David Hockney came to mind in my last post because I’d just read a Lawrence Weschler article about him in the October 23 issue of the New York Review of Books. (I’m always at least a few months behind, and in the case of some issues, years.) For more than a year now, Hockney has been doing art on his iPhone with an application called Brushes, which allows the user digitally to smear, or draw, or fingerpaint. None of those are quite the right word since we’re not talking about paint, we’re talking about light. Hockey has rubbed and dragged more than a thousand images, always with his thumb alone, sending them out to friends, not really caring what happens to them after that. Unlike most art on cell phones, these are not copies, or not exactly. They’re original pieces by one of the world’s best-known artists, even though they can be multiplied at will by the recipient.
These little paintings in light have begun to find their way on to other media — the computer screen, the printed page. They generally fall into three categories: portraits, still lifes of flowers and plants, and the sunrise outside the artist’s bedroom window on the English seacoast. “After all, what clearer, more luminous light are we ever afforded?” And the use of the thumb? “If you are using your pointer or other fingers, you actually have to be working from your elbow. Only the thumb has the opposable joint which allows you to move over the screen with maximum speed and agility, and the screen is exactly the right size, you can easily reach every corner with your thumb.” He points out that people used to worry that computers would one day make us “all thumbs….”
As for the making (which sometimes takes only minutes but can also be the result of long thought and planning) and the sending, it is, he says “an intimate process.”
I marvel at the meeting of the old artist and the young technology and how beautifully productive the encounter has been. I’m also interested in how willing Hockney is to make art that apparently has no permanence. I don’t mean that that’s especially unusual: performance artists do it all the time, and of course it’s at the heart of jazz to be new every time. But, I began to wonder, how often is art a way of using our memories to create something that will live on and provide us with a probably brief immortality (the art that creates monuments?) Brief, because most of us are unlikely to stay alive in anyone’s memory – not Homer, not Virgil – and we have help from sound recordings, photographs and the whole wide digital world.
On the other hand, I wonder if the number of artists is growing who intentionally make something whose life is no longer than that of a butterfly, here, then gone again? The May Wilson constructions my friend Sally owns hang outside as May always wanted them to, battered by the Vermont winters, changing from year to year. Many of her early pieces were postcards. Throwaways.
Funny thing about the arts. Maybe they’re not there to immortalize anyone, or anything. Maybe they’re just there, then gone, made by people with a passion to make things.