Pixel Art in iPad Galleries

Technology is changing the way we make and display art

By Ava Cotlowitz

For Gladwyn Elementary School Kindergarteners, art class is a highly anticipated activity. Students aged five and six rush into the brightly lit classroom and take their seats around square tables fit for five. As the chatter of children elevates, Gladwyn art teacher Rebecca Wolfe returns from a nearby pantry with stacks of flat, black, iPads.

“Once you have your iPad in front of you, please turn it on and go directly to the Brushes application,” said Wolfe.

All around the room, miniature fingers elegantly swiped, poked, and prodded the angular tablets that lay flat on their tables like paper.

“Today you are going to be painting a scene that you experience in the winter,” Wolfe said, “Remember that once you are

An iPad Portrait of David Hockney

finished please raise your hand and we will go print out your picture.”

At once, a frenzy of motion swept over the room as fingers, hands, and fingertips moved rapidly about the iPads’ surfaces.

With an instantaneous tap of the screen, any student’s drawing tool, color, or erasure could be substituted.

Kasey, 5 sat quietly among his table of four classmates, concentrating on his current creation. Using the tip of his pinky finger, Kasey speckled his digital canvas with a multitude of blue dots.

“I’m making snow, and that’s me in the snow, and that’s a snowman,” Kasey said, pointing to the different elements of his painting.

When asked what his favorite thing about making art on the iPad was, Kasey said,

“I like that I can fix when I mess up and I like all the colors – there’s so may to choose!”

Of course, Kasey isn’t the only artist to share this sentiment.

British pop-artist David Hockney, 75, also uses Apple iPad’s Brushes application to create touch screen masterpieces.

Hockney’s iPaintings were even the subject of his 2011 art exhibition ‘‘David Hockney: Fleurs Fraîches’,” featured on gallery walls lined with iPads and iPhones.

“It took me awhile to realize it’s quite a serious tool you can use,” Hockney said, according to The New York Times, “It’s like an endless piece of paper that perfectly fitted the feeling I had that painting should be big.”

Within this age of technology, the digitized world has undoubtedly informed and altered the classical modes of art making. The traditional platforms of canvas and paper can now be substituted for Adobe Photoshop and Apple’s Brushes Application.

And the concept of fine art as high art, unattainable by the regular folks, has been usurped by democratizing online art databases and art sharing sites like Flickr, Instagram, Art.sy, and QR Codes.

Now, fine art is not just an experience reserved for the museum or gallery, but is one that is only one click away.

Flickr is the most straightforward platform for exhibiting and sharing art online: upload artwork, leave and receive comments. According to Yahoo, since it started up in 2004, Flickr had a total of 51 million registered members and 80 million unique visitors in 2011.

Its users benefit from the digital gallery-friendly template by uploading artwork onto their photostream and categorizing their art into sets or collections, similar to a chronicle of exhibitions.

Swarthmore college senior and long-time Flickr user Yvone Castona, said her personal Flickr profile landed her a job photographing for popular retail store Urban Outfitters.

“I joined Flickr when I was in ninth grade,” Castona said, “I loved taking pictures and wanted to put them all in one place that would be public territory for anyone simply perusing the internet.”

“Last year, an Urban Outfitters representative reached out to me through my Flickr profile,” said Castona, “He said he loved my work and wanted to hire me for some photoshoots.”

Among other art sharing sites, Instagram is one of few that revolves around a Do It Yourself (DIY) platform, blurring the line between professional level tools and generic digital camera preferences.

This mobile photography application welcomes its users to snap a photo and then immediately modify it through one of Instagram’s 18 time- or light-specific filters. It is through Instagram that similar labor-intensive photographic alterations used by professional retouchers can now be accessible to all.

When finished modifying a photo on Instagram, it can be instantaneously uploaded to a personal photostream, which can be viewed by friends, family, and art-lovers alike.

Much like Flickr, Instagram also provides the regular folks with opportunities to showcase their artwork through a widespread online platform.

Bryn Mawr College sophomore and religious Instagram user Tess McMahon says “for me, Instagram is a fun way to dabble in the arts without having to do too much. Instagram is so fast and easy that it could take anyone less than four seconds to create a work of art.”

Another online art site that believes in the accessibility of fine art for all is start-up company Art.sy, which was launched in October, and delivers an already curated repository of fine art images hoping to guide viewers seeking discoveries of art online.

According to The New York Times, Seb Chan, Cooper-Hewitt’s director of digital and emerging media said,

“You shouldn’t need to be a scholar to discover works of art that you might be fascinated by. You go to museums and you browse — chancing upon things is what it’s all about.”

Yet, even on those marbled museum walls are handy digitized portals to more information about art.

Black, check-patterned square symbols called Quick Response (QR) Codes are now replacing traditional art labels and blurbs, allowing museum-goers to quickly scan the QR code with their smart phones and receive an instantaneous in-depth description of a specific artwork.

“I’m given a chance to be immediately in the know,” said sophomore Bryn Mawr College Art Club member Elisabeth Bart, “And that’s important for someone like me that doesn’t have any formal background in art.”

With the influx of fine art presence on the World Wide Web, many fine artists are shifting their attention away from their galleries and onto establishing themselves as artists on art sharing sites.

“Internet presence is very important for the artist,” said Spanish Illustrator Irma Gruenholz according to Smashing Magazine, “It is the best way to exhibit your work to the rest of the world.”

While the commerce of fine art has not yet flourished on the web, the actual making of art through digital platforms continues to make headway as a new mode of artistic expression. Its widespread use not only effects the elementary school education for Gladwyn students, but is also becoming a form more present in institutions of higher education.

At the University of Pennsylvania’s PennDesign School, a typical figure-drawing course expanses multi-media platforms.

As a nude middle-aged woman stands outstretched on a gray platform, art students who encircle her standing post are each creating with their expression of choice.

Hands grasping black bits of charcoal draw swift motions on newsprint paper, paintbrushes dipped in oil make broad strokes on canvas, and fingertips and stylus’ translate digitized lines on iPads and computers.

This figure drawing class is one of many courses taught by Penn faculty that welcomes the era of technology into the classroom.

“Fine art is still growing,” said Penn figure drawing student, Nicole Friedman, “technology is now proving to be the new way to create and experience art.”

Swarthmore College’s director of Studio Art Randal Exon shared a similar sentiment,

“My hope for the future is to lead a drawing class in which each student will be able to draw on their iPads while collaborating their works through digital communication.”

Yet, some traditional classically trained academies of art are still unsure of the introduction of digital media as a new mode for creating art.

The Philadelphia Academy of Fine Art is one institution that has not welcomed digital tablets and computers as an acceptable form of art making.

A typical figure-drawing course at the Philadelphia Academy of Fine Art instead consists of a homogenous use of material among all students.

Students behind easels surround the seated nude male model at Thursday evening’s figure composition course, each student drawing with charcoal on large newsprint paper.

“I love working in the same material as my classmates,” said Philadelphia Academy of Fine Art student Tara Davies, “I feel that we all inform each others work and can bounce ideas off one another, which always helps my creative processes.”

While the Philadelphia Academy of Fine Art has not yet jumped on the art and technology bandwagon, it won’t be long before other academic institutions and educational systems integrate the art of digital art making into their course of study

“The digital era is pushing the boundaries of fine art,” Bart said, “proving that, technically speaking, there is no limit.”