If Apple Cares So Much About Design, Why Does the App Store Ignore Artists?

+ArtApp hopes to draw attention to the growth in app artworks and arts-center apps offered by artists, museums, galleries and guides.
November 13, 2015, 11:00am
The MoMA app in the app store. Image: Derek Mead

On its App Store, Apple features nearly every relevant category—social networking, games, books, news, and so on. What the store doesn't have is an art category. This despite the fact that art is also consumed and created through Apple's apps, from New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art app to Miranda July's art performance app "Somebody."

New York artists Seth Carnes and Serkan Ozkaya, along with gallerist Paulina Bebecka, hope to change this with +ArtApp, a petition and website aimed at pushing Apple to create an art category. Launched this week, the three hope that +ArtApp will draw attention to the growth in app artworks and arts-center apps offered by artists, museums, galleries and guides.

"It has been widely acknowledged by a range of app developers that even minor tweaks to the App Store can have far ranging ramifications in the ability to sell and be discovered," the three said in a statement. "App artworks by artists are often independent and self-funded, requiring thousands of dollars and prolonged time commitments, then forced into ill fitting categories like Entertainment, Lifestyle, and Photo & Video. Within these vast categories, app artworks are often buried under the marketing force of commercially funded apps."

+ArtApp argues that there's a massive group of art apps in the App Store, but Apple has yet to support building its own ecosystem.

Another problem, as the petitioners see it, is that apps from some of the largest art institutions in the world, such as The Louvre and MoMA, are categorized under Education. This, of course, is part of their mission, but Carnes, Ozkaya and Bebecka believe this category doesn't accurately represent their positions within the world of the arts. They aren't just centers of education, but places where people experience and interact with art.

Carnes told Motherboard that he became aware of the problem back in 2013 when he launched his visual poetry app Poetics. He and Serkan, who launched his own app-based artwork MyMoon that allows users to view the moon as a public art piece, met at NYC's Postmasters gallery in the spring of 2015, where Bebecka works as director. In discussing app-based works, the three realized they had had the same experience using the App Store—no easily identifiable category in which their works could be placed. That very night, the three decided to take action. Serkan remembers they took a selfie, agreeing that this was a historic moment.

Among its supporters, +ArtApp counts Rhizome founder Mark Tribe, DJ Spooky, conceptual media artist Ryder Ripps, and Eyebeam director Roddy Schrock. Artist Scott Snibbe, whose art apps are in the Whitney Museum and MoMA permanent collections, also signed the petition.

"Steve Jobs sometimes called his computers works of art and he's inspired generations of digital creators with Apple's elegant hardware and software," Snibb said in a statement. "It would honor his passion for expanding the boundaries of art to add an Art category to the App Store."

Carnes, Ozkaya and Bebecka say the +ArtApp website and petition will remain in circulation "until Apple acknowledges this request from the art community and its supporters."

"An Art category will ease the discovery of arts-centered apps for App Store users worldwide, and provide artists with an appropriate category in which to share their work," the three told Motherboard in a joint statement. "With art as a foundation of human culture, and Apple's platform and apps being the communications medium for up to a billion people (1 billion have downloaded apps), we feel it's past due for Apple to include and share the world of Art with their audience."