Saturday, January 21, 2012

Art Revolution: David Hockney's "A Bigger Picture"

“Who would have thought that the telephone would bring back drawing?” - David Hockney, via Bloomberg

The art world has been a-flutter over the past several days with a (largely) manufactured battle between two of its stars: David Hockney and Damien Hirst. Hockney mania, the Telegraph reports, has overloaded the Royal Academy website, leaving servers crashing in its wake. Meanwhile, Hirsts "retrospective" of his infamous spot paintings (you know, the ones he didn't actually paint?) has barely registered, except as something for art critics to mock gleefully.

It could be that gallery goers have finally recognized that Hirst is a bit of a one-trick pony. Admittedly, it was a sort of interesting trick - at the beginning. I must admit to snickering over his "The Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living" (you know, the shark preserved in formaldehyde? I laughed even harder when it rotted and the hedge fund manager that bought it had to get Hirst to make him a new one!). The whole episode exuded the sort of impish tomfoolery that allowed the YBAs (Young British Artists) to steal the scene in the 90s. But its gotten a bit old.

On to Hockney then: the popularity of his latest exhibit is refreshing for several reasons. First, it suggests the public can only be entertained for so long by having a middle finger extended in their general direction. Second, it indicates that there is a real and abiding appetite for beautiful, relevant, art.

Hockney's exhibit, entitled ‘A Bigger Picture’ opens today and will run until April 9th, 2012 at the Royal Academy of Arts in London. It features a number of new artworks created using Hockney's iPad and iPhone (follow the link to see more, including a video). As far as I'm aware, Hockney is the best-known  artist to dedicate a significant portion of a new exhibit to works created using the iPad. Of course, artists have been using the iPad and iPhone to create beautiful work since the devices were first released, but the popularity of the Hockney story seems to indicate that there is deeper change afoot.

The bright colours of his new pieces are eye catching and invigorating, and they give the impression that they are somehow backlit. In Hockney's interview with Bloomberg, he dwells briefly on the fact that the iPad's lighting has influenced his work, saying “[t]he fact that it’s illuminated makes you choose luminous subjects, or at least I did: the sunrise, for example, and flower vases with water in them that catch reflections.” The article also touches on the fact that the using his phone or tablet has made his work much easier, simply because it is more accessible: “I realized when I was doing the sunrises last year that it was partly because the iPhone was beside my bed when I woke up...if I’d only had a pencil and paper there I probably wouldn’t have chosen to make pictures of the dawn.” Finally, because the iPad records the movements of his finger across the device, viewers can be brought one step closer to the creative process through videos of the works being made.

 Viewers who are able to experience these works in person at the Royal Academy of Arts in London will see them printed on paper. The paper medium still translates the luminous quality of the paintings, but paradoxically, if you only get a chance to see them on your computer, smartphone or tablet, you will have greater proximity to the artist's process. It's strangely like being able to hold an original Van Gogh in your hands. This was exploited to great effect when Hockney's Fresh Flowers exhibit was on display at the Royal Ontario Museum a few months back, where you could sign up to have an "original" piece of artwork he had created on the iPhone emailed to you every few weeks.

There has been a degree of sterility and self-reflexivity about contemporary art that has left the public feeling excluded from artistic discourse. Hockney's exhibit is an exciting opportunity for people to experience art in a fresh new way that resonates with audiences. And if you're interested, you can buy the Brushes app Hockney used to create his masterpieces from the App Store for $7.99 (at this juncture, I feel compelled to note that anyone who is convinced that the cost of the app --plus an iPad or iPhone--is too high, has never had to buy art supplies!).

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

The Art History Carnival Returns in February

The Art History Carnival will be returning to The Earthly Paradise on a regular basis starting in February! The February edition of the Art History Carnival  will be posted on Wednesday, February 1, 2012. You can submit articles for inclusion in the carnival until 48 hours before the issue comes out (Monday, January 30, 2012).

What kind of blog articles will be included?
Posts covering all periods and art mediums are welcome, as are posts discussing art criticism, architecture, design, theory and aesthetics. All submissions will be carefully reviewed, so please, no spam.

What is a Blog Carnival?
According to Wikipedia, a blog carnival is "a type of blog event...similar to a magazine, in that it is dedicated to a particular topic, and is published on a regular schedule, often weekly or monthly. Each edition of a blog carnival is in the form of a blog article that contains permalinks links to other blog articles on the particular topic."

Blog Carnivals are a great way to help your blog reach a new audience and to make new friends in the blogosphere!

Who can submit?
Anyone, as long as you have a blog! And If you don't blog, you can submit one of your friend's articles (except they better be good--I'll be reading them!).

Can I host a carnival?
Absolutely! Please let me know if you'd be interested in hosting the next issue of the carnival.

How to submit articles
You have two options:

1. Use the submission form provided by Blog Carnival (this is easiest!).
2. Send me an email. Include the title and permalink URL of the post you are nominating for inclusion in the carnival, along with the name of the blog. Please put "Art History Carnival" in the title of your email to help me recognize it in my inbox!

One final thing to keep in mind:
To keep things current, posts should have been written after the date of the last Carnival. If a post is six months old, I won't be able to include it in the Carnival, no matter how fabulous it might be.

Thank you again for your participation, and please share the news with other bloggers!

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Netflix for Books

I love reading, and I'm a huge consumer of print media - approximately 20 books a month, plus countless articles. I use the library out of necessity. It would cost me around $6,000 a year to buy all the books I read, so the library is my best choice for affordable access to the books I want to read. I love ebooks, which are slightly more affordable and can't be easily digested by my two toddlers, but once again, I can't really justify buying 20 or more ebooks a month (after all, how many books can my kids destroy per month?). But I do get tired of lugging all the books back and forth from the library and paying fines when I need to keep them a few extra days. Also, it's difficult to tough it out for months on end waiting for new books that I am positively dying to read (my husband bought me the new Steve Jobs biography after he heard me mention I was looking at about six months on the waiting list).

All this has got me to thinking - why doesn't a service like Netflix exist for readers? In my opinion, such a service would need to provide:

  • Simultaneous access to multiple titles (I'd go crazy if I wasn't able to read at least three books at once - and I know I'm not alone in this)
  • Availability of pretty much any title I could find at my local library
  • Ability to read books on multiple platforms (tablet, smartphone, pc)
  • Affordable pricing (i.e., along the lines of Netflix)

This might sound like a tall order, but Netflix is able to provide these things for movie fans. I do realize that there are probably fewer readers out there demanding a service like this than there are movie and tv fans. recently announced a service along the lines of a "bonus feature" for Amazon Prime customers. It is pretty much useless, in my opinion. You have access to one book per month (one? Are you kidding me?), have a mere 5,000 titles to choose from, and can only read these books on your kindle. The only good news is that you don't have to pay extra for this horrible service, which is lumped together with Amazon Prime at a cost of $79 USD per year.

Now, I'm sure that Amazon has been begging publishers to allow them to offer more titles, but I'm sure it's difficult to get enough publishers on board. And as this article from Wired magazine notes, nobody really knows what a digital book is "worth" to the publishing industry, nor are they used to negotiating with anyone over the aftermarket for their titles.

Although it was comparatively easier for Netflix to discuss these issues

Now, I hate to say it, but I suspect one of the reasons that book publishers haven't been as willing to acquiesce to the likes of Apple and Amazon is that they have felt less pressure from piracy. The music and film industries are truly suffering from the availability of free content on the web. In contrast, publishers earned 27.9 billion worldwide in 2010, and their revenue appears to be growing, not shrinking.

Adaptation to digital books has started off a bit slow, but it is growing. According to the New York Times (see link above), ebooks represented just 0.6 percent of the the market in 2008. Two years later, they had grown to 6.4 percent. Book publishers might not be feeling the pinch right now, but if this trend continues, they will not be able to ignore the pressure of  the web. I've never read a pirated ebook myself, but they do exist, and I'm sure that if they become readily available, they'll be a much more evident threat to the publishing world.

Hopefully, publishers will not let it get to that point, and will come up with an affordable way for consumers to access books. I realize that not everyone reads as much as I do, but, as my husband pointed out when I discussed this issue with him, they might be willing to pay for a subscription to a book service simply because of the way it makes them feel.

This time of year, I'm always reminded of the job I took at the YMCA after high school. I was amazed that so many people would sign up for memberships in January. I worried that the facility would never hold them all! Not a concern, my boss informed me. Most of them will never show up after the second week of January. "But they'll just cancel their memberships!" I protested. "No," she replied. "Just having a membership makes them feel good, even if they never use the gym."

I think an ebook membership would work much the same way. There are a lot of people out there who would feel great about having unlimited access to books, even if they never actually use the service! What do you think? Does the idea of an "ebook membership" appeal to you? Do you think it makes sense for publishers to offer this option through providers like Apple and Amazon?