Thursday, November 4, 2010

"If I just had a pencil and paper..."

..."the sunrise wouldn't be that interesting." I was astonished when I heard David Hockney say that. He was referring to the concept of his current exhibition in Paris, "Fleurs Fraiches", where the medium is the message. Digital screens are the viewing mechanism for his iPad-created art. While Hockney claims to have found an access point into a revolution, both in terms of process and curatorial methodology, I have to question the viability of this medium and its true intentions. See the article here.

Hockney has always pushed the boundaries so it is natural that he is making art using iPhones and iPads and all of their tools (such as "Brushes" mentioned in the article). He is one of art's old guard: he's been around (b. 1937) and is always poking his head into something new. Moreover, he has opinions and is not afraid to share them. His popular fame came with the photographic collages of the 1980s -- a process that is often explored in basic photography courses. More recently, however, art historians lambasted as well as embraced him for claiming that earlier artists, Old Masters particularly, traced their work. That is, they used drawing aids. He went to great lengths to demonstrate that artists had used the camera obscura as an aid for defining underdrawing and overpainting. His published findings, I would argue, serve as a demonstration of knowledge (and the importance of knowledge and inquiry as part of the artistic process); although noted scholar Susan Sontag begged to differ, remarking "If David Hockney's thesis is correct, it would be a bit like finding out that all the great lovers of history have been using Viagra." To, me, though, optical aids can, indeed, yield photographic likeness but the use of them need not diminish the importance of drawing or the finished work.

In looking at Hockney's oeuvre (and this current contribution to the stories of art), we see that his work in stage design, drawing, printmaking, painting, and photography enabled (and forced) him to experiment ambitiously with these art forms and push the manner in which they challenge perception and reality. He has taken on fax machines, computers, and, now the iPad. Am I turned off by this new concept just because it's technology? Or, is there something deeper that is gnawing at me? It's the latter. Hockney is moving toward the easy way out. He commented: "It's a real privilege to make these works of art through digital tools which mean you don't have the bother of water, paints, and the chore of clearing things away." This comment, and the one at the head of this post, smacks of laziness and a pressure to perform rather than inventiveness and/or a "revolution" in the making. Having made this comment, myself, however, I only hope folks take the time to read the article and this post. It's a wee bit of work, but hopefully you're up for it!

For the Sontag quote, see Graeme Sullivan, Art Practice as Research: Inquiry in Visual Arts, Thousand Oaks: SAGE, 2010, 122.

NOTE: You'll have to excuse the article that the link points to above. As a review, it's quite awful, particularly the reference to the Eiffel Tower. Hello, cast iron! That was an incredible technological invention that transformed the state of 19th century engineering. To make a reference to that irony of the digital art "in a lush and ornate gallery a stone's throw from the Eiffel Tower" is irrelevant.


GC::VA said...

Oh wow. I agree with the lazy notion and a viral complacency in the avoidance of things that challenge/take time/ are not easy/ make you think/make you miss your nap. What a bad example to the work ethic and historical development of students.

I had a friend in grad school that used a receipt roll printer hooked up to a game boy and his cell phone to make the beginnings of his work, that would eventually turn into copper plate etchings, it was super intense. I would never accuse him of laziness or a disregard for traditional methodologies.

How disappointing to hear that an artist like Hockney would say and act in such ways.

GC::VA said...

I do like however that he said to see them you had to go back to a "good old fashion gallery show" HA. The whole thing in interesting but also makes me nauseous.

art gal said...

I, too, have always admired David Hockney and his work. I am very interested in his latest experimentation with digital art and appreciate being guided to this review and blog comments. It doesn't make me sick so much as it intrigues me. He, like many other contemporary artists, are using new technologies as a tool/medium. The digital screen displays in a gallery setting (no prints!?!) makes me mourn the potential loss of art as a tangible object--how long will Hockney's "files" last? While I personally find them aesthetically pleasing, will or can they be preserved/conserved for future generations? What does this technology trend bode for art making, art history and museology?

Boris Zakic said...

When it comes to artists and their work, some artists try hard, some have been trying too hard. DH is of the latter--

Mexifem said...

Art gal laments the loss of the tangible object, the forsaken print in favor of digital displays. I think I would actually be more drawn to the works if I thought the artist displayed more commitment to the immediacy, ephemerality, and accessibility that working on the iPad or the iPhone offered. Here, at least, I could get behind the idea of such an art world veteran breaking out of an object-oriented, market-driven form of art making and perhaps trying to make contact with a new generation of audience members. Maybe that would be, for Hockney, a revolution.

However, what rings particularly false with me is his reliance on the "old-fashioned gallery show" and his display of iPads and iPhones on the gallery walls. As the article states, the works aren't for sale yet. But, how long will it be before he signs an exclusive deal with Apple for the David Hockney app? The whole exhibition, and the review, seem to have him shilling for Apple.

Earl Grey said...

Yep, MexiFem, I can see it now: the Hockney app. . . Goodness.