Art, and the iPad

I think David Hockney’s iPad art is pretty cool. This 2010 article from The Telegraph (“David Hockney’s iPad Art”) gives an excellent account of the famous artist’s enthusiasm for the iPad —

“The novelty of what he has been doing is two-fold. Firstly, this is a new medium with fresh possibilities, requiring unorthodox techniques. Hockney executed the drawings mainly with the edge of his thumb; you can’t use the thumbnail, he says, because the device is sensitive to heat, not just touch.

So, what kind of painting is a digital painting? In a commercial sense, this is problematic. From a philosophical sense, it’s a complicated question about where that created art exists:

“The second innovation is in the method of distribution. He sends these techno-sketches out to friends, who may then pass them on, collect them or do whatever they want. Each image as it appears on another iPhone or laptop is virtually identical to the original, although Hockney points out that even with a manufactured item such as this, there will probably be minute differences. Even so, the drawing on my phone not only looks like the one on his, digitally and in almost every respect it is the same. This is profoundly subversive of the art market as we know it, with its focus on the signed original work.”

It’s enjoyable to read Hockney’s keen understanding of light and the lighted screen he works with —

“The fact that the screen is illuminated makes you choose luminous subjects, or at least I did,” he says. “Dawn is about luminosity and so is the iPhone. People send me iPhone drawings which look OK, but you realise that they are not picking particularly luminous subjects — which this medium is rather good at [in ways that] another medium isn’t.”

I still prefer pencil and paper when writing, but that doesn’t mean I don’t spend a lot of time with a screen. I wonder about what how that creative process translates from paint and brush to fingertips and iPad screen:

“There are gains and losses with everything. You miss the resistance of paper a little, but you can get a marvellous flow. So much variety is possible. You can’t overwork this, because it’s not a real surface. In watercolour, for instance, about three layers are the maximum. Beyond that it starts to get muddy. Here you can put anything on anything. You can put a bright, bright blue on top of an intense yellow.”

One discovery that came with the iPad was that the process of drawing could be re-run at the tap of a finger. The screen goes blank again, then lines and washes reappear one after another, apparently of their own accord. The result is, in effect, a performing drawing (some of these will be on show in Paris).”

NPR (“In Paris, A Display From Hockney’s Pixelated Period”) talks about Hockney’s iPhone and iPad exhibition, and again brings up the digital conundrum. How ever shall exhibitors make tons of money off of an image on a screen? Do they sell the Hockney iPad itself? Are wealthy art lovers crazy enough to pay for a copy of something that is — literally — the same as its many copies?

“One wall at the gallery is hung with 20 iPhones; a second wall carries 20 iPads. (The Berge-St. Laurent Foundation paid for all the devices — it’s not an Apple-backed effort, it says.)

All the gadgets are turned on 24 hours a day, and from time to time Hockney e-mails a new work to one of them — a kind of artistic status update.

The show, called “Fresh Flowers,” closes at the end of January. And then, installation designer Ali Tayar says, all the art will disappear.

“It’s not the traditional painting,” he muses. “It really doesn’t exist. It’s just light on a screen.”

You could print a Hockney e-mail, if you were lucky enough to get one, but it would lose something in translation without that brilliant backlighting. The work only lives on these gadgets.

There’s another hurdle, of course.

“We haven’t figured out how to get paid,” Hockney says. “At the moment it doesn’t matter, but I will have to figure it out like everybody else.”

— — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — -

By the way, here is Hockney’s iPad app of choice: the Brushes app. The app first gained notoriety for this New Yorker cover.

The Procreate iPad app is a pretty slick bit of work, too.


Surprise me


I run the ThinkLab at the University of Cambridge, and research digital habits, productivity, and wellbeing.

tyler shores cambridge

What I’m Reading Now:

Supercommunicators by Charles Duhigg

Related Articles

Have questions or ideas or requests for working together?

Get in touch