Software Art

Quick Sketch

Utilize (as best you can) the idea(ls) of software art to re-envision your play.

When to Use

At any point in the process.

This is particularly useful for taking a completely new view of your play.

The Art in Software

"Software art refers to works of art where the creation of software, or concepts from software, play an important role; for example software applications which were created by artists and which were intended as artworks." I'm particularly interested here in art that is in some ways derived from code written by artists. Examples of this are abundant recently. One such example is Adrian Ward's Auto-Illustrator which was described in the following way:

Auto-illustrator is a fully functioning vector graphics application that on the surface (GUI) appears to be no different from the proprietary or FLOSS alternatives such as Illustrator or Inkscape (respectively). However the difference appears when the software, during use, transfers a great deal of control and creative decision making from the user to the software algorithms. The software is partially generative and overtly semi-autonomous.

It questions the control that we have when working with these types of proprietary 'creative suites', in which we have no access to study or modify the algorithms which define the 'paint brush' or the 'pen' tool. When we draw with these tools we are working within the parameters defined by the authors of the algorithms and also within the lineage of an inadequate canvas and paintbrush metaphor. Auto-illustrator both brings these facts to the surface and offers and alternative to software as a tool but instead as a collaborative creative experience that involves both the user and software with agency.

The artwork is, then, both the software itself, and the visual images the software creates. A sort of dual-artwork functioning on two levels at once. While playwrights would find it difficult to consider such software writing itself as a "play," we can harness the idea of exporting our some of our creative decision making to an algorithm.

The Exercise

GENERAL NOTE: I've included a Python script I struggled to write (even with expert help from others), but successfully employed during the #2510's Project -- (though without the "prop" variable at the time). Please feel free to use it if you're able to. You can see a before and after during Week 5 of the 2510s project.

NOTE TO PROGRAMMERS: If you have programming skills you will be able to do something more impressive than what I've done here. Please do. If you're able to improve the code I've included (an easy task I'll bet), please let me know about it so I can link to it here for the non-programmers among us.

NOTE TO NON-PROGRAMMERS: The method I describe below can be successfully employed without having any knowledge of computers or computer programming. It has much in common with the principles behind what Merce Cunningham employed with his Chance operations -- and I employed for the Chance exercise earlier.

  1. Re-read your play.

  2. Go back through your play and make a list of:
  3. Assign a number (1, 2, etc...) to each character name.
  4. Assign a letter (a, b, c, etc...) to each prop.
  5. Come up with some method of randomly (and in the following order):
  6. After you're done put it all together. Your play will be rearranged randomly, have random character names, and have random insertions of props.


This particular exercise (specifically in its implementation here) completely removes the artist from the act of creation. If any of this was interesting to you I suggest you explore the possibilities programming may open up for you. Either way, you were able to disconnect characters from specific lines, plot from any intentional linearity, and even props from sensible uses. Did this make you think about your play differently? Did it give you license to write your play differently in the next draft? Did it just make you angry?