I had my brother Rob ask me about that. (He's an artist and illustrator, like of children's books, museum interiors, stuff like that.)
I tried to explain it by showing him Harry Porter's Relay Computer, because I think it captures the essence of computers and programming in a gut-feel kind of way.
That wasn't what he wanted, and I was kind of flummoxed.
Only later did I realize what the real issue was. I was reminded of this Oscar Wilde quote:
The fact is, that civilisation
requires slaves. The Greeks were quite
right there. Unless there are slaves
to do the ugly, horrible,
uninteresting work, culture and
contemplation become almost
impossible. Human slavery is wrong,
insecure, and demoralizing. On
mechanical slavery, on the slavery of
the machine, the future of the world
What excites me as an engineer is that I am building mechanical slaves. As a kid I wanted to put a dam in the creek, and have a water wheel make electricity, so it could do something for me, while I just watched. In the engine in a car, there is a camshaft. It's actually a primitive program. It opens and closes the valves when I want it to so I don't have to do it.
The world of an artist is completely different. If you listen, with eyes closed, to a rendition of Beethoven's 9th symphony, you are transported. You must give it your complete attention, and when it is finished, you long for it. If you visit Frank LLoyd Wright's masterpiece house Falling Water, you are transported. I honestly don't know how anyone could live in it. Where can you make a mess? It captures you completely. It's an architectural symphony.
Art doesn't do something for you, it does something to you.
I have tried to find the art in what I do. There is beauty in it, if you look, but you have to look. That's what would have connected us.