It was only a matter of time before a major artist revealed new work created on Apple's iPad, a gadget beloved of the creative cognoscenti. And it was no surprise when that man was the Pop Art hero David Hockney. After all, he was experimenting with the intersection between technology and art before most people had home computers, concocting cultural statements with nascent photocopiers and fax machines.
But Hockney has gone a step beyond posting a few bored iPad doodles on his website. Last week, a whole exhibition of work made on his iPad (and iPhone) opened in Paris. Entitled Fleurs Fraîches (Fresh Flowers), it's a collection of still lives and landscapes born of a really rather sweet endeavour. Every morning, he would get up while it was still dark, and load his favoured Brushes app.
Using his fingers and thumbs to choose colours and move the virtual brushes around the screen, Hockney created bunches of flowers to send to his friends to enjoy when they opened their e-mails over breakfast.
The images we've seen are luminous, gaudy and, if truth be told, not on the same level as Hockney's famous collages or perhaps his best-known work, A Bigger Splash. And although they do suggest Hockney is very good at drawing with his 73-year-old fingers on an iPad, a full exhibition of this work smacks somewhat of a gallery indulging a hobby; iArt, as I won't be calling it, has a way to go yet before the Grand Masters are troubled.
Canvas manufacturers, then, are still likely to be in a job for a while, even though Fleurs Fraîches is displayed via the Apple products with which it was created, bolted to the gallery's walls. This may be a clever idea, but it masks the real problem with so much computer-generated or stored art: specific iPad-inspired exhibitions aside, it doesn't exist when the power is off.
Hockney apparently loves the immediacy of sending his work to his friends on a daily basis. Admittedly, it must be liberating. But any art disseminated (or created) in this way is only of any use if its owner makes a specific decision to find it on a hard drive and look at it. Otherwise it's not art at all. It's just a file.
Admittedly, this is how we view our own photographs these days (photography being, perhaps, the only artistic activity we all indulge in). Recently, Martin Parr ran a class with The Guardian newspaper in London, focusing on how to take better holiday photographs.
Unsurprisingly for a man whose photography is brilliantly satirical and blackly comic, he spent most of his time encouraging people to look for the quirky, the surprising, the offbeat. But it was telling that he ended by saying: "The other thing you must do is print them. We are in danger of having a whole generation - and this will continue into the future - that has no family albums, because people just leave them on their computer, and then suddenly they will be deleted."
Therein lie the perils of living our lives via hard drives. Music is consumed via mp3 players and literature is increasingly read through ebooks. But art is different, if you believe that every piece of work by an artist is a statement to be looked at, enjoyed and discussed rather than hidden away in binary code in some corner of an iPad - even if that is what it was created on in the first place. Digital art also runs the risk of living only in the present. What happens when formats change, or when the iPad irretrievably breaks? The work is lost.
Still, it's somewhat ironic that as Hockney's technology-focused exhibition opens in Paris, Canaletto and His Rivals opens in London at the National Gallery. Views of 18th-century Venice might not, at first glance, have much in common with Hockney's work on an iPad. But many were created with the aid of technology. Using the filmless predecessor of the modern camera - the camera obscura. Canaletto would trace over an image of, say, the Grand Canal, projected by the device and then paint it - usually to sell to rich foreigners who wanted a souvenir of their grand tour.
Essentially, he employed a gadget to create his work - and his picture-postcard views of Venice have sometimes been criticised for being more like historical documents than great art. The difference between Canaletto and, one suspects, the reputation of iPad art in the future, is that Canaletto's work became widely loved because people were able to see it using nothing more than a pair of fully functioning eyes.
Perhaps, though, it's best not to take Hockney's exhibition too seriously. After all, when the iPad came out, Hockney disclosed that the one thing he missed about Brushes on the iPhone was that with one hand you could hold it and draw, and smoke a cigarette with the other.
* Ben East
Ÿ David Hockney: Fleurs Fraîches is at the Fondation Pierre Bergé - Yves Saint Laurent, Paris, until January 30. www.hockneypictures.com.