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Programming for Visual Artists

Instructor: Lee Tusman
Pronouns: he/him
Course: NME 1450 FRI 2:30pm - 6:10pm
Classroom: Natural Sciences 1013
Office Hours: TBA

Course Description

Using a visual environment that provides immediate feedback, students are taught the basic principles of programming and, by extension, math. Lectures focus on key aspects of programming and how working artists use code creatively in their practice. In this course, math is never the end but rather the means to problem-solve during the creative process.

Course Vision

Programming for Visual Artists introduces code as a medium to create interactive visual art. We will explore the evolving history of new media and software art. You will be encouraged to push the edges of art into new and unknown territory. We will learn the basics of programming with the JavaScript library p5.js through in-class lectures, demonstrations and exercises. We will study a diverse community of artists and approaches, and we will take an expansive view of how programming can be used as a tool to create new forms of art. Outside of class, students will have weekly readings, video tutorials, writing prompts and programming assignments.


  • How is using programming to make visual art similar and different from other methods and approaches (photography, sculpture, etc.)?
  • What are the tools used to make this art?
  • Who are artists working in this field?
  • What can programming do for art?
  • What are the limitations of using code to make art?


In this course we will be learning P5JS, an open source creative coding environment using the Javascript programming language. It is a tool built on the philosophy and goals of Processing. P5JS is built by and used by a community of artists, designers, educators and students to develop creative and experimental interactive projects that are presented on the web. There are a number of advantages to making this your first programming language. If you have prior coding experience you will still benefit from learning P5JS. More info can be found here.

  • p5.js is free and open source. It works on every computer platform.
  • All p5.js code results in a webpage that can live online and be shared with anyone who has a web browser and access to the Internet.
  • There is a large friendly community of people that work in p5.js, which means there are lots of learning resources, an online community for listing and solving problems, and even a conference. Processing Community Day NYC is February 9 at The New School.
  • The language is designed to be friendly for beginners and is well documented.
  • The syntax (structure) is consistent and intuitive.
  • Learning p5.js means you are learning to work in Javascript and can continue on to more advanced work in this area.

Learning Objectives

  • a working understanding of how to program with p5.js to create your own projects
  • the ability to develop an idea in your head, to sketch on paper and in code, and to translate this to software that you write
  • a knowledge of the history of programming to create art, and a solid foundation of artists working past and present in the field
  • the ability to use math and computation to serve your needs in creating interactive artwork in p5.js
  • an understanding of the iterative process of coding by building up and continually refining your programs
  • the ability to work through technical challenges and bugs to solve coding problems

Additional Course Goals

Required Texts and Tools

  • Getting Started With p5.js by Lauren McCarthy, Casey Reas and Ben Fry - available in the campus store, and on course reserve at the library circulation desk
  • P5JS Web Editor. At the beginning of the semester we will be using the free online p5.js web editor.
  • a Text Editor - Later in the semester we will be working in a contemporary coding environment on the computer. I will show Brackets and Atom in class, both free.
  • A Web Browser. Chrome or Firefox recommended.
  • A notebook. Please bring a notebook and pen or pencil to every class. Use it to jot down notes, respond to prompts and for in-class sketching.

Two Field Trips

February 9, 2019 is Processing Community Day NYC, a day to celebrate art, code and diversity by and for the New York community. The event is free and includes meals, and will have workshops on p5.js, art and code, among many other topics. Please register on the website.

The second field trip can be done solo on your own time. The exhibit Programmed: Rules, Codes, Choreographies in Art is up at The Whitney Museum of American Art until April 14. The museum has pay-what-you-wish nights every Friday. Go see the show.

University and Classroom Policies and Rules

Official Purchase College Academic Integrity Policy

The Purchase College academic integrity policy,, explicitly forbids cheating, plagiarism, and other forms of academic dishonesty. Plagiarism is the appropriation or imitation of the language, ideas, and/or thoughts of another person and the representation of them as one’s own original work. Students are responsible for familiarizing themselves with the definition of plagiarism and the acceptable methods of attribution.

Violation of any of the above may lead to formal disciplinary action and the following sanctions:

  • Minimum Sanction: Failing grade on the assignment or examination. Maximum Sanction: Expulsion
  • Recommended Sanction (First Offense): Failing grade for the course
  • Recommended Sanction (Second Offense): Expulsion

Students who have any questions or doubts about whether any activity is academically permissible should check with the instructor.

Plagiarism and cheating are taken seriously. You will be held accountable for Purchase's Student Code of Conduct for Academic Integrity.

Class policy on Collaboration

I support collaborative learning with some important caveats.

Coding can be difficult, and struggling with the material is part of the learning process. Students are allowed to collaborate to learn from each other. Do not collaborate in order to simply find out a solution to a project. Each participant should contribute approximately equally, and what you turn in should be your own. Copying a solution from another student, even if you change a few minor things such as variable names, is not a collaboration. You may help someone learn something, but you can not tell them what to code. If you have questions about collaboration or academic integrity, get in touch with me via email, talk with me before or after class, or come to office hours.

Tutoring Support

All students at Purchase College can take advantage of our tutoring services in the Learning Center and the Einstein Corner. These are free, 45-minute, peer-to-peer tutoring sessions in a variety of subjects and in writing across the disciplines. Sessions can happen in person or through the Online Writing Lab up to 3x/week. The OWL allows students to submit a paper draft and get written feedback by email within 48 business hours. We strongly recommend face-to-face meetings for first-year students and multilingual writers. The OWL is a good option for upperclassmen who have experience with in-person tutoring. You are encouraged to take advantage of this service to help you excel in this class, as well as your other courses. Please visit the Learning Center and Einstein Corner websites for more information.


Homework will often consist of reading, watching video tutorials, researching and programming projects

You will have in-class and outside of class coursework and homework in the form of code sketches and projects. All work is to be submitted on time by noon on the day of classtime by uploading any required writing and/or posting a link to your P5JS program on Moodle. For each day late, your grade will drop a part letter grade.

Academic Accessibility

Students with documented physical, learning, psychological, and other disabilities are entitled to receive reasonable accommodations. For those students who may require accommodations, please call or email the Office of Disability Resources, 914-251-6035,

It is my goal that this class be an accessible and welcoming experience for all students, including those with disabilities. You are welcome to talk to me at any point in the semester about course design concerns, but it is best if we can talk as soon as possible about the need for any adjustments. The Office of Disability Resources collaborates directly with students who identify documented disabilities to create accommodation plans, including testing accommodations, in order for students to access course content and validly demonstrate learning.

Tentative​ ​nature​ ​of​ ​syllabus.

If​ ​needed,​ ​this​ ​syllabus​ and the course outline ​may​ ​be​ ​revised​ ​to​ ​better​ ​suit​ ​the​ ​class.​ ​Students​ ​are​ ​responsible​ ​for​ ​keeping​ ​up​ ​with any​ ​changes​ ​distributed​ via ​e-mail​ ​or​ ​in​ ​class. The most up-to-date syllabus will be on the class Moodle.

Class Method

Class starts on time at 2pm. Be ready, awake, prepared. We will generally use the first half of class for seminars and introductions to new assignments, reading discussions, presentations, or lectures. The second half will generally be in-class studio time. Each class there will be a mini-assignment. These may include reading, watching videos, doing code exercises, creating web prototypes, and completing projects. Feel free to collaborate with your classmates and work together on any assignment(s), but everyone must submit their own individual work.

A portion of each class will be spent reviewing assignments. Expect to be asked to show your work each class session. Some classes everyone may demonstrate their work, other classes only a few students will share, but always be prepared to do so. All of your work should be completed on time and uploaded to your web portfolio.

Programming can be difficult! You should expect to spin your wheels sometimes while you actively search for solutions to challenges you encounter. Don't give up too soon. Should you contact me for your help: Please don't contact me last minute. Please try a number of solutions before contacting me. And please include your entire code so I can review it.

Classroom Community


Students are expected to be present and on time to class every day. Absences should be excused by a doctor’s note. Three​ ​unexcused​ ​absences​ ​will​ ​lower​ ​your​ ​final​ ​grade​ ​by​ ​one​ ​unit​ ​(i.e.​ ​an​ ​A​ ​will​ ​become​ ​an​ ​B).​ ​With​ ​each additional​ ​unexcused​ ​absence,​ ​the​ ​grade​ ​will​ ​drop​ ​an​ ​additional​ ​unit.​ Arriving more than 15 minutes late for 3 classes is equivalent to an absence. If​ ​there​ ​is​ ​an​ ​emergency​ ​or​ ​otherwise​ ​extenuating circumstances​ ​that​ ​prevent​ ​you​ ​from​ ​being​ ​on​ ​time​ ​or​ ​attending​ ​class,​ ​please​ ​e-mail​ ​me.

We will be covering critical concepts and working on code and projects in-class and you are responsible for reviewing our class site and reaching out to your peers outside of class time to catch up on what you have missed.

Digital Distractions

Phones and laptops are extremely distracting and we are not as good at multitasking as we think. Studies demonstrate that students learn better when they use pen and paper rather than a computer. That said, this is a programming class. Your education is up to you. We are oversaturated with technology. I do not want to monitor you.

Please close your laptop while your fellow students are presenting work. You’re otherwise welcome to use laptops in class for classwork, not Facebook or Instagram or email. Turn off all messaging notifications. Phones should not be used. For emergencies, go into the hallway to make a call.


We are all learners and educators. Your experience and participation is valid and necessary. I am not the sole source of information. You are responsible for and encouraged to be in charge of your own education. Leap forth into areas of interest. Teach and learn from others.

  • Please hold me accountable and point out areas that need to be improved.
  • This​ ​class​ ​is​ ​a​ ​collaboration​ ​between​ ​all​ ​of​ ​us.​ ​If​ ​you​ ​are​ ​feeling​ ​left​ ​behind,​ ​stuck,​ ​or​ ​frustrated​ ​in​ ​any​ ​way, please​ ​let​ ​me​ ​know​ ​immediately.​ ​I​ ​am​ ​here​ ​to​ ​help​.
  • Sleep enough hours. Good sleep will get you through college, reduce stress, help you do well in class, and feel better. And it's free.

Requesting Help

  • When you get stuck on a problem with your code and can't figure it out, take a good break such as taking a walk before coming back to try again. Try to explain your code's logic to a friend or family member, even someone who doesn't code.
  • You may wish to visit Einstein's Corner.
  • When contacting me about a coding issue, please send me a minimal version of your code, what you expected, and what you are getting. Please don't message me last minute. It can take me up to 24 hours to respond to emails, and longer on weekends or at the end of semesters. It is generally better for us to review your code together at office hours.


  • 50% weekly homework assignments (weeks 1-10)
  • 20% Final Assignment (weeks 11-14)
  • 10% Artist Presentation
  • 20% Participation and attendance, and preparedness

A 93 - 100
A- 90 - 91
B+ 87 - 89
B 83 - 86
B- 80 - 82
C+ 77 - 79
C 73 - 76
C- 70 - 72
D+ 67 - 69
D 60 - 66
F 59 and below


  • Participation includes asking or answering questions in class, participating in office hours or co-teaching others, assisting in group work and conversations, participating in online forum, and in other ways.


Books (some are available to read online)