Enjoy (and even buy) Art on the iPad with artCircles

When Twyla Tharp said, “Art is the only way to run away without leaving home,” she probably wasn’t referring to artCircles, the free iPad app from Art.com — yeah, that’s right the people who sold you posters for your dorm room just made an iPad app, and it’s impressive.

In partnership with Hot Studio, Art.com created an app that will make the user feel (sort of) like a gallerina while lounging at home with this tricked-out art app.

Theoretically artCircles doesn’t just give you art with the dry background info on who painted what when, it helps the user make connections between works of art. But also, since its creators sell art, they’d like you to oblige by buying some, and as a commercial site they are limited to including only images that they sell, which means the collection is not curated in the same sense that a museum’s is.

Whether you believe that commercializing art degrades its value (“The Mona Lisa on a coffee mug, for shame!”) or you art should be shared with as many people as possible, even if it’s on a refrigerator magnet — we can all agree that though art and commerce have always had an uneasy alliance — but artCircles still has a fun UI.

When the user first opens the app, she finds the pictures are, quite literally, arranged in circles. At the circle’s intersection the app suggests a collection. Themes such as Human Nature and Growth and Decay mingle with more standard museum groupings like Abstraction and Symmetry.

The app doesn’t stop there, however, so settle down in your chair, just like Whistler’s Mother and prepare to explore circles organized by Color, Nature, Curators, texture, and words, with the promise that more circles will be added in the future.

Viewing a collection presents the images as a slideshow, however the user can stop and get more information on a particular work. I was enjoying the Quirky collection when I decided to take a look at Andy Warhol’s Mao, 1972. I felt a bit deflated when soon after I saw Snap Decision’s Joke Glasses and Nose in Bookshelf in the same collection. Seriously, where’s the “Hang in there, Kitty” poster?

Unfortunately artCircles doesn’t just present high art, by any stretch of the imagination. Some of the images are things one might expect to find in the poster section of Spencer Gifts. (Banana Samba, I’m looking at you.) I didn’t find it but I’d not be surprised to find “Dogs Playing Poker” in one of the collections.

A user can create an Art.com account or sign in through Facebook to save favorites. An account is necessary to purchase art from the site, though not to download it or enjoy the images. Users can also send collections by email or share them on Facebook.

What I liked: artCircles was fun to use if you moderate your expectations. At its heart it’s just a thoughtful reconfiguring of AllPosters.com.

What I didn’t like: Regardless of how clever the UI is, artCircles curation is wholly commercial. Art.com isn’t trying just to educate, they’re hoping artCircles users will purchase the works they love. A user can even view a work of art with her chosen frame on their real wall using the iPad’s camera! Even if artCircles is just an elaborate commercial, it’s still a fun way to look at the app’s content.

To buy or not to buy: It’s free to download and you don’t have to buy anything to enjoy it. Enough said.

  • App Name: artCircles
  • Version Reviewed: 2.09
  • Category: Lifestyle
  • Developer: Art.com
  • Price: Free
  • Score:
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About Emily: Emily is a freelance writer who loves discovering new apps whenever she can pry the iPad away from her children or husband. You can contact her via Twitter: @whatwentwrite