2 min read

Engineering is not art

306 words by Kunall Banerjee

I have noticed that there is an increasing trend of people equating (esp. software) engineering to an art. Just the other day, I saw someone tweet out that they dislike the term “Software Engineer,” and that they would rather it be called “Software Artist(e).” I could not disagree more.

Art, by definition, is useless. Engineering, on the other hand, is not.

In a letter addressed to Bernulf Clegg, Oscar Wilde said:

Art is useless because its aim is simply to create a mood. It is not meant to instruct, or to influence action in any way. It is superbly sterile, and the note of its pleasure is sterility. If the contemplation of a work of art is followed by activity of any kind, the work is either of a very second-rate order, or the spectator has failed to realise the complete artistic impression.

A work of art is useless as a flower is useless. A flower blossoms for its own joy. We gain a moment of joy by looking at it. That is all that is to be said about our relations to flowers. Of course man may sell the flower, and so make it useful to him, but this has nothing to do with the flower. It is not part of its essence. It is accidental. It is a misuse.

The only excuse for making a useless thing is that one admires it intensely.

All art is quite useless. — The Picture of Dorian Gray (Preface), Oscar Wilde

As a frequent flyer, I’ll take this example: I give a damn about the “art” behind the Flight Management System (FMS). I only care that it takes me safely to my destination. In fact, I would be horrified if I ever heard my friends at the European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) or at the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) mention their work as “art.”