History & Theory

The Software Arts

History & Theory
01 Mar, 2018

The Software Arts

3/14/2018 Video Online

UCSC professor Warren Sack's "The Software Arts" argues that computing grew out of the arts, challenging the notion of division between the arts and the sciences. Drawing from his background as a media theorist, software designer, and artist, Sack explores the theories of online public space and discussion.

During his talk, Sack gave a short overview of the emerging field of software studies. Additionally, he offered chapter-by-chapter summaries of his upcoming book and read some passages from a few of the chapters.

Watch the video below or directly on Youtube.

3/16/2018 Revisited Post

History and Theory of New Media Graduate Liaison Renée Pastel recaps Warren Sack's lecture "The Software Arts," on March 1st, 2017.

Returning after his insightful part of the panel discussion at the Fall one day symposium, “Between Digital and the Political: New Ecologies of the Mind,” Professor Warren Sack of UC Santa Cruz’s Film and Digital Media department visited the History and Theory of New Media lecture series on March 1, 2018, to preview his forthcoming book, The Software Arts. Sack argued passionately that computing grew out the Arts, and that the line between computer science and computer arts must be questioned and ultimately re-evaluated. He gave an extremely organized talk, sectioning his presentation into three parts. In the first, he gave an overview of the burgeoning field of software studies, noting the field’s new prominence in job postings and comparing it to the position of “new media” studies twenty years ago. Contending that much of computer history has focused on hardware, Sack proposed that an Science and Technology Studies approach to software misses the text and the media/art component that is inherent and intrinsic. This re-evaluation of software as blooming from art has implications for pedagogy, technology and the epistemology of the field, according to Sack. By reading code as a type of prose, and considering computing as a form of language art, Sack points to the hope of reintegrating philosophy and math and the importance of the liberal arts to computing. Having introduced the topic, Sack next gave a chapter breakdown of his book, tracing his arguments through chapters on Translation, Language, Algorithms, Logic, Rhetoric, and Grammar. Beginning by gesturing to computer languages as originating in 18th century French artist and artisans and building an argument for a reconsideration of software as an art form too long mis-categorized as purely mathematical, Sack finished by coming to the political artistic stand that a reconsideration of software offers, allowing software to be seen as that which an individual must use to remake meaning, thus engaging as an artist. He concluded his talk by focusing on a passage from the fourth chapter of his book, on Algorithms. This passage suggested that algorithms function similarly to a cookbook, an analogy that opens algorithms to be considered on a literary level. Sack ended by pointing out the imbalance in American education created by a valuation of math and science over art, and indicated his desire for some of that balance to be restored by reclaiming the artistic roots of software and computing.

The Q+A permitted Sack to expand upon some of the ideas raised in his talk, from explaining how his current pedagogy already incorporates software and data science as art, to a deeper exploration and explanation of the art and science continuum, to the distinctions between craft and art and how Sack envisions software fitting into that spectrum. This period also allowed a further delineation of terms and how Sack sees the current state of software studies as existing in the intersection of many viewpoints—the writer of code, the machine, the executioner, and those interacting with its output. This stimulating presentation and Q+A were a great end to the 2017-2018 HTNM series!

2018 HTNM Warren Sack

Original Event

Sacks will argue that computing grew out of the arts. This argument will be a provocation for some, especially for those who see a bright line dividing the “two cultures” of the arts and the sciences. For others, the argument will not seem provocative at all. Important computer scientists have argued that computing is not a science, software is a literature, and computer programming is a kind of essay writing. For those who see no clear distinction between the arts and the sciences, The Software Arts will be an old saw with some new teeth.

About Warren Sack

Warren Sack is a media theorist, software designer, and artist whose work explores theories and designs for online public space and public discussion. He is Chair and Professor of Film + Digital Media at the University of California, Santa Cruz where he teaches digital arts and digital studies. He has been a visiting professor in France at Sciences Po, the Fondation Maison des sciences de l'homme, and Télécom ParisTech. His artwork has been exhibited by SFMOMA (San Francisco), the Whitney Museum of American Art (New York), the New Museum of Contemporary Art (New York), the Walker Art Center (Minneapolis), and the ZKM (Karlsruhe, Germany). His scholarship and research has been supported by the Paris Institute for Advanced Study, the American Council of Learned Societies, the Sunlight Foundation, and the National Science Foundation. Warren received his PhD from the MIT Media Lab and was an undergraduate at Yale College. The subject of his talk will be The Software Arts, a book manuscript for the MIT Press "Software Studies" series.

About the History and Theory of New Media Lecture Series

The History and Theory of New Media Lecture Series brings to campus leading humanities scholars working on issues of media transition and technological emergence. The series promotes new, interdisciplinary approaches to questions about the uses, meanings, causes, and effects of rapid or dramatic shifts in techno-infrastructure, information management, and forms of mediated expression. Presented by the Berkeley Center for New Media, these events are free and open to the public. For more information, visit:

We are pleased to present the following lectures as part of this year's 2017-2018 season:


10/12 | 4:00–6:00 PM | ​470 Stephens Hall
Keeping Track
with Natasha Schull
In partnership with CSTMS

10/17 | 1:00–5:00 PM | 310 Banatao Auditorium, Sutardja Dai Hall
Between the Digital and the Political: New Ecologies of Mind
with Erich Hoerl, Yuk Hui, Luciana Parisi
Panel Discussion
with David Bates & Warren Sack
With support from the Townsend Center and the Dean of Arts and Humanities

11/16 | 5:00–6:30 PM | BCNM Commons, 340 Moffitt Undergraduate Library
Porn Sequence
with Hoang Nguyen


01/29 | 6:30–8:00 PM | Osher Auditorium, BAMPFA
Indexical Ambivalence
with Kris Paulsen
In partnership with the Arts, Technology, and Culture Colloquium

03/01 | 5:00–6:30 PM | BCNM Commons, 340 Moffitt Undergraduate Library
The Software Arts
with Warren Sack
In partnership with CSTMS

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