One of the coolest things about all the new apps I see is just how darn convenient they are. From my perspective, having grown up with severely illiterate people in my neighborhood, art and art history are two subject areas in which certain electronic textbooks are not only convenient, but sometimes so much more effective as learning tools. In the same way photos of food are added to restaurant menus next to the blurbs about particular dishes in an attempt to help both the illiterate and foreign, the playful question can be asked: Who would want to just read about pigment-mixing without attempting it oneself? I think, for example, abut the rigors of squinting at the usual postage stamp-sized prints of Pieter Claesz still life pictures. Claesz, a savvy artist who was sharing pictures of food on printed posters and postcards centuries before Instagram, would surely go bonkers with delight at the very idea of such an app, one which can make an instantaneous, high-definition copy available to improve studies for both students and enthusiasts.
This year is the golden anniversary of the classic art-education text, Interaction of Color by Josef Albers. Albers was a Bauhaus artist who, married to a Jewish artist, Anni Fleischmann, saw the Nazi writing on the wall and sailed away from Germany for the United States in 1933. A major influence in Germany on students like Paul Klee, Vasily Kandinsky and Oskar Schlemmer, Albers became head of the art schools at Black Mountain College and then Yale, where he mentored Willem De Kooning, Robert Rauschenberg, Cy Twombly, Susan Weil, Ray Johnson, and scores of others. His exquisite book of color theory was originally published by Yale University Press as a limited silk-screen edition in 1963 and became a paperback in 1971. It has been massively influential worldwide in the academic corridors of both painting and design. Albers’ Interaction of Color is now an engaging immersive iPad app. I urge you to check out one chapter for free. And, really, such a deal! $9.99 for the full app.
This fantastic app contains not only the complete text from the earliest Treeware editions but also scores of original example plates which illustrate Albers’s ideas concerning how colors are perceived, mixed, and react to one another. Also included are 60 interactive study screens and nearly three full hours of video clips featuring voiceover commentary from artists, critics, designers and educators.
To be sure, some of the commentary is dry and humorless in a kind of mechanical fifties way. Sections of the text, like a flashback to the Mad Men, I Like Ike era, are a bit dry and dated. But the material is considerably enlivened by interactive elements. A marvelous pop-up glossary provides instant explanations of terms like ‘color intervals,’ and the digital versions of the original plates can be enlarged to better display how different colors work with (or against) one another for specific visual effects.
The app also includes a wheel of virtual swatches, helping users to understand the book’s theories by allowing them to tap colors and drag them to blank grids with just a simple mouse click. Available for adaption into your own presentations these rich color studies can be saved and emailed right from the app or shared with friends on Facebook or Twitter, which is convenient not only for classmates working together, but also for people experimenting with color in everyday life. It was very helpful for me recently in a home-decorating project, when I was having difficulty explaining what I wanted to the paint guys at my local hardware warehouse. Definitely highly recommended!