Keeping these examples working led to discovering an obscure regression in Emacs (https://debbugs.gnu.org/cgi/bugreport.cgi?bug=22490). I turns out that, excepting animators, very few Elisp programmers need to generate zero newlines.
I wanted the students to gain confidence in this weird situation by working off of clear examples. Hence I made these extensive online notes.
The students were generally great at typing in these examples and getting them to run, and some were creative with rearranging them, copying in extra code, and changing variables/strings to produce interesting effects. I didn't see "coding" in the sense of having a vision/plan, finding/inventing an algorithm to realize it, and then refining the result. But I saw "hacking" in the classic sense: gaining facility with an unlikely tool, and working through variations until something intriguing occurred.
Given that it was an art class, I was actually pretty happy with this. This felt in line with what allows for a lot of good art school work: students starting out with a technique and working/reworking until it results in something satisfying or maybe even resonant. I liked how it broke the paradigm of "useful" coding. The Emacs environment became simply something fundamental and even somewhat neutral to work at.
Or for pixel graphics: https://github.com/gongo/emacs-nes
I guess what I'm saying is - it hasn't killed me yet.
After a year of using emacs I wrote a few lines of elisp to put in some hotkeys for functions I use all the time and now I finally feel like a freakin' hacker-wizard, lol. Good times. I ain't never givin' this shit up.
No need to be better than your competitors when you can simply eat them and steal their powers!