One of our most recent Web Development Intensive graduates, Sam Lubin, created an online music composition tool. He calls it the Samthsizer. It has two areas, the first section is a digital theremin where you can design a sound wave then trigger it on a touchpad. The second area is a sequencer where you can compose a sound loop. As a bonus, when you are done with your composition, you can copy and paste the link and share it with a friend.
The Samthsizer in action.
Music seems to be ripe for tech enhancement and play (we’ve kept it digitally for decades), and the same goes for film. What about in the realm of visual art or books?
Another one of our graduates, Jason Kupperblatt, created a digital storytelling app for his son Max. It was filled with fun illustrations that animated across the page, clouds drifting by and balloons floating into the sky. This is something you could never do with a traditional book. As a bonus, he designed it so that the reader could customize the name of the main character, so the child can see themselves as the hero of their own story. It was called Maxbook. How many dad points is that worth?!
Like five thousand. About how many of the projects spawned from NYCDA are for professional (or soon-to-be professional) avenues, and how many for personal use?
Many of our students come to us with the desire to be professional software developers. Almost every class we offer is project-based and culminates with an app of the student’s choosing. Though some choose to create works that are more business friendly, ultimately the best projects are the ones that reflect the passion of the creator. If the choice is between profession or passion, choose passion every time.
That’s a great way to conclude Brian, and I’ll let you go with one last question. It’s always difficult to predict what’s coming, but what trends do you see on the horizon of art-oriented tech?
Virtual reality is in the news lately so I would keep an eye on that. Personally I am very interested in recent the works from artists using bio-feedback from sensors (think brainwaves) to create unique and ephemeral works derived from the participants biological signature. In the future will it be possible to simply think of an image and see it on a screen in front of you? That would be pretty amazing.