Paper, wood, and traditional media aren’t tied to one vendor. They don’t require licenses or agreements. They aren’t, generally speaking, incompatible. If digital art is going to provide artists with the same freedom, it stands to reason that artists working with computation will find ways to make any pixel their medium.

Processing is a good example. It takes some time, but eventually, the understanding dawns upon you: Processing is more a design for how to code, an API, than it is a specific platform. Taken further, heck, it’s more like a way of life – sketch on paper, write simple code, prototype fast, make something happen.

I gave a talk this weekend at the Mobile Art Conference. The gathering was focused on using mobile devices, primarily Apple mobiles, as canvases. iOS was certainly the focus; the room was a sea of iPhones and iPads. But none of these gorgeous painting apps would be possible without code, and so I was happy to get the chance to talk about the code that drives this art.

Love or hate Apple’s devices, the world isn’t entirely populated by them, which means artists will likely want ways of working across other gadgets and screens. I looked at how easy it was to use the Processing environment to “sketch” with code directly on a mobile device. For sound, I covered the libpd library and loading Pure Data patches on iOS devices and iPhones. Because of the bent of the audience, I was talking largely to non-programmers, but I hope they got the idea – not least because I think these tools are wonderful ways to go from being a non-coder to coder. (That sure happened for me, and the people I teach.) You can see my slides above.

You’ll see that in one of the slides, I talk about the breakdown like so:

Pd: Desktop (Windows, Mac, Linux), Android, iOS
Processing: Desktop (Windows, Mac, Linux), Android, Browser

Now, there are some holes there, but even those are getting filled. Chris McCormick is working on a Web implementation of Pd, called WebPd. The usefulness of that is dependent on someone other than Mozilla implementing the Audio API, but it’s promising.

On the Processing side, I absolutely love this project, and need to look further into it: in the video below, you’ll see a mini “IDE” that allows you to tap in Processing code and render it, via Processing.js, in the iPad’s browser. Totally brilliant.

Of course, the same thing would be possible with tablets running Palm, Blackberry, and Android OSes. And that’s what freedom in software is about – not an abstract ideal, but an every day, today-you’re-going-to-get-work-done and platforms-won’t-be-a-pain-in-the-ass benefit. It is, after all, why we bought into this computer thing in the first place.