A Great Free iPad Art App

We are always on the lookout for apps that do a great job of using the iPad platform to teach, and the iPad excels indeed at displaying art works.  artCircles, from art.com, does both very well.  In using it you will be exposed to images of great (and in some cases not-so-great) art, get to meet some of today’s most interesting artists and designers, and consider just what makes great art great.  Though the app has commercial tie-ins to art.com, they are subtle and unobtrusive.  It also does not work flawlessly, but works well enough to make it a must have app.  Best if all, it’s free.

The quickest way to appreciate this app is to take a look at this very brief video.

The app has been created by—I suppose you would say “sponsored by” Art.com, and while it is true that it contains subtle links to purchase copies of any of the art work you see from art.com, there are no in-your-face ads or devious prompts to buy.  It is all very tastefully done,  and its presentation of some hundreds of works is creative and fun to browse.

The core premise is that 19 well (and semi-well) known artists, art teachers and designers have curated (my nomination for word of the year) a collection of art works—mostly paintings, but also posters, photographs, sculptures) from the enormous collection available at Art.com.  The name of the app comes from the arrangement of the interlinked curators (on the left of this app’s landscape only screen) and their collections on the right.  Spin the curator wheel and the collection wheel spins correspondingly.  Thus the “circles.”  Tapping into any collection will load a slideshow of artworks accompanied by the currators’ comments, which range from greetings, engaging comments on the works themselves, sound effects, or in the exceptional case of Darren Rominelli, an annoying finger drumming on a table accompanied by hoots reminiscent of the Stones’ Sympathy for the Devil.

Home Frame

Accompanying “music” aside the collections all look spectacularly good on the retina display, and even more interestingly, shed light on the curator’s motives and tastes.  It certainly feels like a positive good to me when I can gain insight into why people far more creative and knowledgeable than myself like a piece of art.  Each art work comes with an information screen.

Info Frame Diego Rivera

From the information screen you can add the art work to your personal collection (which requires the creation of an art.com free account); view the artwork on your actual, physical wall, a clever application of the iPad’s front-facing camera that inserts the art work into the picture and adds a sizing slider to get it to fit as desired; email the art work to a friend; share it on facebook (inevitably); or, yes, purchase it from art.com.

Eisenstaedt OakThe ability to collect your favorites into your own “curated” collection, and then play it as a slide show, makes the app that much friendlier.  This would be a great exercize in a humanities or art appreciation class where students could pick a few favorites, display them to the class, and explain why they liked them.

The collections favor modern era artists, given the general youth of the curators, with lots of Rothkos, Johns, Wyeths, Warholes, Eisenstadts, and Lichtensteins, though Rembrandt, Vermeer, and Durer are not unrepresented.

The app contains a brief vita of each curator with links to their web sites, which is welcome.  The More Circles link from the Home screen brings up other arrangements of other art works, curated, one supposes, by art.com.  You can arrange art by color, Nature, see well-known works in “superzoon-texture, which allows for pinch-enlargements to spectacular detail on the retina display, or, finally, art works can be arranged by Words.

Friend In Need
Coolidge - Friend In Need

“Quirky,” for example, contains an original illustration from Alice in Wonderland, the famous Son of Man by Magritte, a Dachshund Dressed as a Woman from a vintage print advertisement, Coolidge’s infamous Friend in Need, Greg Brown’s Banana Samba, and so on.  Other Word categories include Mysterious, Mesmerizing, Oceanic, Understated, Meditative, and, as I say, so on.

I cannot say that the app works perfectly.  I succeeded in getting it to lock up several times in the course of reviewing it.  The only solution was to close the app, open the dock, close the app, and then re-open it.  This can get a little annoying, but there is a lot going on in this app.  Much of the content streams to the app (it only takes up about 90MB of storage on the device.  On occasion this results in a bit of slowness or a bit of mistiming, but these issues are easy to deal with.  It would be nicer if it worked perfectly smoothly, but the overwhelming interest and quality of the app are such that these glitches are certainly forgiveable.