iPhone Art : This Century’s Modern Art Movement

On: October 31, 2011
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About Autumn Hand
Autumn Hand’s career in media has encompassed web development, social media consulting, image and video editing, grant writing, academic editing peer mentoring and product branding. She holds a Master’s in New Media from the University of Amsterdam and a BFA from the University of Cincinnati College of Design, Architecture, Art, and Planning. In her work and studies, she has balanced New York energy with European sensibility. Autumn is a problem solver; with the ability to take abstract ideas and bring them to actualization, employing. skills in research and communication strengthened by diverse technical understanding.


Smartphone technology established its omnipresence at the arrival of the 21st century. For better or for worse, digital handheld technology has become a defining element of this millennium. The gadget’s pervasiveness combined with its seemingly limitless assortment of program applications has spawned something of an art trend – nay, art movement. As with any millennial development, this movement unsurprisingly has co-opted a brand name moniker; iPhone Art.

Certainly, other smartphones are capable of running art-making applications, however, the iPhone and its pioneer multi-touch interface, launched the innovation that transformed the portable communication technology into a the fancy pocket-fingerpainting-machine it is today.

Of course there is more to iPhone art than fingerpainting simulation apps. Yet, it appears to have been Jorge Colombo’s New Yorker cover and the touch-tech artwork he created with his fingertips, that validated this particular digital aesthetic. Around the same time of the New Yorker cover, famed painter David Hockney was experimenting with his own iPhone compositions. To display his works, rather than devolving from luminous screen to a tangible print output, Hockney’s iPhone pieces are seen on screens in their digital form when part of an exhibition. This form of display allows viewers to get a sense of the process, as revealed in the playback of Hockney’s brushstroke compositions. The impermanence and transformative display also allows access to his very latest pieces, as Hockney emails new works to identical devices on display during shows. The works of Colombo and Hockney (coincidentally created by both artists using the Brushes app) exploits the portability and immediacy of the iPhone artist experience. Undoubtedly, there is more to iPhone art than technical conveniences.

Jackson Pollock App

iPhone Screenshot of a creation from the app “Jackson Pollock” by Miltos Manetas

Many iPhone art apps serve as virtual studio assistants. These apps function as something of an electronic skilled-hand which realizes and manifests the ideas of the amateurish? unskilled? Jeff Koonsian? visionary artist. In this way, various app programs are something of prop devices, allowing amateurish and developing artists to experiment and create what they otherwise would not likely be capable. In this range of iPhone apps, the programs are tools or programed software which functions as a multifaceted drawing program or type of camera enhancement. Some of the apps that typify this functionality are “Hipstamatic” (turning phone snapshots into retro-analog-artsy photos), “Jackson Pollock” (proclaiming users can “paint like the Master”), and “Instant Poetry (HD)” (“Have fun creating your own poetry, with your own pictures as backgrounds!”).

When the iPhone artist takes advantage of the interactive performance capabilities, art on the iPhone expands from works made within a ‘digital medium’ to works experienced on a ‘digital platform.’ Rhizome’s Jonah Brucker-Cohen’s article “Art In Your Pocket: iPhone and iPod Touch App Art” points out that the emerging iPhone art movement presents not only a “novel ways to experience screen-based work” but also an opportunity for digital artists and interactive artists to distribute and profit from their creations (with the bonus of not needing the representation of a gallery). Usually this branch of iPhone art takes the form of software art.

Uzu App Art

Screenshot of Uzu, a software art app created by Jason Smith

One example of iPhone Art software art is Uzu, “a Kinetic Multitouch Particle Visualizer.” This piece, created by Brooklyn based artist, Jason Smith, is an interactive piece described as, “a sort-of math-physics-art-toy for anyone who ever loved spirographs, fireworks, planetariums, lava lamps, light sabers, pen lasers, tesla coils, christmas lights, or graphing calculators.” Essentially, it is an aesthetic interactive experience combining touch and screen lights. On July 22, 2010, Uzu was awarded “App Of The Week.”

The New York Time’s Reyhan Harmanci points out, “While artist-made apps make up only a sliver of the 225,000 apps in the iTunes store, the field is growing…” She goes on to quote, “Richard Rinehart, a digital art curator at the U.C. Berkeley Art Museum, [who said] artist-made apps were, ‘the perfect marriage of mass distribution with collaboration potential and ability to have a local bodily experience.’ Artists can get their work seen widely, and get paid for it by charging per download.”

Returning to Brucker-Cohen’s piece, he ended with an optimistic projection of the future of iPhone art, “By writing code that utilizes the sensing capabilities of these devices such as their immediate location, orientation, ambient noise levels, and more, there are even more possibilities to harness these elements into inventive and clever visual and auditory output… it’s easier than ever for artists to use these devices for their creations and have an instant audience of millions to enjoy them.” No doubt, iPhone art is only in its the beginning. As the millennium progresses, so too will digital and interactive art, and perhaps the iPhone creations will continue.

For posterity key online forums and galleries of iPhone art are listed and described here:

This site displays works created on the iPhone mostly utilizing iPhone programs. An interesting section is under the “Groups” tab, where each grouping is a ‘call to artists’ for pieces created under various motifs (i.e. self-portraits, autumn scenes, abstracts). The site’s manifesto declares, “Just as photography once struggled to gain acceptance in the world of art, a new revolution is at hand. iPhoneArt and iPhoneography are leading this underground movement into the light. Where it goes from here is anybody’s guess — but iPhoneArt.com is where you’ll find it.”

Phonearts blog
On this very blog
, Phonearts.net was noted as a iPhone art blog. The website appears to highlight the immediacy of iPhone art. As my colleague wrote, “Their main goal is to create spontaneous and reactionary art on a mobile device. Phonearts blog is also a place where [the artists] can communicate.”

This site is a showcase for software art Apps for the iPhone. The site was founded to correct the iTunes App Store’s unfortunate lack of “Art” section, the website’s info section states, “[S]oftware artworks made for the iPhone often got lost amongst all of the Entertainment or Lifestyle applications… iPhoneArt.org presents selected software art Apps from the App Store, and serves as a starting point for further exploration of software art for the iPhone.”

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