Skip to main content

The Globe and Mail

Apple and art: Have artists become dependent on the machine man created?

Detail of "Untitled, 22 July 2010" (iPad drawing) by David Hockney

Apple's impact on the arts, from professional to amateur, Hollywood to home movies, is more than prevalent. It's a given. Apple, for better or worse, has become central to the making of art.

Apple computers are required tools, their on-screen interface the lingua franca, their elegantly designed iPod, iPhone and iPad offshoots the end devices on which millions will view and hear the final creations. And of course, Apple's iTunes store is the place to access so much of these works.

Still, with the death Wednesday of Apple's visionary Steve Jobs, there's a subtext to this ubiquity: Has Apple adapted to the artists or have artists adapted to Apple? Some see Apple moving away from heavily tech-driven production such as professional film editing and instead providing convenient tools for all creators.

Story continues below advertisement

Go to a club to see a band or DJ, and you'll often find the half-bitten Apple logo on the performer's laptop shining back at you. The immediate response is to wonder what the music would have sounded like without the computer's help.

Or walk into a film production company or recording studio, and you'll find Macs sitting around prominently, running Apple's Final Cut software or Avid's Mac version of Pro Tools. Yet, increasingly, these are being used to edit images and sounds for tiny iPhone screens and tinny ear buds. What has been lost for works demanding fuller fidelity and breadth?

The same artists singing Apple's praises are also the ones intimately familiar with "the spinning beach ball of death," that tiny pinwheel graphic that pops up when one gets a little too creative too quickly and the computer gets bogged down by commands. This is accepted as part of the creation process.

What does this mean in practice?

Visual arts

In 2008, the celebrated English painter David Hockney got his first iPhone and started playing with the popular illustration app Brushes. He started making little drawings, usually of flowers, and sending them to friends.

"He's been mainly in England the last few years, and I'd get up in the morning in New York and have a wonderful Hockney flower on my phone," said Charlie Scheips, a curator and a long-time friend. "And it was originally sort of a novelty."

Story continues below advertisement

Soon, Mr. Hockney had made 200 to 300 of these iPhone drawings. One of his assistants even made a book cataloguing the works. And when the iPad came out, the painter took to it immediately.

Mr. Scheips had concurrently been talking to the Fondation Pierre Bergé-Yves Saint Laurent in Paris about mounting a Hockney exhibit, and struck upon the idea to show the iPod-iPad drawings. All were displayed on devices mounted on the gallery wall. Printing and framing the images would have taken away their luminance. After Paris and an exhibition in Copenhagen, with Mr. Hockey adding new drawings as the show progressed, the exhibit is coming to Toronto's Royal Ontario Museum on Saturday.

Still, "one of the problems with an iPhone or iPad is that if you want to see a body of work … you have to look at it sequentially," Mr. Scheips said. This necessitated a gallery show with many hanging devices, so that viewers could see many at once.

"The so-called art world, it's saying the jury is still out," Mr. Scheips said, explaining that the art world isn't sure how to value the works. But that wasn't Mr. Hockney's intent. "I mean, David points out that anybody who sees his drawings [when he originally sent them]can print them, can do anything they want with them. They can throw them out even.

"And the really important thing to understand about David is that he didn't give up drawing or painting, or give up anything. The iPad has become an incredible tool for him. He uses it as a sketch book. He takes it out into the field. What he does on the iPad may go into one of his paintings and vice versa. He's just using it as anyone would use another media. He says Van Gogh, Rembrandt, Picasso would have loved an iPad," Mr. Scheips said.


Story continues below advertisement

Toronto's Gallery 44 is both a gallery for emerging photographers and a collective for photographers to access equipment and darkroom space. The main reason to join used to be the darkroom space for mixing developer fluid and spending hours hunched over an enlarger. Now a big attraction is access to the gallery's Macs.

They are particularly used for scanning and manipulating images with Photoshop software, and they are also tethered to cameras during photo shoots. This allows photographers to see the image on a full screen while shooting, now a common practice with studio photographers.

"It's still better than a viewfinder," said Lise Beaudry, a photographer and director of Gallery 44. "I think that Mac has been very smart at developing tools at all levels."

For instance, she points to how seamlessly Adobe's Photoshop (the main software for professional photographers) operates with other Apple software, despite the fact that Apple and Adobe are competitors. Apple's Aperture photography program competes directly with Adobe's Lightroom, which is in some ways could be described as Photoshop Light.

"Mac has been at the forefront of making image processing very easy and effective," Ms. Beaudry said. Like most artists, "I work with what I know and with what works well for me," she added, pointing to how artists have come to develop an expertise in Apple, helped by the fact that Apple has been careful to help Adobe, the competitor, work well on its hardware.


Not all is as stable between Apple and the film industry. Andrew Kowalchuk runs the technical side of the editing and post-production work at Banger Films, an independent film production company in Toronto, which has made a name producing films on rock music and heavy metal. Mr. Kowalchuk is one of the many who feels Apple's interest in the market for serious amateurs is undercutting professional users like him.

Apple's Final Cut Pro editing software has become one of two industry standards, the other being Avid software. To be a top professional film editor, you basically need to be expert in Final Cut. Yet, in June, Apple released its latest version, Final Cut Pro X, changing many of the features professionals had come depend on over the past decade. The idea was to make Final Cut easier for users reared on Apple's low-end home editing software iMovie.

"From the real pro editors' point of view, it's a disaster, and people are talking about moving away from it now," Mr. Kowalchuk said. "People are calling it iMovie Pro…People are reading into this, 'Is this Apple abandoning their pro market, and going more with an iPhone model, to get as many users as they can?' "

A key problem, Mr. Kowalchuk said, is the new inability to export files to certain other software. "I can't even use it for the show I'm working on right now," he said. The upshot for him is that for all of Apple's success so far with filmmakers, the company appears to be moving away from that market (or getting them to adapt to changes they don't want), and professional users are preparing to move away from it.


For guitarist-songwriter Jessica Stuart, the convenience outweighs any gripes. An accomplished performer, who plays an intricate art-rock with a jazz feel, Ms. Stuart isn't one to heavily rely on the highest-end technology.

"Everyone uses Macs, for sure. All the musicians I know. There's basically no one with PCs," Ms. Stuart said. The main advantage with this is that if another musician sends a file of a demo recorded using Apple's home-recording GarageBand application, it's easy for Ms. Stuart to pull it up and input it into whatever other software she may be using. It's the advantage of ubiquity.

She also uses her iPod Touch to record musical notions she might have, often in transit to a rehearsal or to a teaching job. She also has a keyboard app letting her work out a passage, as she listens to it through headphones. For her, the pluses are the conveniences of these small, portable tools. Shades of Mr. Hockney and his iPhone flowers.

Report an error Licensing Options
About the Author

Guy Dixon is a feature writer for The Globe and Mail. More

Comments are closed

We have closed comments on this story for legal reasons. For more information on our commenting policies and how our community-based moderation works, please read our Community Guidelines and our Terms and Conditions.