Images Made with Art Interactives: Are They ‘Art’?

November 11, 2010
Mona Lisa (L. Da Vinci)

Da Vinci's Mona Lisa

Each year since I’ve been working at VIU’s Faculty of Education, I’ve been doing a workshop on art and technology for pre-service teachers. About 80-85% of the participants tend to be novice tech-users, so I generally introduce them to an image creation/editing program. Lately, my tool of choice is –primarily because it is cloud-based with powerful high-end features. I start out by having students download a copy of the Mona Lisa. They then build a reflection & play with it in a variety of ways. (I do other things, but this is the ‘skills’ portion of my show.) In the past, I’ve had some year-4 students say, “This isn’t art.”  I grew up with an older sister who did graphic art—like designing business cards and medical illustration—so I know that art can be practical as well as ‘fine’. I point out that creating and making images with this type of software is similar to graphic design and has lots of applications: used for presentations, magazine covers, etc. Also, playing with an image is a non-threatening entry to art for the art-phobic. Students can learn basic skills so that when they are confronted with a literal blank canvas it’s a bit less daunting.

This year, I wanted to include some mobile art-inspired sites or apps. The night before the presentation, I did some research and found a couple I liked.  One was ‘s online interactive.

Julia's Pollock-esque Image

Julia's Pollock-esque Image Created on

The program allows you to create Jackson Pollock –type art.

The program randomizes the colours; the user controls where the strokes move & their weight.Through trial and error users determine that different movements create different sizes & shapes of digital paint on the digital canvas.

Another example was the Arcs21 ( ) app by Lia. This is an iPhone/iPad app that generates an image constructed of arcs. Take a look at the screen shots here . The user can manipulate the arcs by shaking the phone (randomizes arcs), touching the phone screen (relocates the origin of the images), and resetting menu options like count, length, feather, density, speed and colours. From the Pollock interactive, a user could create a screen capture to show his/her work. Arcs21 allows the user to “save a photo” of the work at a selected point in the process.

While playing with Arcs21, I turned to my visiting sister and said, “Do you think this is art?”

She firmly replied, “No.” If there was a hesitation, I didn’t detect it.

“Why not?” I asked. I was puzzled. I was interacting with tools and materials to create the image. Why wouldn’t that be art? So I asked her, “What is your criteria for making art?”

Her response was, “It has to be created from raw materials.”

“What about mosaics?” I asked next. To me, those bits of tile were created by someone else. Still, she wouldn’t agree that what was produced with this app would be art. The classification issue troubled me. Why wouldn’t it be considered art? Would others say it wasn’t art?

Fast forward to the next morning. I demoed the Pollock interactive & the Arcs21 app during the art & technology sessions. With the Pollock one, I demoed it at the front of a room on a SMART board showing how you use your finger would “paint” the screen. I even had students throw Koosh balls to edit & interact with the image. I then passed my iPhone around the room with Arcs21 running and asked the students to interact with it. I then questioned, “Are the images created with these programs ‘art’?” While most of the students thought it was ‘art’ there were several dissenters.  One objected to the lack of control over the colours in the Pollock interactive. She thought, if it was ‘art’ the artist needed to be able to control the colours. I asked, “If you gave a 3rd grader 3 crayons and asked him to draw, would that be art?” The answer was, yes. In fact, what if a student had a single crayon that produced random colour? There are crayons like that.  The next dissenter said that the problem was that the art wasn’t completely created by the person using it. I pointed out that one artist could paint a background, and ship a canvas to another who painted the foreground. They might never meet to collaborate—was that ‘art’? The answer was again, yes. So, I said, “Your issue is that the collaborator is a machine, not a person?” The student replied that ‘art’ needed to be created by humans. I asked if the artist and the programmer who created Arcs21 would be considered people & whether they could be considered human “collaborators”. The student was not comfortable with that classification, and maintained it wasn’t art.

Later that week, I ran the session for the second section of the pre-service year-4s. The next group was much less resistant to the concept of this type of image creation being ‘art’. Still, about 2 students in the group of 30+ didn’t think it was ‘art’. I shared my background discussion leading up to considering whether this was art. I shared my interactions with the previous section of year-4’s and asked if one of these year-4’s would explain their stance. One student piped up, “I’m trying to figure out why it wouldn’t be art? I haven’t decided.” Another asked, “Would the main reason you show these be to get students talking about what ‘art’ is?”

Whether a teacher, or user considers the images created by these types of program authentic ‘art’ or not, they are great discussion starters for classes on art, technology, philosophy, and more. Further, the fact that these programs give art-phobic students a place to “play” before trying to start from scratch is another valuable feature.  Technology can provide a new hook to get students engaged in ‘art’ regardless of its form. Just as electronic books and e-readers are regenerating interest in the written word, generative, interactive art applications can regenerate interest in arts, genres and artists. Check out some other art-based iPhone apps here: