We Need a Ruling
User xnor was recently kind enough to warn me that "the community" frowns on art-related programming questions, although ample evidence in this thread and elsewhere suggests that "the community" is in fact a handful of individuals not representative of the greater consensus.
Consider this meta thread, where user githubphagocyte's highly popular response is summarized thusly:
Recently there seems to have been a move towards voting to close questions that have an asthetic or artistic aspect, regardless of how much programming skill they require. I think it is important to discuss how much programming skill makes a question acceptable, because we are in danger of closing questions based on how much art is in them, rather than based on how much programming is in them. As I see it, you can't have too much art in a question, only too little programming.
About a third as popular is xnor's response, which makes some distinctions clearer:
Code golf is clearly in the first category [of acceptable art challenges], as brevity pushes you to exploit intricacies of the language. Underhanded contests, even if sometimes maligned, reward using language features in sneaky ways. Fastest code pushes you to optimize both algorithms and computer cycles.
If the goal is simply to produce pretty art, and it's easy to write code to make whatever art you want, that's just a challenge where you program. In Tweetable Mathematical Art though, there's a harsh character restriction for the code, which definitely makes coding a challenge.
referring to this exceptionally popular code competition.
No dissenting opinion has been penned in this discussion. In other words, the observable consensus is that an art programming challenge should be allowed so long as programming is a principle and integral component of the challenge. Furthermore, the observable consensus holds that code golf necessitates a degree of programming mastery constituting such a challenge, which is an assessment I heartily endorse.
Dozens, if not hundreds, of art-based challenges exist on PPCG. They are invariably popular (both in terms of voting and participation), creative, and fascinating to behold. They range from simple creative challenges such as ASCII Art Calendar, ASCII Art "Hello, World!", Draw a Heart Shape, Draw the Olympic Games Logo, Create an Analogue Clock, Deoxyribonucleic ASCII to abstract challenges such as What do you see in an inkspot?, Rearrange Pixels in an Image, Images with all colours to broad, open-ended art challenges such as Make a Valentine Wish, Draw a Sun Map!,Tweetable Mathematical Art, Draw Random Black-and-White Forest, Make a Circle Illusion Animation, and many more.
There are also several popular-but-closed challenges, with the notable observation that the de-artifying of PPCG began in roughly mid-2013, and that the same small pool of individuals is responsible for nearly all closures for questions of this type. I will not name names, but a quick survey of the "[closed]" questions when running a PPCG search for "art", "turtle", "picture", etc. proves enlightening.
On the Help Page
The most unsettling aspect of PPCG de-artifying is that the stated reason for many of the closures, which is
This question does not appear to be about programming puzzles or code golf within the scope defined in the help center.
is demonstrably untrue.
A good faith search of the PPCG help center yields absolutely no rules regarding the acceptability of art in programming challenges. Any mention of art programming is conspicuously absent from the What topics can I ask about here? page that defines on-topicness. Likewise, art programming questions are nowhere mentioned in What types of questions should I avoid asking?, which is fortunate given that most, if not all, of the excellent art programming challenges listed above would need to be closed for off-topicness if such a prohibition did appear.
In the absence of any kind of prohibition, a user new to the site might survey existing questions, which yields a vast corpus of popular, admissible art programming challenges ranging from the highly constrained to the highly abstract/open-ended. This same user might consult this discussion where the obvious and uncontested consensus is that open-ended art challenges are permitted subject to certain clear restrictions, as described above in "This Thread".
As xnor warned me, this question was shut down almost immediately after being created, with the cited reason being off-topicness.
I can accept a question being closed. There was no serious investment of time involved in creating it. What upsets me is that absolutely nothing besides the opinions of a small (tiny, in the context of the full user pool) group of influential users appears to contraindicate this kind of challenge.
Numerous similar challenges exist with the enthusiastic consent and support of the broader community prior to the "anti-art" era. The challenge is exclusively accessible to expert programmers, with programming being the clear, primary sine qua non, meeting the standard laid out in the consensus in this thread. The challenge is in fact so programming-centric that I'm hard pressed to think of any kind of website aside from a code golf challenge board where such a challenge could reasonably be issued.
Finally, and most importantly, nothing in the codified rules for this website contraindicate this type of challenge.
A Definite Ruling
I've barely been here three months. I've participated in many challenges and accrued a reasonable sum of "rep", granting me the ability to vote to close any question that doesn't suit my fancy. If my personal opinion of what shouldn't be here happens to coincide with that of just four other users (out of thousands upon thousands), we can close a hundred challenges in a week if we want to. We could deem "ASCII art" inappropriate and liquidate the site. And perhaps we'd be justified in doing so if there was anything anywhere besides our five completely undocumented opinions that we don't like ASCII art and so screw community content voting, nobody gets it.
Moderators: I would appreciate it (and I know it would help newer users) if something somewhere was codified as to what is the appropriate cutoff between art and programming on this site--preferably in the help center. Explain why the litany of programming challenges above have stood unchallenged, while the litany of [closed] programming challenges have been closed. This thread, the clear community consensus, and the help center certainly don't explain it.
Is the anti-art era here to stay? We need a definitive ruling one way or another. My thanks for your consideration.