Turning coding into its own art
Arabia Simeon knows exactly how much a full suite of programming software costs—more than she, or anyone from the Brooklyn, NY, neighborhood where she grew up, could afford. And she knows there aren't a lot of women in STEM careers. But that didn't stop the Smith College student, double majoring in computer science and art, from learning to express her creativity through code.
Art may not seem like a natural complement to computer science, but Arabia is proving otherwise. In fact, exploring the intersection of art and coding is her passion. "There are so many different parts of computer science. It's also art-based graphics, artificial intelligence, and virtual reality—all these really cool things that aren't just you sitting behind the computer," she says. "Like art, I think computer science is just a way to express yourself."
Smith College, Brooklyn, New York
Computer science and art
From cartoons and portraits to robots and video games
In her junior year at Young Women’s Leadership School of Brooklyn, English teacher Julie Wood encouraged Arabia to sign up to learn computer science through a TEALS class. Short for Technology Education and Literacy in Schools, TEALS is a Microsoft YouthSpark program that matches volunteer tech professionals with high schools to teach computer science.
Arabia had gotten to know Wood through a junior high robotics club, where she stayed on to help the younger girls after she aged out of the program. "As she worked with the robots, she was good at the programming, which can be really tedious and frustrating," Wood says. "She had the patience to keep going with it, to learn how to build out certain aspects of the robots to give them different skills." TEALS seemed like the next step to nurture her interest—and encourage her creativity. Although she had to take the class at 7:00 AM, before the regular school day began, Arabia soon found that programming was another medium she could use to explore and express her ideas that had previously been limited to traditional art techniques.
"A lot of people don't think art and computer science are similar, but they are," says Arabia, who especially enjoyed making her own adaptations of classic video games like Pong and Super Mario Brothers. "I'm making a video game right now for one of my classes, and I'm using code to produce the work, but it's all art-based. It's like any art project except I'm using code to generate my art in a faster way. It's finding different ways to express yourself rather than just using a paint brush," she explains.
Infinite possibility of creativity
Just like there's no one right way to paint a canvas, there's no single right way to code. “Your code doesn't look the same as my code. And my code is going to look different from someone else's code. Art is like that, too,” Arabia says. “You can look at an image online and get inspired, but you're not going to go out and create the same image. You're going to add your own flavor to it and figure out a way to make it yours.”
Arabia hopes to work in a STEM field after she graduates, perhaps as a software engineer or an animator, but she’s not waiting until after graduation to make her mark on coding and art.
Arabia was awarded Smith College’s Tryon Prize for Art. Judges recognized her innovation and vision in her piece, A Rose that Grew from Concrete, which illustrates the harsh realities she faced growing up in the projects. And she’s adding a dash of tech to her pastime of drawing and painting on her clothes. She is making samples of pieces for a clothing line she hopes to start this summer, a business that relies on digital and artistic skills.
For Arabia, TEALS was a significant step toward a career where she can use computer programming—and her creativity—to build a more vibrant future for herself, her family, and someday she hopes, the community from which she came.