Every smartphone user has tinkered with a drawing app—it's a tiny jolt of fun, and it's somehow satisfying to see virtual paint spattering on a touchscreen beneath the fingertip. But is it art? Absolutely. But don't take my word for it: David Hockney says so.
In an interview a few days ago, the influential British artist, who played a key role in the Pop Art movement of the 1960s, professed his love for the iPhone—which apparently has its own mini wooden easel in his London studio. Specifically, he loves the creative options the phone offers, and he's got a new exhibition called Drawings in a Printing Machine that showcases digital artwork he's produced, on phones and also using computers and graphics tablets. "Who would ever have thought that the telephone would bring back drawing?" was one interesting observation, before he launched into why the iPhone particularly earns his praise: "BlackBerries are for secretaries and clerical workers while the iPhone is used by artistic people."
Hockney's name alone makes his suggestion carry weight, but there's also news that another British artist is thinking along very similar lines. Derrick Welsh is so enthused with the idea that traditional drawing skills could get a renaissance thanks to the touchscreen phone that he's about to take a tour of the U.K. to promote smartphone art. His argument even goes further, suggesting that drawing messages, like enhanced SMSs, could be a new phenomenon for users and cellphone networks: "The touch has tipped, and drawing messaging is where touch leads [...] One day maybe the use of drawing will change as children grow up with drawing as an instant communication option."
Welsh has a slightly different opinion than Hockney about the hardware. He uses Nokia smartphones and the company's mobile sharing service Mosh to publicize his artwork, though he has modified an N95 so it can be controlled by a Wiimote for painting.
Both artists have a point—smartphone art has an immediacy borne of the fact that you take your phone everywhere. Hockney notes "I like to draw flowers by hand on the iPhone and send them out to friends so they get fresh flowers. And my flowers last! They never die!" The concept is also simple, and even my 7-month old baby has had a stab at it, enjoying the fact his fingers produce a mark (the lack of painty fingers to clean up is also appreciated.) While the screen sizes and resolutions of smartphones are limited, I suspect the smartphone art genre will remain a curio—but when big touchscreen devices like the CrunchPad or the much-rumored Apple Tablet hit the scene, making tablet PCs more popular, then things might change.