David Hockney’s iPhone and Digital Art. Take Two

by Art Fag City on May 15, 2009 · 24 comments Events


David Hockney with his iphone on an easel.

A number of readers didn’t like the swipe I took at David Hockney’s iPhone paintings last week, Regina Hackett and Edward Winkleman amongst them. Their criticisms have merit — I probably didn’t need to call for the death of iPhone art as a medium — though I have yet to see anything done with the phone that even approaches good art (please prove me wrong). Based on the small amount I’ve seen, I’m also skeptical Hockney’s work will convince me otherwise.

Although I didn’t identify it well in the original post, my real issue lies with the Daily Mail’s story, which connects artistic merit with the hipness of digital technology.  Let’s begin again with the second sentence in their ridiculously titled feature iHockney: Artist David Uses His Apple Phone to Paint Mini Masterpieces;

Now David Hockney has mastered the art of communication – by using his phone to paint pictures.

Hockney’s mere use of a product for artistic purposes constitutes a mastery of the art of communication?  Daily Mail writer Beth Hale provides no further evidence to support her claim.  A few sentences later we read the following,

Hockney has had the phone for only four months, but he has already turned it into a hi-tech canvas. It even fits neatly on a miniature easel in his London studio.

In other words, Hockney pioneers by finding an iPhone application in “only four months” that allows him to paint pictures for his friends.  Not to state the obvious, but many of us with iPhones have unearthed that potential in a lot shorter time frame.  Figuring out how to use an application is not in and of itself an act of artistic merit.

Following this point, while the iPhone easel may not suggest value, it does crudely label the paintings as art.   Some debate has occured about whether the display method was so truly terrible/awesome to be worthy of this blog’s mention.  I still believe it is.  Sticking the phone on an easel asks people to think about art in a precribed way, and I don’t think that benefits anyone.

  • http://www.ianaleksanderadams.com Ian Aleksander Adams

    Hey, come on, it took him six months to find paint on his 3.1 – four months is a marked improvement!

    Journalism sucks.

  • http://www.ianaleksanderadams.com Ian Aleksander Adams

    Hey, come on, it took him six months to find paint on his 3.1 – four months is a marked improvement!

    Journalism sucks.

  • http://www.ianaleksanderadams.com Ian Aleksander Adams

    Hey, come on, it took him six months to find paint on his 3.1 – four months is a marked improvement!

    Journalism sucks.

  • Rachel

    My immediate reaction to Hockney’s iPhone art (and iPhone art generally) was that it was gimmicky and probably not worth attention. I still sort of believe that, though I think an argument can be made for the iPhone app as a kind of 21st century version of Impressionists painting en plein air, allowing artists to immediately work with what they see on the street, etc. Thus, using an iPhone easel sort of defeats the purpose: if you’re going to take the time to actually sit down at a dedicated workstation, you might as well work with better tools, digital or otherwise.

    With that said, I think it’s important to keep in mind that this article is for the Daily Mail, not an art publication. It’s not a real discussion of the merit of the work or the legitimate potential (or lack thereof) of the iPhone as a medium — it’s a public interest story, “oh isn’t that cool, Famous Artist Uses Phone to Draw!” A publication like the Daily Mail can get away with using lazy puns like “mastered the art of communication” because, typically speaking, people aren’t reading it to get insight into an artist’s practice, they’re reading it for the headlines. I don’t think the article necessarily deserves the kind of analysis or attention you’re giving it.

  • Rachel

    My immediate reaction to Hockney’s iPhone art (and iPhone art generally) was that it was gimmicky and probably not worth attention. I still sort of believe that, though I think an argument can be made for the iPhone app as a kind of 21st century version of Impressionists painting en plein air, allowing artists to immediately work with what they see on the street, etc. Thus, using an iPhone easel sort of defeats the purpose: if you’re going to take the time to actually sit down at a dedicated workstation, you might as well work with better tools, digital or otherwise.

    With that said, I think it’s important to keep in mind that this article is for the Daily Mail, not an art publication. It’s not a real discussion of the merit of the work or the legitimate potential (or lack thereof) of the iPhone as a medium — it’s a public interest story, “oh isn’t that cool, Famous Artist Uses Phone to Draw!” A publication like the Daily Mail can get away with using lazy puns like “mastered the art of communication” because, typically speaking, people aren’t reading it to get insight into an artist’s practice, they’re reading it for the headlines. I don’t think the article necessarily deserves the kind of analysis or attention you’re giving it.

  • Rachel

    My immediate reaction to Hockney’s iPhone art (and iPhone art generally) was that it was gimmicky and probably not worth attention. I still sort of believe that, though I think an argument can be made for the iPhone app as a kind of 21st century version of Impressionists painting en plein air, allowing artists to immediately work with what they see on the street, etc. Thus, using an iPhone easel sort of defeats the purpose: if you’re going to take the time to actually sit down at a dedicated workstation, you might as well work with better tools, digital or otherwise.

    With that said, I think it’s important to keep in mind that this article is for the Daily Mail, not an art publication. It’s not a real discussion of the merit of the work or the legitimate potential (or lack thereof) of the iPhone as a medium — it’s a public interest story, “oh isn’t that cool, Famous Artist Uses Phone to Draw!” A publication like the Daily Mail can get away with using lazy puns like “mastered the art of communication” because, typically speaking, people aren’t reading it to get insight into an artist’s practice, they’re reading it for the headlines. I don’t think the article necessarily deserves the kind of analysis or attention you’re giving it.

  • Hue Man

    This is a senile man

  • Hue Man

    This is a senile man

  • Hue Man

    This is a senile man

  • http://www.robmyers.org/ Rob Myers

    Hockney is a long succession of gimmicks punctuated by or possibly leading to moments of genius.nnJust not this millennium.

  • http://www.robmyers.org/ Rob Myers

    Hockney is a long succession of gimmicks punctuated by or possibly leading to moments of genius.nnJust not this millennium.

  • http://www.robmyers.org/ Rob Myers

    Hockney is a long succession of gimmicks punctuated by or possibly leading to moments of genius.\n\nJust not this millennium.

  • http://www.this.is/pallit Pall Thayer

    I like a lot of Hockney’s work and feel that he deserves the title of “Master” but that doesn’t mean that everything he does is a masterpiece. This whole thing is pretty silly. It reminds me of an exhibition at the Icelandic National Gallery several years ago. It was a large exhibition of work by Svavar Gudnason, a pioneer of abstract painting in Iceland and a member of the CoBrA group. All in all a very important figure in the history of modern Icelandic art. The gallery was filled (all three floors), very tastefully and professionally, with all of his most important paintings. In the gallery’s coffee shop however, they decided to show his sketches. They literally canvassed the walls with anything and everything they could find, regardless of its quality or lack thereof and it looked like it had been haphazardly hung with scotch tape. A critic wrote in the newspaper that it was too bad that they didn’t leave some space to hang some toilet paper that he may have used.nnSo we could say that the moral of the story is, “A ‘Master’ does not [necessarily] a masterpiece make.”

  • http://www.this.is/pallit Pall Thayer

    I like a lot of Hockney’s work and feel that he deserves the title of “Master” but that doesn’t mean that everything he does is a masterpiece. This whole thing is pretty silly. It reminds me of an exhibition at the Icelandic National Gallery several years ago. It was a large exhibition of work by Svavar Gudnason, a pioneer of abstract painting in Iceland and a member of the CoBrA group. All in all a very important figure in the history of modern Icelandic art. The gallery was filled (all three floors), very tastefully and professionally, with all of his most important paintings. In the gallery’s coffee shop however, they decided to show his sketches. They literally canvassed the walls with anything and everything they could find, regardless of its quality or lack thereof and it looked like it had been haphazardly hung with scotch tape. A critic wrote in the newspaper that it was too bad that they didn’t leave some space to hang some toilet paper that he may have used.nnSo we could say that the moral of the story is, “A ‘Master’ does not [necessarily] a masterpiece make.”

  • http://www.this.is/pallit Pall Thayer

    I like a lot of Hockney’s work and feel that he deserves the title of “Master” but that doesn’t mean that everything he does is a masterpiece. This whole thing is pretty silly. It reminds me of an exhibition at the Icelandic National Gallery several years ago. It was a large exhibition of work by Svavar Gudnason, a pioneer of abstract painting in Iceland and a member of the CoBrA group. All in all a very important figure in the history of modern Icelandic art. The gallery was filled (all three floors), very tastefully and professionally, with all of his most important paintings. In the gallery’s coffee shop however, they decided to show his sketches. They literally canvassed the walls with anything and everything they could find, regardless of its quality or lack thereof and it looked like it had been haphazardly hung with scotch tape. A critic wrote in the newspaper that it was too bad that they didn’t leave some space to hang some toilet paper that he may have used.\n\nSo we could say that the moral of the story is, “A ‘Master’ does not [necessarily] a masterpiece make.”

  • Ben Solwitz

    I would agree with earlier posters that you are taking Daily Mail way too seriously. It’s a tabloid and really doesn’t merit any kind of in-depth analysis of its art criticism. They totally trolled you.

  • Ben Solwitz

    I would agree with earlier posters that you are taking Daily Mail way too seriously. It’s a tabloid and really doesn’t merit any kind of in-depth analysis of its art criticism. They totally trolled you.

  • Ben Solwitz

    I would agree with earlier posters that you are taking Daily Mail way too seriously. It’s a tabloid and really doesn’t merit any kind of in-depth analysis of its art criticism. They totally trolled you.

  • http://www.artprintissues.com Barney Davey

    I find Hockney’s embrace of the iPhone a bit ironic since he also attacked the iPod age for producing people who listen but do not see in 2007. http://ow.ly/tN3c I am a fan of his art, but think art made for the iPhone, even if Hockney is the creator, is temporal eye candy at best. Isn’t what he is doing about the equivalent of Miles Davis making ring tones?

  • http://www.artprintissues.com Barney Davey

    I find Hockney’s embrace of the iPhone a bit ironic since he also attacked the iPod age for producing people who listen but do not see in 2007. http://ow.ly/tN3c I am a fan of his art, but think art made for the iPhone, even if Hockney is the creator, is temporal eye candy at best. Isn’t what he is doing about the equivalent of Miles Davis making ring tones?

  • http://www.artprintissues.com Barney Davey

    I find Hockney’s embrace of the iPhone a bit ironic since he also attacked the iPod age for producing people who listen but do not see in 2007. http://ow.ly/tN3c I am a fan of his art, but think art made for the iPhone, even if Hockney is the creator, is temporal eye candy at best. Isn’t what he is doing about the equivalent of Miles Davis making ring tones?

  • Mike Nourse

    I think these are all totally valid questions about the iPhone, but we don’t have many answers, which is why we’re offering an iPhone art program at the Chicago Art Department in November, finishing with an exhibition in January. Artists will explore the idea and the possibilities and try to address the question of iPhone as tool for art. Artists can do much more than paint when you consider the many apps for things like photo, animation, sound, video, and sketching applications. We’re looking forward to the explorations.
    http://www.chicagoartdepartment.org/2009/10/iphone-art-class-sign-up-today/

  • Mike Nourse

    I think these are all totally valid questions about the iPhone, but we don’t have many answers, which is why we’re offering an iPhone art program at the Chicago Art Department in November, finishing with an exhibition in January. Artists will explore the idea and the possibilities and try to address the question of iPhone as tool for art. Artists can do much more than paint when you consider the many apps for things like photo, animation, sound, video, and sketching applications. We’re looking forward to the explorations.
    http://www.chicagoartdepartment.org/2009/10/iphone-art-class-sign-up-today/

  • Mike Nourse

    I think these are all totally valid questions about the iPhone, but we don’t have many answers, which is why we’re offering an iPhone art program at the Chicago Art Department in November, finishing with an exhibition in January. Artists will explore the idea and the possibilities and try to address the question of iPhone as tool for art. Artists can do much more than paint when you consider the many apps for things like photo, animation, sound, video, and sketching applications. We’re looking forward to the explorations.
    http://www.chicagoartdepartment.org/2009/10/iphone-art-class-sign-up-today/

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