From the start, however, it was more than just a way to build on Java. While Fry was at work on his renderer, Reas began developing processing.org as a locus of learning and community, creating an active forum where users discuss their projects, share and solve programming problems, and offer ideas for improving Processing itself. Indeed, Processing had the spirit of an art project or a labor of love. As artists, Fry and Reas were keen to give the software as much expressive power as they could; they used it to produce work that felt like art. Soon, people wanted to emulate them. And they could. Processing was open-source and free of charge. Because Fry and Reas were doing this for no particular hope of financial gain, and because they were awfully hard-working and nice guys, its fans couldn’t help loving Processing for its purity.
Processing, however, isn’t entirely easy. Perhaps the only thing working against it is that it has a higher bar of entry than other visually oriented systems like Flash. Programming in general eventually gets hard; you have to embrace the mathematics at some point in the game. But there’s nothing like inspiration as a motivator. Just the other day, I had an e-mail conversation with graphics guru Robert Hodgin, a graduate of the Rhode Island School of Design. At RISD, we don’t have much mathematics training to speak of, and Roger left without much algorithmic know-how. But he is now extremely skilled with a sophisticated mathematical repertoire, because he has made the leap from pigments and straightedges to numbers and relational symbols. He wanted to learn what at first was hard. In the end, it’s just work. And artists know how to work!
Processing was written and developed by two boys next door who are also visual and computational geniuses. Fry and Reas wrote it for themselves–and also for the world at large, to help everyone share in the rich vocabulary of computational expression. Processing exemplifies my core belief about education today: let the new generation do their thing and just get out of their way. Download it today, and play.
John Maeda is president of the Rhode Island School of Design and the author of The Laws of Simplicity.