It has developed from strictly commandline programming to visual programming enviroments. John Meada at MIT developed a program called "design by numbers" for designers and visual artists (2004).
Processing, was released in 2003. And has grown into a widely used tool for artists. The software is a good startingpoint for learning programming.
The goal is to have people make computational machines working for they needs and purposes. Something like the GUI that made computers generally available to the public.
Processing vs. Flash: Processing can do more detailed and complex animations and ofcourse not confined to browsers. But you loose maybe some control and the interface is more complex.