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5 Apps for the art lover


I haven't always loved art. During my life, I went through a phase where I think my engineer / logical-brain kicked the artist brain out of the nest. Now my wife and I are avid art collectors, and I'm writing this while on our annual tour of Santa Fe, New Mexico art galleries. The picture above is a panorama taken on August 6th from the Santa Fe Opera House using the outstanding Pano app for iPhone.

As part of our continuing Five Apps series, I decided to take on the challenging task of finding five applications for Mac and iPhone that would be useful to the art lover or collector. Read on for my take on the cream of the art crop.

#1 -- The first is an iPhone app simply called Art [App Store, US$0.99]. Art is a pocket compendium of the best works by 80 great artists and includes biographical information about each of the artists. The actual art works are stored in the cloud, so an Internet connection is a necessity. You can do a bulk download of the art works for offline viewing, and for using the art in several of Art's special features.

Those features include a quiz for learning which artists produced certain works of art, which is a wonderful way of learning the style of a particular artist. Art also provides a way to send your friends a link to online images of a specific piece of art, lets you store your favorite pictures in your own private gallery, and has an impressive search engine for finding art by artist name or the title of a piece. For less than a buck, Art is an excellent resource for art aficionados, whether they're new to art or established collectors.

#2 -- When you've graduated from art appreciation to collecting works of art, it's a good idea to keep track of your collection for insurance purposes. I like to keep a list of artists, acquisition dates, original purchase price, appraisal price, notes about the artists and galleries, photos of the art, and other important information. The perfect Mac tool for capturing this information is Filemaker's Bento [US$49.00].

Bento is easy to use, handles photos of your art easily, and comes with a set of customizable templates. I used the Home Inventory template as a starting point for my art collection database, deleting some fields and adding others, and within 15 minutes had a database that could track all of the information I wanted to keep.

#3 and #4 -- So, you've looked at the stark beauty of a Georgia O'Keeffe painting and decided that you have to become a painter. You could go out and purchase paints, brushes, easels, palettes, paper or canvases, and the rest of the artist's toolkit, or you could flex your artistic muscles using either an iPhone or a Mac.

For the iPhone, my favorite painting tool at this time is Brushes [App Store, US$4.99], although I'm intrigued by Layers [App Store, US$4.99] after reading Brett Terpstra's great review here on TUAW. Both of these apps let you use either your finger or a stylus like the Pogo (US$14.99) to draw and paint. I found that using my finger was rather unnatural (yes, I flunked fingerpainting in Kindergarten), so I have a Pogo to give me the feel of a pencil, charcoal, or a brush.

On the Mac, there are a broad spectrum of painting programs from simple apps for kids to very expensive programs. My personal choice is Corel Painter Essentials 4.0 for Mac (US$99.99) with a Wacom Bamboo Fun digitizer tablet (US$99). What's great is that if you purchase a Bamboo Fun, you get Painter Essentials 4.0 for free. Of course, all of the wannabe artists out there can hope that Apple releases a touch tablet of some sort this fall that will be the portable artist's sketchbook of choice.

#5 -- The last of my favorite apps for art lovers is Firefox! It's my favorite browser, it's free, and it is the magic carpet that takes me to gallery and artist websites, sites about how to paint and sketch, and to those online art supply stores that tempt me every time I visit. I'll end with a list of wonderful websites to visit, all of which keep this art lover happy and continuing to learn about the world of art.

The Georgia O'Keeffe Museum
Louvre Museum Official Website
MoMA: The Museum of Modern Art (Fine art posters and prints, and a great way to see the masterpieces) -- going to France? Visit Claude Monet's village and see his art
Santa Fe Gallery Association -- the place to see the work of today's top artists
Watercolor painting tutorials on
Jerry's Artarama -- Art supplies and demo videos

That's my fave five in terms of art lover apps. Please feel free to leave comments pointing me and other TUAW readers to your favorite applications or sites dealing with art.

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